[A-List] US imperialism: Georgia
Michael.Keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Mar 20 04:25:43 MST 2002
Georgia: US opens new front in war on terror
Bush sends in 200 crack troops at a cost of $64m to tackle a few dozen militants
Ian Traynor in Duisi, Georgia
Wednesday March 20, 2002
In the isolated highland village of Duisi, the young Muslim men dress in camouflage fatigues and carry guns. Some sport Taliban-style crewcuts and bushy beards. The crackle of two-way radios is common. Outsiders are extremely unwelcome. The air of suspicion and tension is palpable. They are braced for war.
The main enemy is the Russians, over the mountains to the north in Chechnya. But America, too, is no friend of these Muslim fighters who are edgy at the prospect of being next on the hitlist in George Bush's war on terrorism.
Duisi is the first of four Chechen-controlled villages that make up the Pankisi gorge in the Caucasus mountains of north-east Georgia, a small valley 10 miles long that is flickering across the Pentagon's radar screens as a possible new battlefield.
After declaring the gorge a haven for al-Qaida fugitives last month, the US today launches its $64m (£46m) response, including the deployment of some 200 US troops to train up to 2,000 Georgians in anti-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations.
Crack US troops from New York state are expected in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, in the next few days to begin tackling what Washington insists is a terrorism spillover from the Afghan war.
Russia's war on Chechnya and America's Afghanistan campaign meet in the Pankisi. Whether the two wars will merge or confront one another remains to be seen.
The US and the Georgian authorities say that among the Chechen gangsters, drug dealers, kidnappers, refugees and fighters of the notoriously lawless gorge, there lurks a tight-knit network of Middle Eastern militants connected with Osama bin Laden.
The Americans suspect that there are at least 10 and up to 80 militants from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Algeria in the gorge. Some have been there for years, more have arrived since September 11.
The suspects are said not to be mere Taliban or al-Qaida foot soldiers who have fled Afghanistan, but a cohesive network of "serious" figures who have obtained sanctuary in the gorge after arriving via Azerbaijan to the south and the Russian province of Dagestan to the east.
Senior west European officials in Tbilisi agree there are Islamic missionaries from the Middle East in the Pankisi villages, but have no evidence of al-Qaida associates. "There was a clear influx of what the locals call Wahhabites in 1999-2000," said a one diplomat in Tbilisi, referring to missionaries propagating the austere Saudi Wahhabi Islamic credo. "They brought aid, charity, powerful communications equipment. They're very active, preaching, taking control of the population. They built a mosque. They're still there."
"We haven't seen a single international terrorist here," said Altangil Turkiashvili, the Georgian regional police chief in the town of Akhmeta, 20 minutes south of Duisi. "But there are some Wahhabites."
Officially, the American project is to last six months and, officially, there will be no combat role for the US troops. But the Georgian forces are in such bad shape that they will need to be trained from scratch. And it is far from clear whether they will be capable of the policing and commando raids into the valley the US deems appropriate.
It is clear that the Pentagon is planning to stay longer and that Georgia sees the US troops as a miracle cure to the various ailments afflicting the enfeebled state.
"The first stage will be finished this year," said David Tevzadze, Georgia's defence minister. "But this is a long-term programme. There will then be a pause and other [US] specialists will arrive to check how successful it has been before the second stage."
The arrival in Georgia of the military instructors from America's 10th Mountain Division is the latest of several US deployments in the post-Soviet lands of central Asia and the Caucasus since September 11.
The past six months have witnessed an extraordinary projection of US military power into a vast region dominated by Moscow for the past two centuries, installing American firepower at Soviet-built bases in four countries spanning a 2,000-mile arc from near the Chinese border to the eastern shores of the Black Sea.
But the Georgia deployments have been meticulously prepared, agreed even before the Americans started bombing Afghanistan last October. Georgia's president, Eduard Shevardnadze, walked into the White House on October 5 and agreed the outlines with President Bush.
Fearful of Russia, and chronically incapable of asserting its sovereignty over its territory, Georgia hopes for a boost to its statehood from the US presence.
It is less clear what the Americans hope to gain. Observers see ulterior motives to the US deployments - a strong signal to the Russians to keep their hands off post-Soviet Georgia, a longer-term role protecting the billion-dollar pipeline projects that are to transport the hydrocarbon riches of the Caspian basin west to Turkey via Georgia, or more immediately a preparation for war on Saddam Hussein's Iraq, 300 miles to the south.
"It would be a big problem for Georgia being used for an attack on Iraq," said Giorgi Burduli, Georgia's deputy foreign minister.
"This is a place where the cold war is still boiling hot, where you have a clear confrontation between Russia and the west," said the European diplomat.
But the Americans stress that the Pankisi is the focus of their military plans in Georgia because the valley - home to some 15,000 Chechens, half of them refugees from the war over the border - offers a safe haven for "terrorists" and unhindered access to money, weaponry and communications equipment.
What lies beyond
Certainly, there is plenty of money in the Pankisi, whose remote Muslim hamlets are only a few hours, but a world away, from Georgia's old Christian capital of Tbilisi. The road from Tbilisi meanders through ancient villages where the vines are bare, the fruit trees already in bloom, and the country folk labour in crushing poverty in Mr Shevardnadze's failing state.
The checkpoint on the road into Duisi might as well be an international border. Beyond it Mr Shevardnadze's authority is treated with contempt. The special Georgian police manning the roadblock are proud of their new US-supplied uniforms.
But they are afraid of what lies beyond in Duisi. "Businessmen" roar through the village streets in BMWs. Amid the rough village housing and refugee quarters, several improbable new villas have sprung up with large satellite dishes.
The biggest building in the village is of terracotta brick and silver tin, a brand new mosque said to have been built with Saudi money and the centre for the fundamentalist preaching of the Middle Eastern visitors. "Duisi is the Mecca of the Pankisi," said Mr Turkiashvili, the Akhmeta police chief.
His men dare not venture into the Chechen villages and the Georgian government admits that it cannot exercise any authority in a region where locals say Islamic Sharia law holds sway.
As well as providing new uniforms and $150m in aid for border guards securing the northern frontier with Chechnya and Russia, the US has supplied the Georgians with 10 Huey helicopters, the kind of equipment needed to mount lightning raids into the unruly region.
Any Georgian invasion would instantly trigger an armed insurrection. Each of the highland Chechen fighters, steeled by years of fighting the Russians, is worth 15 Georgian troops, say western officials.
But by the time the Georgians are fit to take on policing and military operations in the Pankisi, the targets and the men suspected by the Americans of being Bin Laden associates are likely to have vanished. "The Pankisi is a very small area. We have information that some groups have already left the Pankisi and Georgia after the plan was outlined," said Mr Burduli.
"The fighting capacity of the Georgians has to be increased vastly," says the senior European official. "It's going to be a very difficult job."
Policemen for central Asia
The US military instructors about to fly into Georgia are from the 10th Mountain Division, which has played a key role in the war in Afghanistan and in Pentagon plans to project US power across a swath of central Asia and the Caucasus.
The prominence of its deployment in the region suggests that the division, based at Fort Drum in New York state and traditionally attracting recruits from the Rockies, is being moulded into the US gendarme for the vast unstable post-Soviet region between Turkey and China.
The division is becoming accustomed to sprawling bases built by the Soviet Union, having been deployed at Bagram outside Kabul, the airports at Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan, the Khanabad base in Uzbekistan and now the Vasiani base outside Tbilisi.
The division's forces have also been in the vanguard of battles against al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
In 1993, the division helped to rescue US special forces in Somalia.
Full article at:
Mercuria Business School
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
More information about the A-List