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The Afghanistan Command:
If Oil, Then US There to Stay
By Greg Moses
Posted Nov. 26, 2001

With thanks to George Snedeker for coaxing this essay into existence.

The following timeline indicates that several years prior to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, US interests had been converging upon Central Asia, motivated by the promise of oil fields around the Caspian Sea and a desire to limit Russian influence in a post-Soviet era. The present contour of interests that characterize the present US administration could be seen in formation during the presidential primaries in the Spring of 2000, when the Center for Public Integrity offered profiles of campaign contributors who spent time at George W. Bush's governor's mansion in Texas. One of the visitors was Richard B. Cheney, who had served as Secretary of Defense under Bush senior. CPI reported that the younger Bush claimed to have great respect for Cheney, who had directed the Gulf War and the military action that ousted Panama's Manuel Noriega. After serving for a time at the American Enterprise Institute, Cheney joined the powerful oil-servicing giant Halliburton as CEO in 1995. As head of Halliburton, Cheney pursued interests in the emerging oil fields of the Caspian Sea region, centered in the countries of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Along with the heads of Chevron and Texaco Inc., CPI reported that Cheney sat on the Kazakhstan Oil Advisory Board, serving as a sounding board for the country's president. (1)

As reported by the petroleum watchdog group, Project Underground, "Kazakhstan is one of the three key producers of oil in the Caspian sea region together with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. This region, which surrounds the world's largest inland sea, is estimated to contain as much as 200 billion barrels of oil alone plus another 100 billion barrels' worth of gas under the Kara Kum Desert and other sites. At average price levels for the 1990s, that adds up to a treasure chest of roughly US $5 trillion." (2)

In an event that helps illustrate the development of US interests in Central Asia, on November 18, 1997, Texaco celebrated the signing of a production sharing agreement for Kazakhstan's giant Karachaganak oil and gas condensate field at a U.S. State Department ceremony attended by the Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev and US Vice President Al Gore. In a press release, Texaco Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Peter Bijur claimed that Texaco's 20 percent interest in the Karachaganak field, "represents a key element of Texaco's wider expansion in the Caspian region, which is an important feature of our strategic plan for expanding our position in the global energy market." (3)

Soon after the Texaco deal was concluded, a blue ribbon National Defense Panel (NDP) in December 1997 warned the US Secretary of Defense that, the United States was enjoying a "secure interlude" in a world of growing risks. Enemies had learned from the Gulf War that symmetrical, state-to-state, challenges against US interests would provoke massive military attacks. Future threats to the US would therefore more likely come from the use of "nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons" in "asymmetrical responses to our traditional strengths." (4) A new kind of war was coming, as part of a new world of risk. Under such conditions, the panel advised that, "bringing together all the elements of our national power will demand a highly integrated and responsive national security community that actively plans for the future-one that molds the international environment rather than merely responds to it." (5) To help the US mold the international environment in active fashion, the NDP argued, military planners should be prepared to, "project military power and conduct combat operations into areas where we may not have forward-deployed forces or forward bases. In particular, we must have the ability to put capable, agile, and highly effective shore-based land and air forces in place with a vastly decreased logistics footprint." (6)

A fuller reading of the 1997 NDP report reveals the construction of a logical model and use of language that anticipates the "new kind of war" rhetoric that has characterized the US administration's discourse in the aftermath of Sept. 11. As the panel argued, "Regular deployments to far-flung areas of the globe, from open deserts to confining urban terrain, therefore, are something we should expect. These deployments must not be viewed as a detraction from our traditional missions, but as a central element of the responsibilities of the future." Furthermore, the new kind of war, with its new sense of responsibility, will require, "a much larger role for homeland defense." (7)

In the NDPs anticipation of future military involvement, Asia figured prominently, due to growing economies in China and India. Neither Eastern Europe, Canada, the Caribbean, Africa, nor Latin America were neglected by the NDP survey of regions to be considered as possible sites of involvement. Most interesting, in light of subsequent developments, was the NDP's recommendation that the US would also have to keep watch over "regions that control scarce natural resources." In this regard, the NDP singled out "the Middle East and the emerging Caspian Sea areas for oil, as we try to hedge our own and our allies' resource dependencies." (8) In the NDP's 1997 assessment, the need to access Caspian sea oil was judged "critical to global economic stability." (9) For that reason, the NDP recommended the reorganization of the Pentagon's Central Command to focus on the oil resources of the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea. (10)

Meanwhile, in the Spring of 1998, Chevron reported five years of successful operations at Kazakhstan's giant Tengiz oil field. Along with its consortium partners (the Republic of Kazakhstan, 25 percent; Chevron, 45 percent; Mobil, 25 percent; and LukArco, 5 percent) Chevron celebrated production that had risen every year, from approximately 20,000 barrels per day in 1993 to 140,000 barrels per day in 1997. 1998 peak production had reached 190,000 barrels per day. "An investment of more than $1 billion is planned over the next three years to increase production capacity to 11 million metric tons per year (240,000 barrels per day) by mid-2000." (11) In October 1999 the Department of Defense reorganized its "command authority over American forces in Central Asia from the Pacific Command to the Central Command," reports Michael Klare. (12) Meanwhile, according to Jane's editor Charles Heyman, as quoted in the New York Times, the Pentagon had been exchanging military advisors with Uzbekistan and holding joint military exercises there. The NYT report goes on to say that, while exchange programs with Uzbekistan may have begun as early as 1995, and joint exercises as early as 1996, "engagement efforts and Special Forces missions took much of their current shape in 1999." (13)

In July 2000 a Commission on America's National Interest released its findings. The commission included Richard Armitage, Condoleezza Rice, and former National Security Advisor to the elder Bush, Brent Scowcroft. The report's introduction worries that, "after five decades of extraordinary exertion, the US is in danger of losing its way. The fatigue of many, and distraction of some with special interests, leave American foreign policy hostage to television images and the momentary passions of domestic politics. Lacking basic coordinates and a clear sense of priorities, American foreign policy becomes reactive and impulsive in a fast-changing and uncertain world." (14) In its review of US interests related to Russia, the commission argues that the US has a major interest in preventing major conflicts between Russia and the newly independent states of Central Asia. "Moreover, as essential choices such as those surrounding pipeline routes from the Caspian Basin are made, it is important for the US that they be taken without undue Russian pressure." (15)

What choices of pipeline routes from the Caspian Basin would the US want to consider? According to a Department of Energy report, "Afghanistan's significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes proposed multi-billion-dollar oil and gas export pipelines through Afghanistan, although these plans have now been thrown into serious question . . ." (16) As the DOE explains in further detail, the Taliban had signed an agreement in 1998 that would have allowed construction of a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, but by year's end, Unocal, a major partner of the pipeline consortium announced that the project was too risky. "Unocal had previously stressed that the Centgas pipeline project would not proceed until an internationally recognized government was in place in Afghanistan." (17)

Soon after the horrific destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, the US administration began aggressive pursuit of a goal to institute an internationally recognized government in Afghanistan. As the above timeline of developing interests shows, the US for several years had been organizing the will and resources for such a campaign, consistent with a strategy aimed at energy development and geo-political influence in the Central Asian sphere. While the official text of US military action in Afghanistan may be articulated as a discourse of war against terrorism, there are good reasons to believe that a pre-text may be working to define terms of engagement that will secure US interests in Central Asian oil. The oil motive may be one reason why the US administration quickly defined the Sept. 11 provocation as "war" rather than "crime against humanity" and then pursued a military strategy directed more toward the re-conquest of Afghanistan than incisive strikes against alleged co-conspirators. The model of an oil framework also suggests that US attacks will be followed by attempts to secure permanent bases in the region in support of long-lasting petro-political policies.


1. Heller, Nathaniel. "Overnight Guests at Governor's Mansion Added $2.2 Million to Bush Campaign." Center for Public Integrity. March 15, 2000.

2. Project Underground. "Kazakhstan."

3. Texaco Press Release. "Production Agreement Concluded for Giant Karachaganak Oil and Gas Field," Nov. 18, 1997.

4. Odeen, Philip A., Richard L. Armitage, etal. National Defense Panel. Report to Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen. December 1997. Executive Summary, p. i.

5. Odeen, Armitage, etal., cover letter.

6. Odeen, Armitage, etal., p. ii.

7. Odeen, Armitage, etal., p. ii.

8. Odeen, Armitage, etal., p. 6.

9. Odeen, Armitage, etal. p. 7.

10. Odeen, Armitage, etal., p. 73.

11. Chevron Press Release. "TengizChevronOil Completes Five Years of Operations at the Tengiz Oil Field in Kazakhstan." April 6, 1998. asp

12. Klare, Michael T. "The New Geography of Conflict," May/June 2001. Quoted from the web site at:

13. Chivers, C.J. "Long Before War, Green Berets Built Military Ties to Uzbekistan," New York Times, Oct. 25, 2001.

14. Allison, Graham T., etal. "America's National Interests: A Report from the Commission on America's National Interests." July, 2000.

15. Allison, etal. "America's National Interests, " p. 29.

16. Energy Information Administration. US Department of Energy. "Afghanistan."

17. EIA. "Afghanistan"


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