George Szamuely: Happy Days, Here Again

Forget the war on terrorism. The United States is once again supporting the drug dealers, gangsters and warlord fundamentalists. The other day a State Dept. official met Chechnya’s self-declared foreign minister, Ilyas Akhmadov. The Russians were dismayed. Having thrown their lot in with the supposed common struggle against terrorism, they find the Americans giving support to terrorists. Last month, after a post-Sept. 11 lull, the U.S. stepped up its criticism of human rights abuses in Chechnya. The Russians professed to be "amazed" that the United States, as Agence France Presse reported, would meet with Chechens, "whose direct links with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are being proven with constantly emerging, irrefutable evidence…"

Chechnya has always been seen here as a rerun of Kosovo, which itself was a rerun of Afghanistan. All the ingredients are there: a spurious "national liberation" struggle financed by organized crime, drug trafficking and the global Islamic network; support from Western governments and human rights groups; Islamic fundamentalism as a substitute for genuine nationhood; violently enforced clan loyalty; political legitimacy based on appeals to Islam; and terrorists in power. Consider Kosovo: The U.S. is currently brokering a deal on the distribution of power. Leaders of the three leading Kosovo Albanian parties recently met the head of the U.S. office in Pristina, John Menzies, and it was proposed that the job of prime minister should go to Hashim Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK). Thaci is the leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Its links to Islamic terrorism and bin Laden have been amply documented. The KLA allegedly disbanded after the NATO takeover and reconstituted itself as a "civil defense force," the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC). Its wages were paid by the UN.

Last summer, the Bush administration discovered that the KPC was a terrorist organization after all and that it was fueling a terrorist insurgency in neighboring Macedonia. The President signed two decrees depriving "Albanian extremists who were threatening the stability of Macedonia" of all financial or material support. The decrees also barred them from entering the United States. This followed the embarrassing revelation that the U.S. military had facilitated the escape of NLA terrorists holed up in Arcinovo from the Macedonian army. According to Hamburger Abendblatt, "Among the rebels that were withdrawing were 17 ‘instructors’–former US officers that provided military training for the rebels. Not only that: the Macedonian security forces claim that 70 percent of the equipment that the guerrilla fighters took with them are of US production." The "instructors" were almost certainly members of an outfit called Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI). It is filled with former senior U.S. Army personnel and works on contract for the U.S. government. It had trained and directed the Croatian army during Operation Storm, in which something like 300,000 Serbs were driven out of their homes in Krajina. One of the commanders of Operation Storm was an Albanian, Agim Ceku, who also happens to be the chief of the Kosovo Protection Corps.

The people Bush banned from entering the United States included Gezim Ostremi, the KPC’s chief-of-staff; his replacement, Daut Haradinaj; the commander and deputy commander of the KPC’s elite force, the Rapid Reaction Corps, plus the leaders of two of its six regional divisions, Sami Lushtaku and Mustafa Rrustem. The UN expressed shock and surprise and demanded proof that people on its payroll were terrorists. This was an odd request. The UN had itself reported a year earlier that the KPC was a bunch of gangsters.

The U.S. decrees were more rhetoric than reality. As an Irish Times report put it sarcastically: "Commander Rrustem…earned fame during the Kosovo war as one of the most successful guerrilla commanders. He has since become a favourite with NATO commanders, whose glowing commendations line the walls of his office. Certainly if the Americans have reservations about him they have yet to show it: on Tuesday two separate US army teams came to his base to train his men."

There we have it: The KLA-NLA terrorists are funded by U.S. military aid, the UN peacekeeping budget, Al Qaeda and by drug trafficking and prostitution. If everything goes according to plan, their leader is about to be appointed prime minister thanks to U.S. efforts. O what a lovely war! Now on to Central Asia.

Washington now has 13 bases in nine countries ringing Afghanistan and in the Gulf. Agreements are in place to use airfields in Tajikistan. An air base is being built in Kyrgyzstan to hold 3000 troops. Gen. Tommy Franks vows to crush the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones promises $160 million in aid. Some 1500 U.S. servicemen are already stationed there; 3000 American troops are in Kyrgyzstan. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says the bases will serve to facilitate cooperation and training with the local military. In other words, the U.S. will, as in the Balkans, play the Islamists and anti-Islamists off against each other and reduce the countries to abject dependence. If the fates of Kosovo and Macedonia are anything to go by, the Soviet Union era will soon seem like a glorious one.

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