Friday, December 8, 2006


The Key to Eurasia / Dealing with the Devil

Even though it has generally been allowed to linger in chaos and poverty, U.S. strategists have long recognized Afghanistan as the key to Central Asia and thus to world power. Zbigniew Brzezinski noted this in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard presented Afghanistan as the heart of the “Eurasian Balkans,” a zone of instability and power vacuums “astride the inevitably emerging transportation network meant to link […] Eurasia’s […] western and eastern extremities.” Compared to the European Balkans, “the Eurasian Balkans are infinitely more important as a potential economic prize:” [1]

Astride a prime export corridor for Caspian Sea oil and gas, pipeline deals continued through the 1990s with the support of Clinton’s State Department as public pronouncements and sanctions against the Taliban were underpinned with tacit approval; they provided the surest avenue to stability. But problems over their harboring of bin Laden led to a serious rift after the Embassy bombings of 1998; with US missile flying into Afghanistan, pipeline talks halted and the Taliban went into the deep freeze. They imposed a ban on Opium cultivation in 2000, a PR boost that eventually got them more US aid but which some feel was actually one of the triggers deciding on war there – after which, coincidentally, opium production resumed and skyrocketed.

Thus when Bush jr. placed his hand on that bible in January 2001, he inherited a complex policy history towards Afghanistan. Immediately, Bush’s military leadership expressed disinterest in following up on the Clinton-era plan to “roll-back” al Qaeda. This was originally driven as a response to the October 2000 USS Cole attack, but according to the 9-11 Commission, Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz called the three-month-old case “stale.” Rumsfeld agreed, saying too much time had elapsed to bother pursuing al Qaeda over the bombing. [2]

Instead the Bush administration decided, within days of coming to power, to re-open negotiations with the regime, ending the two-year silence. While the talks were secret, a few inside accounts have been smuggled out by, for one, a Pakistani diplomat involved named Niaz Naik. Naik, former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, told the BBC about what went on behind the scenes during the seven months of negotiations. The talks were “track 2 diplomacy,” mostly former government officials of interested regional nations plus Russia and the U.S. [3] This was presumably to create an aura and potential binding power of government-level negotiations, while allowing the actual governments “plausible deniability” if the meetings should become an embarrassment.

The Bush administration’s proposal seems to have been a deal trading a more open (stable) coalition government, the handover of bin Laden, and permission for pipeline construction in exchange for diplomatic recognition, lifting of sanctions, possible economic aid, and transit fees from the Caspian Sea gas crossing their territory. The Taliban made moves to improve their image to U.S. leaders and public opinion. They still retained the services of a number of public relations people, including Laila Helms. According to Brisard and Dasquie’s Forbidden Truth, The half-Afghan niece of former CIA director Richard Helms had been advising the Taliban since 1995, even before their ascendancy. [4]

A Taliban delegation toured the U.S. in early 2001, asking for better relations and drawing attention to the drought and famine in their country. They asked President Bush for economic aid and for discussions on the bin Laden issue and other impediments to good relations. [5] Conciliatory moves were made. In May, Secretary of State Powell declared the U.S. would send $33 million to Afghanistan for drought relief, with an additional $10 million specifically in thanks for the Taliban's opium ban. [6] $43 million in aid may not sound like much, but Afghanistan’s economy was so depressed, according to investigative writer Ahmed Rashid, the entire budget for administration and development for 1997 had been about US $100,000. [7]

Already the rollback of al Qaeda had been rolled back, and now diplomatic recognition, economic aid, and the ending of sanctions were all on the table, part up front in the May aid package. The Taliban continued to talk, almost like a rational party with its own survival in mind. They even started the dialog on bin Laden themselves, offering in a March meeting in Washington to turn him over to a third nation of their choosing. Admittedly this was far from a perfect deal but could have been taken as a starting point at least. The Washington Post quoted a CIA official: “We never heard what they were trying to say. We had no common language. Ours was “give up bin Laden.’ They were saying ‘do something to help us give him up.’… I have no doubts they wanted to get rid of him. He was a pain in the neck.” [8] The offer was refused. Apparently the May aid package was an unconnected appeasement.

The talks were doomed from the beginning, although by bad faith on whose part remains an issue of contention. As disagreements over bin Laden, transit fees, and other issues continued, negotiations finally broke down completely in August, and were superceded by war plans as final preparations for the 9-11 attack got underway and America’s Defenses fell apart.

War: a Threat or a Promise?

As talks began to unravel in mid-July, U.S. representatives allegedly threatened the Taliban “either accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we’ll bury you under a carpet of bombs.” [9] Tom Simons, the former ambassador to Pakistan whose belligerence in the region is legendary, specified to Naik on the 21st “either the Taliban behave as they ought to, or Pakistan convinces them to do so, or we will use another option... a military option.” [10]

In reality, this seems to have been the plan all along. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander General Tommy Franks had already toured the region, going to the Tajik capital Dushanbe on May 16, where he told the government that the U.S. considered Tajikistan “a strategically significant country.” [11] This was both provocation and preparation. Niaz Naik said that at a meeting in Berlin in July he was informed that 17,000 Russian troops were poised to strike, involvement was expected from Uzbekistan, and that U.S. bases were already functional in Tajikistan. [12] According to the Manchester Guardian, By May “U.S rangers were also training special troops in Kyrgyzstan,” and there were “unconfirmed reports that Tajik and Uzbek special troops were training in Alaska and Montana” in preparation for fighting in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. [13]

And the anti-Taliban coalition was apparently growing; Great Britain was also positioning itself for a conflict in the region, sending the “biggest naval task force since the Falklands war” to Oman, within operational distance of Afghanistan, just eight days before 9-11. According the Guardian, this was for a rapid-response training exercise called Swift Sword II, created by planners at the Northwood-based Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ), “from where every major British deployment of the last 30 years - from the Falklands to the Gulf war - has been master-minded.” The Guardian piece, dated September 3, 2001, further reported that 24 surface ships and two nuclear-powered submarines had been deployed that day. 24,000 British troops, nearly a quarter of the entire army, were expected to be in Oman by the end of September. “They will be supported by 400 armoured vehicles, squadrons of fighter-bombers, and a Commando brigade,” the paper added. [14]

This was clearly a very big deal in the works, and everything was getting into place. War seemed inevitable – the question was when. According to Naik, U.S. representative Karl Inderfurth told him the idea was, if the military action went ahead, it would happen before the first snows started falling on Kabul. The BBC’s reporter seemed confident in estimating this as “around the middle of October.” [15]

Bin Laden Springs the Trap

But how could this war have been justified? A pre-emptive, unprovoked strike, in part to secure an administration-linked pipeline route, would not look good in the age of Enron, which it turns out was deeply invested in the Caspian basin. The Bush administration had to be painfully aware that they were living in a pre-9-11 world, when good pretexts were still hard to come by – and they’d already tossed out the Cole attack.

But of course a radical change in perspective was in store. It turns out al Qaeda may have been listening closely to the proceedings of the negotiations, according to a 2002 article by the respected French counter-terror expert Jean-Charles Brisard. During his investigation of the Africa embassy bombings, Brisard explained, the legendary FBI terrorism expert and ironic 9-11 casualty John O’Neill discovered an intriguing seven-page memo from “Abu Hafs.” This was a pseudonym of Mohammed Atef, al Qaeda’s military chief at the time. The memo contained intercepted details of the Unocal pipeline negotiation, information bin Laden would probably be interested to know. [16] It’s not clear whether Atef and bin Laden were keeping tabs in 2001 as Bush representatives issued their threats.

With or without this direct eavesdropping, Bin Laden could well have had the threat passed on to him in any number of ways and acted to pre-empt the United States’ military option. While it’s true the 9-11 plot we’ve been presented with was years in the making, these provocations could have helped stiffen bin Laden’s determination to speed the process along and land the first blow in a war that seemed inevitable. A later report in the U.K. Guardian speculated that “bin Laden, far from launching (the 9-11 attack) out of the blue... was launching a pre-emptive strike in response to what he saw as U.S. threats.” [17] It seems clear that the Bush administration had to know these threats would get to bin Laden, whom they admitted exerted undue influence in that country. Thus they were consciously stirring the hornet’s nest by threatening, within bin Laden’s earshot, to carpet bomb his host nation. This pattern has occurred before in American history.

At the same time, the administration apparently turned a blind eye to possible mobilizations in response to these threats. Essentially, as “track two” U.S. diplomats were threatening Afghanistan and the militaries of multiple nations positioned themselves for this war, U.S. authorities kept this all from public view and acted as if there was no danger, no building state of war with attack and counterattack and whatnot. America was left unguarded, even inviting. The full catalog of warning signs and evidence of their aggressive dismissal is far beyond the scope of this chapter. But while we’re on the subject of Afghanistan, clearly an area of tension, clues that emanated from there are especially relevant and should have been closely watched for.

The War Takes a Turn

There was already a war in Afghanistan, of course – the Taliban held about 90% of the country in relative stability, but the remaining 10%, in a mountainous northeast corner near China, was still held by the Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance was a mish-mash of former allies and enemies in the Civil War of 1989-1996, pushed aside by the Taliban. They were still holding on in 2001 with aid from Russia, India and others, but making do without U.S. assistance.

It’s been said that the only thing keeping the Taliban and the al Qaeda-assembled militia from owning all of Afghanistan was the Northern Alliance’s top commander, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the “lion of Panjshir.” But Massoud felt his struggle was losing, and he asked for help from the Europeans and the Americans, who were of course in negotiation with the Taliban at that time. Massoud argued it was a bargain for the west – a relatively small amount of aid could keep al Qaeda occupied fighting in Afghanistan instead of focusing on outward activities like terrorism. The investment apparently was not made.

On April 6, Massoud addressed the European Union parliament, saying publicly “if President Bush doesn’t help us, these terrorists will damage the U.S. and Europe very soon.” Defense Intelligence Agency documents released later confirmed that Massoud indeed had “limited knowledge” of al Qaeda’s impending attack. [19] But even as U.S. war plans evolved, he got no aid, and only a few cursory meetings from low-level U.S. officials.

According to the London Independent, the warnings had actually come from both sides in that war. Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil was told in July by sources in Uzbekistan close to bin Laden that al Qaeda was planning a major attack inside the United States. In late July, Muttawakil sent an aide to the Pakistani border town of Peshawar where he met with and warned U.S. consul general, David Katz. Feeling that the warning was ignored, the minister redispatched his aid to the UN office, which also apparently failed to pass the warning up to higher authorities. [20]

In late July, sources inside al Qaeda in Afghanistan told Egyptian intelligence that 20 terrorists had slipped into the United States and that four of those were in flight training. CBS News reported that Egypt passed the warning on, expecting requests for more information, which never came. [21] Sometime in the summer, the 9-11 Commission noted, bin Laden himself mentioned in a recorded speech at a training camp that 20 martyrs were set for an attack somewhere, asking for prayers of support for their success. [22] It’s not clear whether this was available to U.S. intelligence at the time.

On August 30 it was revealed by the UPI that, based on Russian and Pakistani reports, bin Laden had recently been declared Supreme Commander of the Afghan army. [23] Is this evidence that the Taliban knew 9-11 was coming, or simply a logical response to the threats they were receiving? Either way, this was publicly available and clearly known.

The official story is that bin Laden himself was on “radio silence” in the days before the attack. James Bamford explained in his 2002 revised edition of Body of Secrets that Osama had gotten a satellite phone in 1996, making hundreds of calls with it, including to plan attacks and to call his Stepmother in Syria. The super-secret National Security Agency, (which Body of Secrets is about) had zeroed in on this line of contact - NSA officials “would even play recordings of bin Laden chatting” with her to impress special guests. [24] But Bamford, who had to play ball with the NSA to write his book, explained that:

“Since 1998, bin Laden communicates only through messengers […] One such call, picked up by NSA early in September 2001, was from a bin Laden associate to bin Laden’s wife in Syria, advising her to return to Afghanistan. At the time, it was filed away when instead it should have been one more clue, one more reason […] to worry on the morning of September 11.” [25]

Yet other sources provide a different story - on September 9 2001, according to the New York Times, the suave terrorist mastermind bin Laden was using a satellite phone, and directly called his stepmother – the one so widely recorded. He allegedly told her “in two days you’re going to hear big news and you’re not going to hear from me for a while.” [26] The call probably was recorded, and was probably read shortly after the attack.

But one clue could not be ignored. That same day, September 9, the Northern Alliance was beheaded - Massoud was assassinated by two suicide bombers posing as al Jazeera journalists. They had come in from the Taliban-held capital Kabul, and waited three weeks for Massoud for weeks as he fought the newly merged al Qaeda-Taliban army. These were treacherous times, but strangely, the legendary military genius finally saw fit to pause in the fighting and sit down to be interviewed by these two anxious Arabs. They then allegedly detonated a bomb hidden in their camera, a bomb that Massoud’s security personnel obviously did not find with weeks to look. A bodyguard was killed instantly, but Massoud clung to life for a few days.

This strange warning sign was not ignored in the U.S. establishment but widely noted as a bad omen. Yet the nation was left unprepared for the catastrophic and catalyzing even that occurred two days later as Massoud lay dying. Nothing was done to prevent the attack, and when it was carried out, the nation’s defenses initially fell flat. But the offensive American military machine was already set to spring into action. MSNBC reported in May 2002 that a "game plan to remove al-Qaeda from the face of the Earth" was placed on Bush's desk for his signature on September 9. The plan, according to NBC News reporter Jim Miklaszewski, covered everything from special-ops arrests and freezing assets to demands for the hand over of bin Laden and full-on war in Afghanistan should that fail. As the article notes, this plan “outlines essentially the same war plan [...] put into action after the Sept. 11 attacks” and “the administration most likely was able to respond so quickly to the attacks because it simply had to pull the plans ‘off the shelf.’” [27]

The war plan was on the President’s desk on September 9, as Bush ended his vacation in Crawford and jetted over to Florida to visit his brother. He was expected to sign the plan some time after returning to Washington on the 11th. Troops and bases were already in place in the region. Karl Inderfurth had threatened that the war would begin by mid-October - the first bombs started falling on October 7th, less than four weeks after 9-11 and slightly ahead of schedule. Provoked but un-prevented, al Qaeda’s timely attack allowed the administration to commence its war on Afghanistan right on the timeline everyone was already on before that “unforeseen” attack. They didn’t even miss a beat.

New Pearl Harbor indeed.

[1] Brzezinski. The Grand Chessboard. Page 124.
[2] Thompson, Paul and the center for Cooperative Research. The Terror Timeline. 2004. Page 88.
[3] Ahmed, Nafeez. The War on Freedom: How and Why America was Attacked September 11, 2001." Joshua Tree, California. Tree of Life Publications. 2002. Page 57-60.
[4] “Bin Laden, The Hidden Truth, Chapter 1. By Guillaume Dasquié and Jean-Charles Brisard. Published November, 2001.” (Translated from the French version here to English using Babelfish.) Original URL: Accessed September 28, 2005 at:
[5] Robin Wright, “Taliban Asks US to Lift its Economic Sanctions,” Los Angeles Times. March 20, 2001. Accessed October 3, 2005 at:
[6] LaFranchi, Howard. “Lessons from drug war: It takes time, allies.” Christian Science Monitor. October 1, 2001.Accessed at:
[7] Rashid,Ahmed. "Taliban: Militant Islam, oil and fundamentalism in central Asia." 2001. Page 125.
[8] See [2]. Page 120.
[9] Brisard, Jean-Charles and Guillaume Dasquie. Forbidden Truth: U.S.-Taliban Secret Oil Diplomacy and the ailed hunt for bin Laden. 2002.
[11] See [3].
[12] 18 September, 2001. "US 'planned attack on Taleban'"
[13] see [2]. Page 336.
[14] Wilson, Jamie and Richard Norton-Taylor. “British forces flex military muscle for £93m ‘desert war’” The Guardian. September 3, 2001. Copied March 1, 2002 from:,4273,4249315,00.html
[16] Brisard, Jean Charles. “Al-Qaida monitored U.S. negotiations with Taliban over oil pipeline.” Salon. June 5, 2002. Copied September 28, 2004 from:
[17] See [3]. Page 60.
[18] See [2]. page 121
[19] See [2]. Page 152.
[20] Clarke, Kate. “Revealed: The Taliban Minister, the US Envoy and the Warning of September 11 That Was Ignored." The Independent. September 7, 2002.
[21] See [2]. Page 43.
[22] See [2]. Page 39.
[23] See [2]. Page 123.
[24] Bamford, James. "Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency." Second Edition. New York. Anchor Books. 2002.
[25] See [24]. Pages 616-617.
[26] See [2]. Page 52.
[27] MSNBC. "U.S. Planned for Attack on al-Qaida: White House given strategy two days before Sept. 11." May 16, 2002. Original URL: Accessed September 28, 2005 at:

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