#4 Oct. 20, 2001
By Bill Weinberg
THE AFGHANISTAN FRONT
1. First US Casualties; Special Forces Go In
2. Controversy Over Civilian Casualties
3. Us Food Drops: "Futile Gesture"
4. Nuclear Weapons Deployed?
5. Is Bush's War Illegal?
6. Pentagon Supresses Public Satellite Images
7. Us Dancing With Northern Alliance?
8. Opium War Or Propaganda War?
9. Rawa Protests Bombing
THE WAR AT HOME
1. National ID Plan Advances
2. "Anti-Terrorist" Legislation Advances
3. In Canada Too...
4. Paranoia In The Skies
5. Detainees Face Rights Violations
6. Israelis Detained With Arabs In Anti-Terror Sweep
WATCHING THE SHADOWS
1.Osama Plundering Soviet Nuclear, Bio-Chem Weapons?
2. Is Baghdad Next?
3. Did Taliban Get Pipeline Deal?
THE AFGHANISTAN FRONT
1. FIRST US CASUALTIES; SPECIAL FORCES GO IN
A US helicopter crashed in Pakistan Oct 19, killing two servicemen, BBC reported. These are the first US military casualties of World War III. US authorities denied Taliban claims to have shot down the chopper. That same day, the first US Special Forces units hit the ground in Afghanistan, and BBC reported over 100 Rangers battling Taliban troops. The Oct. 20 New York Times placed the attacks near the southern city of Kandahar, a key Taliban political stronghold, with Ranger units brought in by helicopter from the USS Kitty Hawk in the Arabian Sea, some 450 miles to the south. Other US elite units are said to be awaiting action in Uzbekistan, closer to Taliban frontlines with the rebel Northern Alliance.
2. CONTROVERSY OVER CIVILIAN CASUALTIES
Dozens of civilians were killed in the 12th night of US bombing in Kabul, Qatar's Al-Jazira TV network reported Oct. 18. Al-Jazira's Kabul correspondent, Taysir Al-Allouni, said several buildings were destroyed in a civilian area of the city--with residents inside. At least four bombs hit an apartment complex in Makrurian neighborhood. Footage showed huge craters and piles of rubble amid the apartment blocks, and what appeared to be a dead child covered in dust. Some of the standing buildings had broken windows and other damage. Families were shown distraught and crying, and digging through rubble for survivors. One man covered in dust pointed at a pile of rubble, saying his mother and several relatives were inside the destroyed building. In one building, residents said an 18-year old man and his new bride were killed along with their entire family. Al-Allouni said residents were angered by US claims to not target civilians, and that the strike on Makrurian caused more people to flee, with footage of residents loading up old cars. Al-Jazira also quoted claims by Taliban officials that a refugee convoy had been bombed near Jalalabad, killing 12.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the Oct. 12 bombing of Karam village in eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban claims some 200 civilians were killed. He told reporters nearby tunnels burned for hours after being bombed, indicating fuel or weapons depots. "They were not cooking cookies inside those tunnels," USA Today quoted him Oct. 16. "The people in the vicinity clearly were connected to those activities." An Oct. 15 AP report confirmed that several civilians had been killed at the village, and that there was no readily discernable military target. "They are innocent people living here," one villager was quoted. "There is no military base."
3. US FOOD DROPS: "FUTILE GESTURE"?
After the air strikes began, the UN announced it was halting food convoys to Afghanistan, leaving the starving populace with only the US/UK military air-drops of "humanitarian aid." US/UK forces have dropped 37,500 ration packs, each containing 2,200 calories--enough to sustain one person for one day. The UN estimates there are 7.5 million hungry people in Afghanistan. Even if the 2 million packs the US claims to have are all dropped, this will only feed some 30% of the starving for one day. Writes George Monbiot in the Oct. 9 UK Guardian: "Some of these rations will, of course, be lost. Many, perhaps most, will be eaten by people who are not in immediate danger of starvation, as they are more mobile than the seriously hungry and better able to reach the packs. Some will remain untouched. One of the warring factions may discover that an effective means of eliminating its enemies is to remove the contents of these packs and replace them with explosives. This is just one of the problems associated with dispensing kindness at 20,000 feet... The usefulness of any feeding program, moreover, is greatly diminished if it is not carefully targeted. People in different stages of starvation require different preparations." Said President Bush of the aid drops: "the oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies." But Monbiot charges, "western governments have terminated what may have been an effective humanitarian program and replaced it with a futile gesture."
4. NUCLEAR WEAPONS DEPLOYED?
The Israel-based Internet news service ( DEBKAfile ) cites "military and intelligence sources" that the US has deployed nuclear weapons in post-Soviet Central Asia as a part of the Afghanistan campaign. DEBKA claims President Bush won approval for the deployment from Russian President Vladimir Putin "in a single 70-minute conversation on September 23." The weapons include tactical (intermediate-range) missiles and nuclear artillery shells. In return, Bush assented to Russia deploying tactical nuclear weapons around Chechnya, where Moscow still battles Islamic rebels said to be backed by Osama Bin Laden. The Chechen guerillas now face a Russian ultimatum to surrender. DEBKA places the US nuclear weapons in four ex-Soviet bases: Tuzel, northwest of the Uzbek capital of Tashkent; Kagady, in Uzbekistan's Termez region just above the Afghanistan border; Khandabad, near the Uzbek city of Karshi; and at the airfield in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
5. IS BUSH'S WAR ILLEGAL?
Writes Michael Mandel, professor of international law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, in the Oct. 9 Globe & Mail: "A well-kept secret about the US-UK attack on Afghanistan is that it is clearly illegal. It violates international law and the express words of the United Nations Charter. Despite repeated reference to the right of self-defense under Article 51, the Charter simply does not apply here. Article 51 gives a state the right to repel an attack that is ongoing or imminent as a temporary measure until the UN Security Council can take steps necessary for international peace and security." Mandel asserts that neither of the two Security Council resolutions condemning the Sept. 11 attacks and calling for legal counter-terrorist measures "can remotely be said to authorize the use of military force." While the measures "affirm" the inherent right of self-defense, they do so "in accordance with the Charter." Concludes Mandel: "Since the United States and Britain have undertaken this attack without the explicit authorization of the Security Council, those who die from it will be victims of a crime against humanity, just like the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks... The bombing of Afghanistan is the legal and moral equivalent of what was done to the Americans on Sept. 11. We may come to remember that day, not for its human tragedy, but for the beginning of a headlong plunge into a violent, lawless world."
6. PENTAGON SUPRESSES PUBLIC SATELLITE IMAGES
The Pentagon has spent millions of dollars to prevent the public from seeing civilian satellite pictures of the effects of bombing in Afghanistan, the UK Guardian reported Oct. 17. The images, taken by the company Space Imaging from Ikonos, an advanced private satellite launched in 1999, are the best available to civilians. The decision to shut down access to the images was taken Oct. 11, after reports of heavy civilian casualties from the overnight bombing of training camps near Darunta, northwest of Jalalabad. Instead of invoking its legal powers to exercise "shutter control" over civilian satellites launched from the US, the Pentagon bought exclusive rights to all Ikonos pictures of Afghanistan. The US military does not need the pictures for its own purposes, because it already has seven imaging satellites in orbit. The decision to use commercial rather than legal powers to bar access to the images was criticized by many. Since images of the bombed bases would not have shown the position of US forces or compromised military security, the ban could be challenged by news media as a breach of the First Amendment. The only alternative source of satellite images is the Russian Cosmos system. But Russia has not yet decided to step into the information void created by the Pentagon deal with Space Imaging.
7. US DANCING WITH NORTHERN ALLIANCE?
Northern Alliance warlord Rashid Dostum claims to have spent the last week meeting with a delegation of US military officials near Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, AP reported Oct. 19. The Northern Alliance is closing in on Mazar-i-Sharif, and is eager for US aid. Capture of the city would allow US forces in neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to operate more freely in northern Afghanistan. On Oct. 19, Newsday quoted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saying the US "would be happy to assist" the Northern Alliance. "They're going to have some help in food. They're going to have some help in ammunition. They're going to have some help in air support..." Some Northern Alliance leaders are suspicious of US motives, however, noting that the air strikes have been far from the northern battle lines. "If America is honest, why are they not bombing the Taliban front lines?" Northern Alliance deputy defense minister Atiqullah Baryalai asked the New York Times Oct. 16. That day, the Washington Post reported the US was seeking to woo "Taliban moderates" for a post-war coalition government.
8. OPIUM WAR OR PROPAGANDA WAR?
Under the headline "US EXPECTED TO TARGET AFGHANISTAN'S OPIUM," USA Today reported Oct. 16 that the heroin trade "feeds Taliban's coffers" and "dismantling it could prove critical." Reminding readers that Afghanistan is "the world's top opium producer," the paper quoted "terrorism expert" Neil Livingstone of the DC-based risk-management firm GlobalOptions saying US officials "realize that the [drug] money is critical" to the Taliban. "Afghanistan has no means of supporting its military except with opium [sales]. Everyone recognizes the need to go after the opium." Chimed in DEA chief Asa Hutchinson: "The heroin trade is ultimately very important [to US anti-terrorism efforts] because it's a revenue source for a very dangerous regime. Without curtailing the heroin trade, you cannot succeed in Afghanistan." However, the Taliban (at UN behest) issued a sweeping edict against opium cultivation last year, and there is little evidence the policy has been reversed. On Oct. 18, the New York Times reported that a new UN study indicates opium production in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan dropped 94% this year, and that Badakhshan Province--under the control of the Northern Alliance--accounts for 83% of Afghanistan's total opium production.
9. RAWA PROTESTS BOMBING
The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) protested the US/UK military strikes in an Oct. 11 press statement, saying, "The Taliban should be overthrown by the uprising of the Afghan nation." Charging that the US "has launched a vast aggression on our country," the statement dismissed claims that civilian targets would be avoided: "[What] we have witnessed...leaves no doubt that this invasion will shed the blood of numerous women, men, children, young and old of our country." The statement said the attacks will only "empower" fundamentalist forces in the region and throughout the world. It also rejected the Northern Alliance, which it accused of "riding the guns of the US" into power. RAWA called on "all anti-fundamentalist, freedom and democracy-loving and pro-women's rights forces" to join in a mass uprising against the Taliban and "thwart the plans of the internal and external enemies of Afghanistan." The group called for solidarity from "the peace and justice-loving people of the world."
Exiled from Afghanistan, RAWA operates clinics, schools and orphanages in the Pakistan camps where 2 million Afghan refugees live, as well as cultural and self-help programs with an emphasis on democracy and women's rights. Even here, their activities remain mostly secret. Taliban-style fundamentalism thrives in many of the camps. A recent RAWA human rights procession in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, was attacked by stick-wielding fundamentalist students. But RAWA is influential in the Khaiwa camp, near Quetta, which has become "an island of tolerance." An Oct. 15 Los Angeles Times report said the Khaiwa camp is "small and exceptional, home to only 500 families." But RAWA sees it as "a microcosm of what Afghanistan might resemble if it was freed of religious extremism and civil war."
RAWA was founded in Kabul in 1977 and organized unarmed, civil opposition to the Soviet occupation after 1979. Opposing both the Soviets and Mujahedeen, the group was forced into exile in the mid-1980s--but still maintains a small underground network in Afghanistan, running secret schools and documenting human rights abuses. According to the group's web site (rawa.false.net), in 1987 RAWA's founder, known by the single name Meena, was "assassinated by agents of KHAD (Afghanistan branch of KGB) and their fundamentalist accomplices in Quetta, Pakistan."
The Pasadena-based Afghan Women's Mission (AWM) raises funds for RAWA in the US. AWM's Sonali Kolhatkar recently told the press the US created the horrific situation in Afghanistan by arming the fundamentalist Mujahedeen rebels in the 1980s. "Its unbelievable what the Afghan women have been reduced to by the Taliban in recent years and the Mujahedeen prior to that," she was quoted in the Toronto Star Oct. 15. "As Americans, we feel very responsible that the lives of these women and their children have been wrecked by our government which...funded arms for fundamentalist terrorist groups like the Taliban and the Mujahedeen."
THE WAR AT HOME
1. NATIONAL ID PLAN ADVANCES
Encouraged by recent visits with top government officials, Larry Ellison, chief executive of Oracle Corp., said he hopes to create a national identification card system by early next year. "We are in the process of putting a proposal together and analyzing what it would take to get to get something running in a matter of a small number of months, like three months," Ellison told the San Jose Mercury News Oct. 17. Shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Ellison volunteered to provide the government with free software from Oracle, the leading database products maker. The software would help stitch together information the government already gathers about people for driver's licenses, Social Security cards and passports. Ellison said he discussed the concept with officials from the FBI and CIA, as well as Attorney General John Ashcroft and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate subcommittee on terrorism. Under Ellison's plan, a national ID card would contain the holder's Social Security number and other basic information, and would be linked to a federal database filled with more detailed personal data, including digital records of thumbprints, palm prints, face or eyes. Although Oracle wouldn't charge the government for the software, the company would be paid for installing and maintaining the system. Oracle pocketed a $2.56 billion profit in its last fiscal year.
2. "ANTI-TERRORIST" LEGISLATION ADVANCES
One piece of the anti-terrorist package now pending before the Senate, the Money Laundering Abatement & Anti-Terrorist Financing Act (S.1510) would allow the government to seize the assets of any non-profit organization--or its members--if the State Department links it to terrorist activity. Organizations that were legal prior to S.1510 may be "retroactively" deemed terrorist fronts, allowing participants and supporters to be charged with federal offenses. The government would be under no obligation to disclose the evidence against the organizations. The bill would also retroactively abolish the statute of limitations for past offenses. Strictures which bar the admissibility of improperly gathered evidence would also be lifted.
3. IN CANADA TOO...
Canada has followed the US in introducing a sweeping "anti-terrorist" bill, which Parliament is now debating. The bill would allow preventative arrests and broader electronic surveillance, grant the power to compel testimony and suspend the right to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination. (New York Times, Oct. 18)
4. PARANOIA IN THE SKIES
An Atlanta-Newark Delta flight was diverted Oct. 14 after two men were seen "huddled together speaking a foreign language in the back of the plane." Airport officials in Charlotte, NC, initially received reports that the men were trying to break into the cockpit, said Aviation Director Jerry Orr. It turned out to be two Jewish men praying together in the back of the plane. "By the time the plane landed here and our officer got on, the two gentlemen were back in their seats," Orr said. "It was a lot about nothing." The two men were rebooked on a later flight, and were "bewildered but not angry." A day earlier, a Charlotte-Denver US Airways flight was diverted to Indianapolis after a flight attendant found a powdery substance on the plane. Tests by the Indiana health department found the substance to be talcum powder. (AP, Oct. 14)
5. DETAINEES FACE RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
In the nation's jails, some of the 700 detained in the sweep following the Sept. 11 attacks endure beatings, are denied access to lawyers and otherwise deprived of their rights, according to attorneys and civil rights organizations, the Los Angeles Times reported Oct. 15.
It is unlikely any of the detainees played a role in the 9-11 attacks, and officials admit only a few are linked to the investigation. The vast majority were arrested on visa violations or minor local charges, and would normally have been released by now. But the government is holding them under emergency anti-terrorist powers. Writes the LA Times: "Because of the extraordinary level of secrecy surrounding the investigation, it is impossible to determine how many individuals may have been mistreated. Federal authorities refuse to disclose even the number of people in custody... The Times contacted more than 20 defense lawyers and civil rights monitors. In every case, the lawyers complained that their clients were being held too long and, almost always, said their clients had suffered some kind of mistreatment or undue hardship."
In Texas, a Saudi Arabian man was deprived of a mattress, blanket and a clock to let him know when to recite his prayers, his lawyer says. In Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, immigration officials cut off all lawyer visits and phone calls for detainees the week following the attacks--a directive authorities now say was mishandled.
Dennis Clare, a lawyer in Louisville, Ky., said 40 men from Mauritania were picked up near Cincinnati on immigration violations two weeks after Sept. 11. Authorities targeted the group because one supposedly was a pilot. Three are still being held, and have been moved several times to jails in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Louisiana. "They don't speak English," Clare said. "They are begging to get out of jail."
Hasnain Javed, 20, a Pakistani student who was picked up Sept. 19 at the bus station in Mobile, Ala., on his way back to New York from Houston, was repeatedly beaten by inmates at the county jail in Wiggins, MS, which houses INS detainees under a federal contract. He says guards ignored his pleas for help, and has suffered a chipped tooth and partial hearing loss in one ear. Released after three days in custody, he told the LA Times: "I did not do anything and I don't think anyone had a right to treat me the way I was treated." Stone County Sheriff Mike Ballard, who runs the Wiggins jail, insisted "we did everything we could do" to help Javed, and claimed he "was making derogatory comments about the United States." The FBI is investigating the incident.
Egyptian immigrant Mohammed Maddy, a ticket-taker at New York's Kennedy Airport, was picked up Oct. 3 and charged with sneaking his wife and children past security there. At a federal detention hearing, his attorney, Justine Harris, complained Maddy was injured by guards at Brooklyn's Metropolitan Detention Center: "The defendant showed me a very large bruise which he has on the upper part of his arm, which he claims was a result of mistreatment by the guards."
The Washington Post reported Oct. 16, "an unknown number of men with Middle Eastern names are being held in solitary confinement" at Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center, "locked in 8-by-10-foot cells with little more than cots, thin blankets and, if they request it, copies of the Koran... They have no contact with each other or their families and limited access to their lawyers. Their names appear on no federal jail log available to the public. No records can be found in any court docket in New York showing why they are detained, who represents them or the status of their cases." Asked American Civil Liberties Union legal director Steven Shapiro: "How many are being held? On what basis? What kind of judicial review is available?"
Yazeed Al-Salmi, 23, a Saudi student who missed three weeks of school and was evicted from his San Diego apartment during his 17-day detention, called the experience terrifying. "They don't call you by name... They call you [expletive] terrorist," he said of guards at the Manhattan facility. Al-Salmi was released after testifying for two hours before a federal grand jury on his encounters with one 9-11 hijacker. Attorney General John Ashcroft told ABC's "Nightline" the government's actions are "consistent with the framework of law that we operate under."
6. ISRAELIS DETAINED WITH ARABS IN ANTI-TERROR SWEEP
WATCHING THE SHADOWS
Five young Israelis detained by the FBI Sept. 11 are still being held in Brooklyn's Metropolitan Detention Center. The men were picked up at 6 PM in a van on the George Washington Bridge, and the incident may have been the source of widespread but false New York media reports that evening that a bomb had been found on the bridge. The incident was sparked when a New Jersey woman called police to report a group of men standing on top of a van near the bridge "speaking in a foreign language and hugging each other," reported New York's Jewish weekly, The Forward, Oct. 19. The paper quoted Ido Aharoni of the Israeli consulate saying they were hugging each other in grief, not jubilation. "Obviously, they have nothing to do with the bombing... I think it was just a tragic combination of miscommunication and awkward coincidence." The men, aged 20 through 27, worked for a local moving company, and are being held on visa violations. Their attorney, Steven Gordon, protested that they have been subjected to blindfolding, forced polygraph tests and a blackout of information on their rights. He also said non-Muslim inmates "physically threatened" them after Muslim prisoners pressured them to join in a hunger strike.
1. OSAMA PLUNDERING SOVIET NUCLEAR, BIO-CHEM WEAPONS?
Radio Free Europe Newsline reports growing concern that Osama Bin Laden may gain access to nuclear or bio-warfare materials left in Central Asia by the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry released a statement Oct. 15 rejecting US media speculation that the country still has biological weapons, and may be connected to the recent anthrax attacks. The statement affirmed that Kazakhstan abides by its obligations under international agreements on destruction of non-conventional weapons, noting that the US helps fund the ongoing decommissioning of the Soviet-era Stepnogorsk bio-weapons research facility. On Oct. 12, Reuters reported that US inspectors had found anthrax spores in piping at a former bio-weapons facility in Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, German TV reports that agents of Osama's Al Qaeda organization recently visited the Czech Republic to procure nuclear and biological weapons with the help of the Russian mafia. "Members of a gang involved in the attempt" have reportedly been arrested in Europe. (RFE Newsline, Oct. 16)
2. IS BAGHDAD NEXT?
The New York Times reported Oct. 12 that a group of Pentagon officials and defense experts, known as the "Wolfowitz cabal" after Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, is urging an operation to oust Iraq's Saddam Hussein as the next phase of the war. The "cabal" reportedly favors a US occupation of southern Iraq to install a London-based Iraqi opposition group as a new government. The US would seize the Basra oil fields and sell the oil to finance the rebel regime and Kurdish guerillas in the north, "one senior official said." The Defense Policy Board, a group of "national security experts" that advises the Pentagon, met Sept. 19-20, and reportedly "agreed on the need to turn to Iraq as soon as the initial phase of the war against Afghanistan...is over." The 18-member board includes ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, ex-Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, ex-Defense Secretary Harold Brown, ex-CIA Director James Woolsey and ex-Vice President Dan Quayle. Both Wolfowitz and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took part in the meeting. But the State Department was not briefed on the meeting, and Secretary of State Colin Powell is said to oppose expanding the war. In a signal that Bush is tilting to the "cabal," the White House inserted a sentence into a letter from UN Ambassador John Negroponte to the Security Council warning that following the Afghanistan campaign, "We may find that our self-defense requires further action with respect to other organizations and other states." Powell was not informed until after the letter was delivered.
The Times also reported that ex-CIA Director Woolsey is leading an investigation linking Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks. On Oct. 14, the UK Observer quoted "leading US intelligence sources" saying they suspect an Iraqi role in the anthrax attacks: "They aren't making this stuff in caves in Afghanistan. This is prima facie evidence of the involvement of a state intelligence agency. Maybe Iran has the capability. But it doesn't look likely politically. That leaves Iraq." The Observer also cited "intelligence sources" that last fall, 9-11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met in Prague with an Iraqi "intelligence agent" named Ahmed Samir al-Ahani, a former consul later expelled by the Czechs. Czech authorities are also examining the possibility that Atta met a former director of Saddam's external secret service, Farouk Hijazi, at a second meeting in the spring. Hijazi "is known to have met Bin Laden."
On Sept. 29, the Israel-based Internet news service DEBKAfile claimed 200 members of Bin Laden's Al Qaeda arrived in northern Iraqi in July, and were trained in use of chemical and biological weapons "at the hands of Iraqi army experts and instructors."
Ironically, evidence points to US culpability in Iraq's bio-warfare capability. After 1991's Operation Desert Storm, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an LA-based watchdog on anti-Semitism and genocide, released a statement citing US Commerce Department records of transactions in which the Maryland-based American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) sent approximately 20 biological samples to Iraqi scientists. According to the group's website (WWW.atc.org) , ATCC "is a global nonprofit bioresource center that provides biological products, technical services, and educational programs to private industry, government, and academic organizations around the world." The Wiesenthal Center also cited an April 11, 1990 NBC News report that the US Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta sent three shipments of West Nile Fever Virus to Iraq's Salman Pak research center. In March 1988, when Saddam used chemical weapons against the Kurdish city of Halabja in northern Iraq, instantly killing 5,000 civilians, he was still considered a loyal US client. A bill to impose sanctions against Iraq then never got out of Congress.
3. DID TALIBAN GET PIPELINE DEAL?
Brooke Shelby Biggs writes in the Oct. 12 Mother Jones, the Texas-based oil company Unocal "courted both the Taliban and the rival Northern Alliance" to gain rights to build a pipeline through Afghanistan--but "paid special attention on the Taliban." In 1997, the Unocal vice president in charge of the pipeline project was quoted as saying his company had provided "non-cash bonus payments" to members of the regime in return for their cooperation. "We basically had to 'pre-sell' them on the idea of this pipeline," said Unocal spokesman Mike Thatcher. "Some of them didn't understand the idea of profit motive. We had to educate them." In late 1997, a Taliban delegation visited Unocal's offices in Sugarland, TX, to meet with executives. A few days later, the Taliban's minister of mines met with the State Department's top official for South Asia. The visit, which came a month after then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright chastised the regime for its human-rights record, was arranged by Unocal. According to the US Energy Department, "In January 1998, the Taliban signed an agreement that would allow a proposed 890-mile, $2-billion, 1.9-billion-cubic-feet-per-day natural gas pipeline project led by Unocal to proceed." But Unocal denies a firm agreement was ever reached. All the company had, says Thatcher, was a "letter of support" signed by both Taliban and Northern Alliance representatives. "It wasn't a binding business deal, just a piece of paper that basically said they liked the idea of the project." After the August 1998 US air strikes on Afghanistan in retaliation for the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, investors bailed out of the pipeline, and Unocal abandoned the project. Thatcher defended the company's stance: "We're an oil and gas company. We go where the oil and gas is." He also posed the Afghanistan pipeline as an inevitability: "There is compelling economic logic for a pipeline there. We're not going to do it, but sooner or later, someone will."
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