Afghanistan, Central Asia, Georgia

Key to Oil Profits

by Karen Talbot

Censored 2003, pp148-163

By putting various pieces of the puzzle together we begin to get a picture of what really is behind Bush's "war on terrorism." We see that the groundwork for the current us military actions in Afghanistan was being built for several years.

What comes into focus is that the horrific September 11 terrorist attacks have, among other things, provided a new opportunity for the United States. Acting on behalf of giant oil companies, the U.S. has permanently entrenched its military in the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia, and the Caucasus, where there are vast petroleum reserves-the second-largest in the world. Strategically, this also positions U.S. armed might on the western doorstep of China, posing an unprecedented threat not only to those countries but to South Asia and the entire world. The way is now open to jump-start projects for oil and gas pipelines through western Afghanistan and Pakistan, including to Karachi on the Arabian Sea-the most feasible and cheapest route for transporting those fuels to market. Afghanistan itself has untapped oil and gas, as does Pakistan.

The recent deployment of U.S. military personnel in the Pankisi Gorge of Georgia, ostensibly to fight terrorists, is aimed at guaranteeing and protecting the projected Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (Turkey) pipeline designed to bypass Russia and Iran. Meanwhile, U.S. energy companies have been feverishly exploring a section of the Caspian Sea, flouting the legalities and disputes surrounding jurisdiction over these sectors, especially between Azerbaijan and Iran.

Some pundits say Washington merely seeks to guarantee supplies of oil for U.S. consumers, which would explain why Central Asia is in our zone of "national interests." In reality, the U.S. relies heavily on domestic sources and on Venezuela, Canada, and Africa. No, this is about oil corporation profits which can be greatly enhanced by selling to energy-hungry South, East, and Southeast Asia, and by outflanking China and Russia for those Central Asian-Caspian Sea Basin energy resources and for the pipelines to transport them to market.

Supplies of natural gas and oil, including those from newly discovered huge oil reserves in Kazakhstan, could easily be piped through existing conduits traversing Russia. But bypassing, and thus hindering, Russian petroleum operations that rely heavily on European customers, would provide Western corporations another benefit. They would gain greater access to the European market. Building the Afghanistan pipelines would also mean spurning an even more direct route to the Arabian Sea through Iran. This would thwart the growing cooperation between Iran, Russia, and the European oil companies, which have invested heavily in Iran's oil and gas sectors, all of whom are pursuing that pipeline corridor. This is a major factor in the growing rivalry between the U.S. and Europe in the ongoing imperial quest for corporate expansion.


Frank Viviano, in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle asserts: "[T]he hidden stakes in the war against terrorism can be summed up in a single word: oil.... It is inevitable that the war against terrorism will be seen by many as a war on behalf of America's Chevron, Exxon, and Arco; France's TotalFinaElf; British Petroleum; Royal Dutch Shell; and other multinational giants, which have hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in the region...developing nations [are] already convinced...of a conspiratorial collaboration between global capital and U.S. military might."

Writing in the Hong Kong-based Asia Times, a business-oriented publication, Ranjit Devraj states: "Just as the Gulf War in 1991 was about oil, the new conflict in South and Central Asia is no less about access to the region's abundant petroleum resource."

The very nature of the system inevitably drives corporations to expand or die. This will be done at any cost, no matter the suffering it may bring to human beings or the devastation it unleashes upon the environment. Such are the characteristics of today's imperialism, the main source of war, terrorism, and violence. Commerce in oil remains paramount in this process.

More than ever, these imperial foreign and military policies are being carried out by top U.S. government leaders, from the president and vice president to CIA officials who have direct ties to the corporations and banks that stand to derive superprofits from them. This is particularly true of the oil, energy, banking, and military-aerospace sectors.


A consortium headed by Unocal had for years sought to build a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan's Dauletabad gas field through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. Later they put together a larger consortium, the Central Asia Pipeline Project, to carry oil from the Chardzhou oil field essentially following the same route.

John J. Maresca, vice president of Unocal, in testimony before a House of Representatives committee (February 12, 1998), spoke of the tremendous untapped hydrocarbon reserves in the Caspian region and promoted the plan to build a pipeline through Afghanistan as the cheapest route for transporting the oil to Asian markets. He stated that the Taliban controlled the territory through which the pipeline would extend. Pointing out that most nations did not recognize that government, he emphasized that the project could not begin until a recognized government was in place.

Yet a major reason for Washington's support of the Taliban between 1994 and 1997 was the expectation that they would swiftly conquer the whole country, enabling Unocal to build a pipeline through Afghanistan. Pakistan, the U.S., and Saudi Arabia "are responsible for the very existence and maintenance of the Taliban."

In his book Taliban, Central Asian expert Ahmed Rashid said: "Impressed by the ruthlessness and willingness of the then-emerging Taliban to cut a pipeline deal, the State Department and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency agreed to funnel arms and funding to the Taliban in their war against the ethnically Tajik Northern Alliance. As recently as 1999, U.S. taxpayers paid the entire annual salary of every single Taliban government official..."

Unocal had even secured agreement from the Taliban to build the pipeline, according to Hugh Pope, writing in the Wall Street Journal.

The Washington Post on May 25, 2001, reported that the U.S. government "pledged another $43 million in assistance to Afghanistan, [the Taliban government] raising total aid this year to $124 million and making the United States the largest humanitarian donor to the country.'' This was less than four months before the September 11 attacks.

In an article in the British Daily Mirror, John Pilger stated: "When the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, Washington said nothing. Why? Because Taliban leaders were soon on their way to Houston, Texas, to be entertained by executives of the oil company, Unocal."

"With secret U.S. government approval, the company offered them a generous cut of the profits of the oil and gas pumped through a pipeline that the Americans wanted to build from the Soviet Central Asia through Afghanistan. .."

"Although the deal fell through, it remains an urgent priority of the administration of George W. Bush, which is steeped in the oil industry. Bush's concealed agenda is to exploit the oil and gas reserves in the Caspian basin ... Only if the pipeline runs through Afghanistan can the Americans hope to control it.''


An Argentine oil company, Bridas, was also in the bidding to build a pipeline. The same month Taliban representatives were being given red carpet treatment by Unocal in Texas, another delegation went to Buenos Aires to meet with Bridas executives. There was an intense campaign by Unocal and Washington to outmaneuver Bridas. The Taliban played one company against the other.

The Taliban and Osama bin Laden were demanding, as part of the deal, that Unocal rebuild the infrastructure in Afghanistan and allow them access to the oil in several places. Unocal rejected this demand.

Nevertheless, the Bush Administration held a series of negotiations with the Taliban early in 2001, despite the developing rift with them over the pipeline scheme. Laila Helms, who was hired as the public relations agent for the Taliban government, brought Rahmatullah Hashimi, an advisor to Mullah Omar, to Washington as recently as March 2001. (Helms is the niece of Richard Helms, former chief of the CIA and former ambassador to Iran.) One of the meetings was held on August 2, just one month before September 11, when Christina Rocca, in charge of Asian Affairs at the State Department, met Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salem Zaef in Islamabad. Rocca has had extensive connections with Afghanistan including supervising the delivery of Stinger missiles to the mujahideen in the 1980s. She had been in charge of contacts with Islamist fundamentalist guerrilla groups for the CIA.

"At one moment during one of the negotiations, U.S. representatives told the Taliban, 'either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs,"' said Jean-Charles Brisard, co-author of Bin Laden, the Forbidden Truth.

When Washington decided to break with the Taliban, they took advantage of the fact that the U.N. had continued to refuse to recognize their government. Then, of course, the Taliban suddenly became more vulnerable after September 11, for "harboring" Osama bin Laden. Thus it became much easier to win international support for bombing them. Another compelling reason may have been that the Northern Alliance forces, with whom the U.S. would have to join forces, controlled the portion of the country near Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, whose governments were helping to support the Alliance. This offered convenience for the U.S. military to base troops in those countries. The Northern Alliance consists largely of ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks. The Taliban is made up of Pashtun tribesmen- along with large numbers from Pakistan, Arab countries, and elsewhere- who came to be trained and to fight in Afghanistan as well as in Chechnya, Kashmir, Bosnia, Kosovo, and former Soviet republics in Central Asia.


All of these disparate mujahideen forces, led by feudal landholders and warlords and Osama bin Laden's organization, were incubated by the CIA in the 1980s when the largest-ever covert operation was carried out in Afghanistan. It was directed against the newly-born government of the Saur Revolution (which gave equal rights to women and set up health care, literacy, housing, job creation, and land reform programs) and then against the Soviets. The mujahideen, who had been trained and armed by the CIA, murdered teachers, doctors, and nurses, tortured women for not wearing the veil, and shot down civilian airliners with U.S.-supplied Stinger missiles.

The story sold to the public by the media is that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan on December 24,1979, and then in response, the U.S. and some Islamic countries fought back to repel the invasion. Actually, President Jimmy Carter secretly approved CIA efforts to try to topple the government of Afghanistan in July 1979, knowing that the U.S. actions were likely to provoke Soviet intervention. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser in the Carter Administration, confirmed this in an interview with the French publication Le Nouvel Observateur.

A remarkable description of CIA operations in Afghanistan can be found in the book, Victory-The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy that Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union. The book carries many boastful accounts by William Casey, director of the CIA under President Reagan. It paints a vivid picture of how Casey, himself, convinced the Saudi Arabians to match CIA funding of the mujahideen, and how all the money, and, training were funneled through the Pakistan Intelligence Service (ISI).

According to the book, "The strategy [to bring down the USSR under Reagan] attacked the very heart of the Soviet system and included ... [among several other key operations] substantial financial and military support to the Afghan resistance (sic), as well as supplying the mujahideen personnel to take the war into the Soviet Union itself ... [and a] campaign to reduce dramatically Soviet hard currency earnings by driving down the price of oil with Saudi cooperation and limiting natural gas exports to the West...

We learn about the quantities of weapons that were delivered-including Stinger missiles and increasingly sophisticated armaments. "Tens of thousands of arms and ammunition were going through...every year" rising to 65,000 tons by 1985. Approximately 100 Afghans living abroad were schooled in the "art of arms shipping." Two-week courses in "anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, mine laying and lifting, demolitions, urban warfare, and sabotage were offered for thousands of fighters. Twenty thousand mujahideen were being pumped out every year by these schools dubbed 'CIA U' by some wags...

"Specially trained units working inside the Soviet Union would be equipped with...rocket launchers and high-tech explosives provided by the CIA. They were to seek out Soviet civilian and military targets for sabotage." This is just a small taste of the details revealed in Victory.


The disparate warlord-led factions, including the Taliban, all part of the CIA-financed mujahideen, have continued to fight each other for years. As always, the ascendancy of one group over another inevitably leads to more fractiousness and warfare.

The newly established "interim" government of Afghanistan, conjured up by George W. and his entourage, purports to include all of these militias along with various Pashtun warlords who are linked with the Taliban.


This "interim" government is headed by Hamid Karzai who, according to the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan, has been a Central Intelligence Agency covert operator since the 1980s, when he helped the CIA in Afghanistan. Karzai supported the Taliban and was a consultant for Unocal.

George W. Bush's envoy to the new government, Zalmay Khalizad, also worked for Unocal. He drew up the risk analysis for the pipeline in 1997, lobbied for the Taliban, and took part in negotiations with them. After acquiring U.S. citizenship, Khalizad became a special advisor to the State Department during the Reagan Administration and a key liaison with the mujahideen in the 1980s. He was under secretary of defense in the administration of the elder George Bush; headed the Bush-Cheney transition team for the Defense Department; worked for the right-wing think tank Rand Corporation; and was placed on the National Security Council where he reports to National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. Rice is an expert on Central Asia, and is a member of the Board of Chevron. Both Khalizad and Rice had long advocated the establishment of U.S. military bases in the region.


The connections between the Bush Administration, the oil, energy, and military-industrial corporations, and intrigues in Central Asian and the Caucasus are very intimate ones. Here are only a few:

The proposed Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is represented by the law firm of Baker & Botts. The principal attorney is James Baker, former secretary of state and chief spokesman for the Bush campaign in the struggle over Florida votes.

In 1994, Cheney, as CEO of Halliburton, was a member of Kazakhstan's Oil Advisory Board and helped broker a deal between Chevron and Kazakhstan. Enron Corporation, closely linked with Bush and Cheney, conducted the feasibility study for the $2.5 billion Trans-Caspian pipeline-a joint venture with Turkmenistan, Bechtel Corp, and General Electric.

Moreover, Enron had a $3 billion investment in the Dabhol power plant near Bombay, India, one of its largest-ever projects constituting the single biggest direct foreign investment in India's history. There was massive public opposition to the project in India, ultimately including the Indian government, due to the huge costs to consumers (700 percent more than other projects). Enron's survival depended on getting a cheap source of gas and oil to save the project. This could be solved by building a branch of the proposed natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to terminate in Multan near the India border. In addition, in 1997, Enron announced it was going to spend over $1 billion building and improving the lines between the Dabhol plant and India's pipeline network. In other words the gas would be piped from Multan, Pakistan, to New Delhi, thence to Bombay and the Enron plant.

Enron was expecting also to cash in on the main spur of the pipeline ending on the Pakistan coast from which hydrocarbon supplies would be exported to the other vast Asian markets. Clearly, developments in Afghanistan were critical of Enron. George W. became president just at the point when the India project was in serious trouble. One month later, Vice President Dick Cheney moved into action and held his first secret meeting with Enron CEO Kenneth Lay. The Bush Administration is refusing to reveal the details of this and subsequent consultations with Lay, even in the face of a General Accounting Office suit against Cheney for release of the papers. Nevertheless, it has been documented that the vice president's energy task force did change a draft energy proposal to include a provision to boost oil and natural gas production in India in February 2001. The amendment was clearly targeted to help Enron's Dabhol plant. Later, Cheney stepped in to help Enron collect its $64 million debt during a June 27 meeting with India's opposition leader Sonia Gandhi. These are but some revelations concerning the machinations by Bush and his cohorts to help Enron regarding the India deal. Some of the negotiations with the Taliban, such as those led by Christina Rocca, to promote the Trans-Afghan pipeline and thus help save Enron, coincidentally transpired just prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Brown & Root-a business unit of Halliburton Company where Vice President Cheney was CEO until taking office-will be upgrading the U.S. air base in Uzbekistan. According to an article in Stars and Stripes, "Brown & Root scouts traveled to Central Asia [including Afghanistan] to check out U.S. bases.... By mid-June [2001] the contractor is expected to take charge of base camp maintenance, airfield services, and fuel supplies. For troops' welfare the company will run the dining halls and laundry service and will oversee the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program."

Brown & Root perform similar lucrative services at other bases, including those in Bosnia and Kosovo-most notably the giant and permanent Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo located (along with satellite bases) conveniently near the soon-to-be-constructed Trans-Balkan AMBO pipeline.


"If one looks at the map of the big American bases created for the war in Afghanistan, one is struck by the fact that they are completely identical to the route of the projected oil pipelines to the Indian Ocean," says Uri Averny, a former member of the Israeli Knesset, writing in the daily Ma'ariv in Israel.

In the name of conducting the war, the U.S. also won agreement to station troops at former Soviet airfields in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and to build a long-term base in Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan is next.

The big payoff for the Bush Administration is the entrenchment of a permanent U.S. military presence in oil-rich Central Asia-which is also wide open to another coveted resource-rich region, Siberia. Thus, realization of other goals could be closer at hand: the further balkanization of central Asian and Trans-Caucasus nations into easily controlled emirate-like entities, lacking any real sovereignty; and further military encirclement of China. All of this is icing on the cake-the "cake" being the Trans-Afghanistan pipelines, with their access to and dominance of the South, Southeast, and East Asian markets.

Another major goal of Bush Administration policies appears to be to obstruct or control China's access to the oil and natural gas of Central Asia. China has a rapidly increasing need for those sources of energy. It has relatively few reserves within its borders, the largest being in Tibet. China has joint partnership with U.S. companies for the development of its oil. Nevertheless, as is always the case, those U.S.-based oil conglomerates would much prefer to get their hands on the whole pie and not just a large slice. That includes unfettered access to Chinese consumers.

Potentially vast sources of petroleum and natural gas have been discovered in the South China Sea. A struggle is looming among the littoral states regarding jurisdiction over these offshore reserves, with China laying claim to a large portion of the sea including the Spratly and Paracel Islands. The Philippine government is one of the disputants over this territory. The Philippines are strategically located in this region and adjacent the critically important sea lanes through which oil and other goods are shipped to and from Japan, China, and Korea.

Brown & Root just built the largest offshore oil platform in the world for Shell Philippines. The current U.S. "war on terrorism" military operations in the Philippines are clearly linked to major oil considerations.

Bush's perpetual war is already headed towards Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and Iran-not so coincidentally, these are all rich in petroleum. So too, the ongoing U.S.-backed brutal Israeli war against the Palestinians continues to be about maintaining U.S. hegemony over the oil-rich Middle East. U.S. military support to Colombia is now openly admitted by the Bush Administration to be aimed at protecting pipelines and putting down the peoples' insurgency. Similarly, the recent U.S.-backed coup attempt against the Chavez government of Venezuela had much to do with controlling that country's petroleum riches.

Increasingly, U.S. and world public opinion is awakening to the hidden agenda of the "war on terrorism" earmarked by the corporate frenzy to plunder oil and other resources, particularly in the petroleum-rich arch stretching from the Middle East to Southeast Asia. The war in Afghanistan is central to reaping super-profits from all that "black gold."

Versions of this updated article appeared in Global Outlook, Spring 2002-Issue #1, <>, and Correspondence (Paris), among other publications. It appeared on numerous Web sites and has been translated into other languages.

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