Bases To Control Eurasia
By Ramtanu Maitra
30 March, 2005
United States is beefing up its military presence in Afghanistan, at
the same time encircling Iran. Washington will set up nine new bases
in Afghanistan in the provinces of Helmand, Herat, Nimrouz, Balkh, Khost
Reports also make
it clear that the decision to set up new US military bases was made
during Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's visit to Kabul last December.
Subsequently, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accepted the Pentagon diktat.
Not that Karzai had a choice: US intelligence is of the view that he
will not be able to hold on to his throne beyond June unless the US
Army can speed up training of a large number of Afghan army recruits
and protect Kabul. Even today, the inner core of Karzai's security is
run by the US State Department with personnel provided by private US
is far from stable, even after four years of US presence. Still, the
establishment of a rash of bases would seem to be overkill. Indeed,
according to observers, the base expansion could be part of a US global
military plan calling for small but flexible bases that make it easy
to ferry supplies and can be used in due time as a springboard to assert
a presence far beyond Afghanistan.
On February 23, according to the official Bakhter News Agency, 196 American
military instructors arrived in Kabul. These instructors are scheduled
to be in Afghanistan until the end of 2006. According to General H Head,
commander of the US Phoenix Joint Working Force, the objective of the
team is to expedite the educational and training programs of Afghan
army personnel. The plan to protect Karzai and the new-found "democracy"
in Afghanistan rests on the creation of a well-trained 70,000-man Afghan
National Army (ANA) by the end of 2006. As of now, 20,000 ANA personnel
help out 17,000-plus US troops and some 5,000-plus North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) troops currently based in Afghanistan.
In addition, on
February 28, in a move to bring a large number of militiamen into the
ANA quickly, Karzai appointed General Abdur Rashid Dostum, a regional
Uzbek-Afghan warlord of disrepute, as his personal military chief of
staff. The list of what is wrong with Dostum is too long for this article,
but he is important to Karzai and the Pentagon.
Dostum has at least
30,000 militiamen, members of his Jumbush-e-Milli, under him. A quick
change of their uniforms would increase the ANA by 30,000 at a minimal
cost. Moreover, Dostum's men do not need military training (what they
do need is some understanding of and respect for law and order). Another
important factor that comes into play with this union is the Pentagon-Karzai
plan to counter the other major north Afghan ethnic grouping, the Tajik-Afghans.
Since the presidential
election took place in Afghanistan last October, Washington has conveyed
repeatedly that the poison fangs of al-Qaeda have been uprooted and
the Taliban is split. There was also reliable news suggesting that a
section of Taliban leaders have accepted the leadership of two fellow
Pashtuns, Karzai and US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, and are making
their way into the Kabul government.
With al-Qaeda defanged
and the Taliban split, one would tend to believe that the Afghan situation
is well under control. But then, how does one explain that a bomb went
off in the southern city of Kandahar, killing five people on March 17,
the very day US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice landed in Kabul
on her first visit to Afghanistan? And why has Karzai pushed back the
dates for Afghanistan's historical parliamentary elections, originally
planned for 2004, and then to May 2005, now to September 2005?
One thing that is certainly not under control, and is surely the source
of many threats to the region, is opium production. During the US occupation,
opium production grew at a much faster rate than Washington's, and Karzai's,
enemies weakened. In 2003, US-occupied Afghanistan produced 4,200 tons
of opium. In 2004, US-occupied and semi-democratic Afghanistan produced
a record 4,950 tons, breaking the all-time high of 4,600 tons produced
under the Taliban in the year 2000.
Though the problem
is known to the world, the Pentagon refuses to deal with it. It is not
the military's job to eradicate poppy fields, says the Pentagon. Indeed,
it would antagonize the warlords who remain the mainstays of the Pentagon
in Afghanistan, say observers.
Back on the base
When all is said and done, one cannot but wonder why the new military
bases are being set up. Given that al-Qaeda is only a shadow of the
past, the Taliban leaders are queuing up to join the Kabul government,
and the US military is not interested in tackling the opium explosion,
why are the bases needed?
A ray of light was
shed on this question during the recent trip to Afghanistan by five
US senators, led by John McCain. On February 22, McCain, accompanied
by Senators Hillary Clinton, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham and Russ
Feingold, held talks with Karzai.
After the talks,
McCain, the No 2 Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee,
said he was committed to a "strategic partnership that we believe
must endure for many, many years". McCain told reporters in Kabul
that America's strategic partnership with Afghanistan should include
"permanent bases" for US military forces. A spokesman for
the Afghan president told news reporters that establishing permanent
US bases required approval from the yet-to-be-created Afghan parliament.
Later, perhaps realizing
that the image that Washington would like to project of Afghanistan
is that of a sovereign nation, McCain's office amended his comments
with a clarification: "The US will need to remain in Afghanistan
to help the country rid itself of the last vestiges of Taliban and al-Qaeda."
His office also indicated that what McCain meant was that the US needs
to make a long-term commitment, not necessarily "permanent"
On March 16, General
Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no decision
had been reached on whether to seek permanent bases on Afghan soil.
"But clearly we've developed good relationships and good partnerships
in this part of the world, not only in Afghanistan," he added,
also mentioning existing US bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
A military pattern
But this is mere word play. Media reports coming out of the South Asian
subcontinent point to a US intent that goes beyond bringing Afghanistan
under control, to playing a determining role in the vast Eurasian region.
In fact, one can argue that the landing of US troops in Afghanistan
in the winter of 2001 was a deliberate policy to set up forward bases
at the crossroads of three major areas: the Middle East, Central Asia
and South Asia. Not only is the area energy-rich, but it is also the
meeting point of three growing powers - China, India and Russia.
On February 23,
the day after McCain called for "permanent bases" in Afghanistan,
a senior political analyst and chief editor of the Kabul Journal, Mohammad
Hassan Wulasmal, said, "The US wants to dominate Iran, Uzbekistan
and China by using Afghanistan as a military base."
Other recent developments
cohere with a US Air Force strategy to expand its operational scope
across Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea region - with its vital oil reserves
and natural resources: Central Asia, all of Iran, the Persian Gulf,
the Strait of Hormuz and the northern Arabian Sea up to Yemen's Socotra
Islands. This may also provide the US a commanding position in relation
to Pakistan, India and the western fringes of China.
The base set up
at Manas outside Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan - where, according
to Central Asian reports, about 3,000 US troops are based - looks to
be part of the same military pattern. It embodies a major commitment
to maintain not just air operations over Afghanistan for the foreseeable
future, but also a robust military presence in the region well after
Prior to setting
up the Manas Air Base, the US paid off the Uzbek government handsomely
to set up an air base in Qarshi Hanabad. Qarshi Hanabad holds about
1,500 US soldiers, and agreements have been made for the use of Tajik
and Kazakh airfields for military operations. Even neutral Turkmenistan
has granted permission for military overflights. Ostensibly, the leaders
of these Central Asian nations are providing military facilities to
the US to help them eradicate the Islamic and other sorts of terrorists
that threaten their nations.
particularly setting up bases in Manas and Qarshi Hanabad, are not an
attempt by the US to find an exit strategy for Afghanistan, but the
opposite: establishing a military presence.
On February 28, Asia Times Online pointed out that construction work
had begun on a new NATO base in Herat, western Afghanistan (US digs
in deeper in Afghanistan ). Another Asia Times Online article said US
officials had confirmed that they would like more military bases in
the country, in addition to the use of bases in Pakistan (see The remaking
of al-Qaeda , February 25).
Last December, US
Army spokesman Major Mark McCann said the United States was building
four military bases in Afghanistan that would only be used by the Afghan
National Army. On that occasion, McCann stated, "We are building
a base in Herat. It is true." McCann added that Herat was one of
four bases being built; the others were in the southern province of
Kandahar, the southeastern city of Gardez in Paktia province, and Mazar-i-Sharif,
the northern city controlling the main route to central Afghanistan.
The US already has
three operational bases inside Afghanistan; the main logistical center
for the US-led coalition in Afghanistan is Bagram Air Field north of
Kabul - known by US military forces as "BAF". Observers point
out that Bagram is not a full-fledged air base.
Other key US-run
logistical centers in Afghanistan include Kandahar Air Field, or "KAF",
in southern Afghanistan and Shindand Air Field in the western province
of Herat. Shindand is about 100 kilometers from the border with Iran,
a location that makes it controversial. Moreover, according to the US-based
think-tank Global Security, Shindand is the largest air base in Afghanistan.
The US is spending
US$83 million to upgrade its bases at Bagram and Kandahar. Both are
being equipped with new runways. US Brigadier General Jim Hunt, the
commander of US air operations in Afghanistan, said at a news conference
in Kabul Monday, "We are continuously improving runways, taxiways,
navigation aids, airfield lighting, billeting and other facilities to
support our demanding mission."
The proximity of
Shindand to Iran could give Tehran cause for concern, says Paul Beaver,
an independent defense analyst based in London. Beaver points out that
with US ships in the Persian Gulf and Shindand sitting next to Iran,
Tehran has a reason to claim that Washington is in the process of encircling
Iran. But the US plays down the potential of Shindand, saying it will
not remain with the US for long. Still, it has not been lost on Iranian
strategists that the base in the province of Herat is a link in a formidable
chain of new facilities the US is in the process of drawing around their
Shindand is not
Tehran's only worry. In Pakistan, the Pervez Musharraf government has
allowed the commercial airport at Jacobabad, about 420km north of Karachi
and 420km southeast of Kandahar, as one of three Pakistani bases used
by US and allied forces to support their campaign in Afghanistan. The
other bases are at Dalbandin and Pasni. Under the terms of an agreement
with Pakistan, the allied forces can use these bases for search and
rescue missions, but are not permitted to use them to stage attacks
on Taliban targets. Both Jacobabad and Pasni bases have been sealed
off and a five-kilometer cordon set up around the bases by Pakistani
Reports of increased
US operations in Pakistan go back to March 2004, when two air bases
- Dalbandin and Shahbaz - in Pakistan were the focus for extensive movements
to provide logistical support for Special Forces and intelligence operations.
Shahbaz Air Base near Jacobabad appeared to be the key to the United
States' 2004 spring offensive. At Jacobabad, C-17 transports were reportedly
involved in the daily deliveries of supplies. A report in the Pakistani
newspaper the Daily Times on March 10, 2004, claimed that the air base
was under US control, with an inner ring of facilities off limits to
Ramtanu Maitra writes
for a number of international journals and is a regular contributor
to the Washington-based EIR and the New Delhi-based Indian Defence Review.
He also writes for Aakrosh, India's defense-tied quarterly journal.