Centre for Research on Globalisation
[ home ]


US Special Forces to Hunt al-Qa'eda on Doorstep of Russia


by Toby Harnden and Marcus Warren 


The Daily Telegraph February 28, 2002 

Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG),  globalresearch.ca,    March 2002


CRG's Global Outlook, premiere issue on  "Stop the War" provides detailed documentation on the war and the "Post- September 11 Crisis." Order/subscribe. Consult Table of Contents

"Now we can see a picture that reminds us of the Cold War when the USSR was encircled by the bases of the US and its allies along almost the whole perimeter of its borders," said Alexei Arbatov, a liberal parliamentary deputy.

America is planning to open a new front in the war on terrorism by sending scores of special forces troops to the former Soviet republic of Georgia to help defeat guerrillas linked to al-Qa'eda.

A potentially significant breach between America and its new ally Russia developed as details of the operation were leaked, with Moscow outraged at the prospect of US instructors being deployed in the Caucasus mountains. Pentagon officials sought to play down the operation's importance but acknowledged that it would mark a widening of the war.

"So long as there's al-Qa'eda anywhere we will help the host countries root them out and bring them to justice," said President Bush, adding that aid to Georgia was "mostly equipment and technical advice". 

Between 45 and 200 troops are expected to be flown to Georgia in the next few weeks, and a number of Huey helicopters are already there. The Pentagon emphasised that the soldiers would perform a role similar to the 160 military advisers in the Philippines, rather than engaging in combat as in Afghanistan.

Mirian Kiknadze, a Georgian Defence Ministry spokesman, said: "It is possible that a group of experts may arrive to train our rapid reaction force, which is guarding strategic sites, particularly oil pipelines."

The deployment appalled Moscow, which regards former Soviet territory beyond Russia's borders as very much in its sphere of influence.

Last autumn President Putin gave his blessing to the use by the US military of bases in former Soviet republics in Central Asia but the unprecedented gesture has since left him highly vulnerable to criticism at home. Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, warned that the arrival of American forces in Georgia would "further aggravate the situation in the region" and politicians from across the spectrum joined the outcry.

"Now we can see a picture that reminds us of the Cold War when the USSR was encircled by the bases of the US and its allies along almost the whole perimeter of its borders," said Alexei Arbatov, a liberal parliamentary deputy.

But Mr Ivanov also said the American decision vindicated Russia's view that Georgia had become a base for Chechen terrorists. The Pentagon and CIA believe that Arab members of al-Qa'eda have joined Chechen rebels to fight the Russians. "We have a clear connection between Chechens and al-Qa'eda," a Pentagon official told the Washington Post. "They are potential targets of the global war on terrorism."

Georgia ruled out plans for a joint military operation with America to reassert control over the lawless Pankisi Gorge, close to the border with Chechnya, but Tbilisi officials have appealed for assistance in equipping its troops and intelligence. "If other countries want to offer help, we would welcome it," Valerian Khaburdzania, the Georgian security minister, said this week.

Keen to increase its separation from Moscow since winning independence in 1991, in recent years Georgia has accepted substantial military aid from America.

A team of 40 American soldiers members visited Georgia recently to assess the capabilities of local troops and helicopters have already been supplied.

"There has been a transfer of unarmed Huey helicopters to assist that [Georgian] government with mobility for their own forces, for their own security," said Gen Peter Pace, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The suspected presence of al-Qa'eda-linked terrorists in the Pankisi Gorge has been a source of tension between Georgia and Russia.

Last week President Shevardnadze of Georgia, a Soviet foreign minister during the Cold War, said he would consider a joint operation there with America but not Russia.

Copyright  Daily Telegraph  2002. Reprinted for fair use only

The URL of this article is: