9/11 and the Afghan pipeline
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The story...

One part of the administration’s pre-9/11 plan to refashion the world was to replace the Taliban so that a pipeline to bring oil from the Caspian Sea through Afghanistan could be built...
David Ray Griffin

Our take...

The idea that Afghanistan was attacked in order to construct oil and gas pipelines through Afghanistan is a common one. David Ray Griffin spells out a more detailed chronology here:

In July 1998, the Taliban, after having failed in 1997 to take the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, finally succeeded, giving it control of most of Afghanistan, including the entire pipeline route. After this victory CentGas [UNOCAL] immediately announced that it was "ready to proceed."37 Shortly thereafter, however, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up, leading the United States to launch cruse missile strikes against OBL's camps in Afghanistan. These and related developments led Unocal to withdraw from CentGas, convinced that Afghanistan under the Taliban would never have the peace and stability needed for the pipeline project.38 Rashid, finishing his book in mid-1999, wrote that the Clinton Administration had shifted its support to the pipeline route from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey, adding that "by now nobody wanted to touch Afghanistan and the Taliban."39

When the Bush administration came to power, however, it decided to give the Taliban one last chance. This last chance occurred at a four-day meeting in Berlin in July 2001, which would need to be mentioned in any realistic account of how the US war in Afghanistan came about. According to the Pakistani representative at this meeting, Niaz Naik, US representatives, trying to convince the Taliban to share power with US-friendly factions, said: "Either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs."40 Naik said that he was told by Americans that "military action against Afghanistan would go ahead...before the snows started falling in Afghanistan, by the middle of October at the latest."41 The US attack on Afghanistan began, in fact, on October 7, which was as soon as the US military could get ready after 9/11.42

This retelling raises immediate questions. If bin Ladin is a "CIA asset", for instance, as we're often told, then why would he attack the US embassies in 1998? If pipelines through Afghanistan are so important, then why would Clinton launch a missile attack on Afghanistan that appears to have achieved nothing except contribute to the destruction of those projects? (And we’ve more about Niaz Naik on these pages.)

Whatever the reason, Unocal announced they were suspending activities related to the pipeline immediately after the missile strikes. Their statement, however, revealed this wasn’t the only issue (our emphasis):

Unocal Statement: Suspension of activities related to proposed natural gas pipeline across Afghanistan

El Segundo, Calif., Aug. 21, 1998 -- As a result of sharply deteriorating political conditions in the region, Unocal, which serves as the development manager for the Central Asia Gas (CentGas) pipeline consortium, has suspended all activities involving the proposed pipeline project in Afghanistan. We are discussing this suspension with the other members of the consortium.

This decision to suspend activities is consistent with Unocal's long-held position concerning its involvement in the project. For the past several months, Unocal has been reviewing this project with CentGas participants. We have consistently informed the other participants that unless and until the United Nations and the United States government recognize a legitimate government in Afghanistan, Unocal would not invest capital in the project. Contrary to some published reports, Unocal has not - and will not - become a party to a commercial agreement with any individual Afghanistan faction.

Unocal was instrumental in proposing the Central Asia gas pipeline project in 1995 and in forming the seven-member CentGas consortium in October 1997. The consortium was formed to evaluate and, if appropriate, to participate in the future construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to natural gas markets in Pakistan and, potentially, India.

Unocal will only participate in construction of the proposed Central Asia Gas Pipeline when and if Afghanistan achieves the peace and stability necessary to obtain financing from international lending agencies for this project and an established government is recognized by the United Nations and the United States. For this reason, we strongly support the United Nations conflict resolution process underway in this and other regions.

We believe that the CentGas pipeline would benefit the entire region by providing vitally needed energy infrastructure, employment and training, as well as hard currency revenues to the several countries involved. The proposed pipeline is an example of a large-scale project that may, after the appropriate conditions are met, help Afghanistan move from its present devastation toward economic reconstruction.

Since the pipeline project was first proposed, there have been a number of complex issues that Unocal has taken very seriously. Unocal recognizes the legitimate concerns regarding the treatment of women in Afghanistan. Consistent with our core values and business principles, Unocal is currently providing humanitarian support and skills training to Afghanistan through CARE and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Neither program is designed to provide pipeline construction skills training. These programs meet or exceed UN guidelines for doing fieldwork in Afghanistan. They include basic job skills training and education for both men and women, and elementary education for boys and girls. Unocal has also contributed relief assistance for victims of the recent earthquakes through the Red Cross and the United Nations.

It's very clear that UNOCAL would not proceed with the project until the Taliban Government were recognised by the US. So if the pipelines were of such primary importance, why wouldn't they do this? United Nations recognition would still be required, but if America put their weight behind that, it's hard to imagine they wouldn't be able to make it happen. 

The 9/11 Timeline's account of why Unocal abandoned the project isn't any more helpful to Griffin's case:

Unocal announces it is withdrawing from the CentGas pipeline consortium, and closing three of its four offices in Central Asia. President Clinton refuses to extend diplomatic recognition to the Taliban, making business there legally problematic. A concern that Clinton will lose support among women voters for upholding the Taliban plays a role in the cancellation. [New York Times, 12/5/1998]

Again US recognition (or the lack of it) is apparently a major problem, and Clinton appears to put concerns about the Taliban's treatment of woman, and how recognition would play with US voters, ahead of any pipeline concerns. This really doesn't suggest a project so vital it becomes a motive for 9/11 less than three years later. And when you examine the timeline more closely, this seems even less likely.

In his earlier account, for instance, Griffin reported that "Rashid, finishing his book in mid-1999, wrote that the Clinton Administration had shifted its support to the pipeline route from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey, adding that "by now nobody wanted to touch Afghanistan and the Taliban."" What he didn't mention is that Clinton signed an agreement to proceed with this pipeline in November 1999:

Agreement signed in Istanbul on US-backed Caspian oil pipeline
By Patrick Richter
30 November 1999

On November 18 and 19, representatives of 55 nations met in Istanbul, Turkey at a summit meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The United States sent a top-level delegation, including President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Adviser Samuel Berger. Clinton combined participation at the summit with a five-day state visit underscoring Washington's strategic alliance with the Turkish regime.

On the fringes of the conference Clinton presided over the signing of an agreement to take forward the construction of an oil pipeline from the Azeri capital of Baku, on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, through Georgia to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. The building of this oil pipeline, and a second pipeline for natural gas from Baku to Turkey, occupies a pivotal place in Washington‘s strategy to secure US dominance over Transcaucasia and Central Asia, a region believed to contain the biggest untapped reserves of oil and natural gas in the world.

Estimates of the oil reserves fluctuate between 3 and 28 billion tons. A figure of around 10 billion tons is regarded as most likely. This amounts to 7 percent of total world oil reserves. The gas reserves are estimated to be between 8 and 18 trillion cubic metres, i.e., 6 to 13 percent of world reserves.

For American policy makers, realization of a pipeline that skirts both Russia and Iran will not only mean huge revenues for US-based energy companies, but also US dominance over former Soviet Republics that were traditionally within the Russian sphere of influence. The deal signed in Istanbul is certain to exacerbate tensions between the US and Russia, and intensify an already intense struggle for influence in the Caspian between Washington and its Western European allies.

Let's recap. America themselves contributed to the killing of the Afghan pipeline project by refusing to recognise the Taliban, and launching a missile attack on bin Ladin. Griffin's own source tells us that they shifted their support to another route that didn't cross Afghanistan, and agreement was achieved to "take forward the construction" of that back in 1999. Why, then, attack Afghanistan after 9/11?

Looking at what's happened since 9/11 offers no more clues. These articles, for example, imply that there is now a pipeline through Afghanistan (our emphasis):

Mr. Rove, the first thing that I would like to address is Afghanistan - the place that anyone with a true "understanding of 9/11" knows is a nation that actually has a connection to the 9/11 attacks. One month after 9/11, we invaded Afghanistan, took down the Taliban, and left without capturing Usama Bin Laden - the alleged perpetrator of the September 11th attacks. In the meantime, Afghanistan has carried out democratic elections, but continues to suffer from extreme violence and unrest. Poppy production (yes, Karl, the drug trade) is at an all time high, thus flooding the world market with heroin. And of course, the oil pipeline (a.k.a. the Caspian Sea pipeline) is better protected by U.S. troops who now have a "legitimate" excuse to be in that part of Afghanistan. Interesting isn't it Karl that the drug "rat line" parallels the oil pipeline. (Yet, with all those troops guarding that same sliver of land, can you please explain how those drugs keep getting through?)

We attacked Afghanistan because of 9-11 and this Administration, the Clinton – Gore Administration and the 9-11 Commission have yet to admit that Bridas Corporation beat US oil companies to the punch and had signed up the parties to build the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline. They had also, in 1992 and 1993, signed huge oil and gas leases in Turkmenistan and had to have that pipeline to get the oil and gas to the oceans, just like our Big Oil companies and UK too. We now control that pipeline through use of military force resulting from 9-11 and they still cannot find Osama bin Laden, and have not even been looking for him. They had an agenda that could only be sold as a lie.

Lauro Chavez: ...But, yeah, I thought we were going to Afghanistan to hunt down Bin Laden. I’m helping in the search to hunt down Bin Laden. No. Not the case. Actually, I actually was providing communications for special ops guys and then I was pulling roving guard, guarding the pipeline.

Q - Guarding the pipeline for oil for United States... corporate, right?

Lauro Chavez: That’s right. A lot of people don’t know about the pipeline. A lot of people, when I talk about that are like, “What are you talking about?” And I’m like, “Dude, there’s a huge... like, the Alaskan pipeline, that comes all the way through Afghanistan, like down in the Gulf, it comes through Pakistan...” I don’t know where all it goes, honestly I haven’t really found a whole lot on it, but... I was, I had to pull shifts, like every two or three days they’d..... I’ve have to pull a six hour rotation, on top of a humvica(?) driving around pieces, these sections of this pipeline to make sure that, ya know, like, guys weren’t going to come blow it up. And ya know, then, that’s when I started thinking, I’m like, I’m like, well, “What am I here for man? I’m not protecting people, I’m protecting oil!” Ya know, who wants to get shot for that? They give you guys awards, ya know, and I’m just like, “For what? Ya know, what did we do? We protected someone’s money. Ya know, somebody’s investment.”

They are wrong. There is no Trans-Afghan pipeline. There is a deal to build one, but construction hasn’t begun yet, and some doubt whether it can happen given the current situation:

KABUL, Afghanistan, April 17, 2006 (ENS) - The deal has been signed, the partners agreed. Within the next two years, Afghan government officials say, construction will begin on a major gas pipeline that will extend from energy rich Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan, and perhaps on to India.

But even before the ink had dried on the mid-February agreement in Ashgabat, analysts were second guessing the deal. Despite the brave face shown by the major players, this latest plan could follow several early versions into oblivion – and for the same reason, that instability in Afghanistan casts doubt over any infrastructure project, especially such a big one.

Meanwhile, the oil pipeline that Clinton supported, from the Caspian sea to Ceyhan in Turkey (and so avoiding Afghanistan altogether) is now open.

A pipeline from Central Asia to China has been running since 2005:

A 960-km-long pipeline connecting Kazakhstan with China has began pumping oil in December 2005. The $700-million project was completed by the China National Petroleum Corp and KazMunaiGaz Company of Kazakhstan in a record period of just one year. It holds an initial annual capacity of 10 million tons and full capacity of 20 million tons.

And that Pakistan article also spells out how another pipeline agreement in the region has come about through a route far more secure than anything Afghanistan can currently offer:

China and Pakistan have agreed in principle to build a trans-Karakoram oil pipeline along the Karakoram Highway to connect the Middle East with the north-western China through Gwadar. The pipeline once in place can set the stage for another rewarding oil bridge from the landlocked Central Asia to the world market. On the pattern of the trans-Alaska pipeline, it would be possible to build an oil grid starting from Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan travelling through Tajikistan and the uninhabited Wakhan corridor and the peaceful Ashkoman valley of the Northern Areas to converge with the trans-Karakoram pipeline at around Gilgit for onward transportation to Gwadar...

The trans-Karakoram oil-gas pipeline has brighter prospects because of the relatively secure environment along the proposed route. The Northern Areas as we know is a unique pivot which brings China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India within the radius of 250 kilometres of each other. It will enable Caspian oil to reach the world oil market, particularly the rapidly growing economies in Asia, bypassing conflict-prone and politically problematic countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, Armenia, Chechnya and even Georgia. The proposed route also bypasses the comparatively troubled spots within Pakistan like the Tribal Areas and the restive Balochistan province. Chinese willing, there is an option to pull the line straight from Gilgit up to Karachi through Punjab instead of Gwadar. As for recent history of violence in Gilgit, the issues there are of a very local nature mainly stemming from administrative inadequacies which can be addressed once the economic stakes are appropriately acknowledged.

The Caspian region in Central Asia houses phenomenal energy reserves. Here, the proven natural gas reserves are estimated at more than 236 trillion cubic feet, and estimated oil reserves range up to 243 billion barrels. But since almost all the oil infrastructures in the region were developed during the Soviet era, they are designed and directed to the advantage of Moscow, in which Russia maintained a tight control over oil exports from its former Soviet colonies to the outside world.

The BTC pipeline was the first serious effort to wean Central Asia away from the Russian clutches. According to an assessment by US Department of Energy, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan alone sit on more than 130 billion barrel oil, three times more than the United State's own reserves. Being a country where four per cent of the world's population consumes about one-fourth of global energy output, it is but natural for the US to keep a good calculation of the world's oil wells. Besides, given the fast rate of resource depletion, and the chronic political uncertainties the Middle East continues to suffer, it is only prudent for the world to look for oil in remote places like the Caspian.

In the 1990s the Unocal-led consortium had brought Pakistan and a number of Central Asian republics around to an idea of building a 1,040-mile-long oil pipeline from the Caspian region to an export terminal at Karachi through Afghanistan. The pipeline would have a capacity of one million barrels of oil per day. Later on Unocal and a Turkish firm also came up with a plan to construct a gas pipeline linking Turkmenistan's rich gas fields with markets in Pakistan and India. The proposed 790-mile pipeline would have travelled through Afghanistan to Multan, and also onward to an Indian pipeline.

However, continued instability and chaos in Afghanistan made it difficult for the financers to go ahead with the projects. Though the situation in Afghanistan remains murky, the recent progress made by China and Pakistan concerning up-gradation of the 1300-km Karakoram Highway with a parallel initiative of an oil pipeline, a fibre optic line and with a proposal to lay railway tracks is poised to transform the dynamics of oil business in the region in many ways. Needless to say, there will be potential political and environmental spillovers which will deserve dedicated discussions later on.

At the moment both China and South Asia are experiencing a sharp rise in the demand for energy, which is likely to be doubled by the coming decade. Political turmoil in the Middle East and Afghanistan makes it all the more urgent for these countries to seek alternate and reliable energy routes. The trans-Karakoram oil pipeline may not solve their energy problems for good but it will certainly give these countries enough time to do something for the future.

Currently China's 80 per cent oil imports passes through the narrow and piracy-prone Malacca straits. The trans-Karakorum pipeline will allow it to import oil in a more secure and sustainable mode. For Pakistan, and the rest of the world it opens more exciting opportunities to unlock the true business potential of the landlocked Caspian oil.

There's no doubt the US once wanted a pipeline through Afghanistan, then, or that they would still like to have one constructed now, if it were possible. They had higher priorities, though, even back in the 1990's when the scheme's popularity was at its height, and found alternative routes after the UNOCAL scheme collapsed in 1998. This, in combination with the fact that 5 years after 9/11 there's still not even the beginnings of pipeline across Afghanistan, suggests it's not a plausible motive for carrying out 9/11.

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