Release Date: December 4, 2000
Eric Margolis, c/o Editorial Department, The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3X5
Fax: (416) 960-4803 -- Press Contact: Eric Margolis

U.S.-Russian Crusade Against Osama Bin Laden

by Eric Margolis

NEW YORK -- The United States and Russia may soon launch a joint military assault against Islamic militant, Osama Bin Laden, and against the leadership of Taliban, Afghanistan's de facto ruling movement.

Such an attack would probably include US Delta Force and Navy Seals, who would join up with Russia's elite Spetsnaz and Alpha commandos in Tajikistan, the Central Asian state where Russia has military bases and 25,000 troops. The combined forces would be lifted by helicopters, and backed by air support, deep into neighboring Afghanistan to attack Bin Laden's fortified base in the Hindu Kush mountains.

How well such a raid would succeed remains in question: US special forces have had a dismal record of fiascos over the past quarter century. Russia's special forces, though more capable than similar American units, experienced some success but also many failures in the Afghan War. Assassinating irksome Third Worlders is the specialty of Britain's very able and very deadly SAS (Special Air Service) commandos.

In such an attack, the US would also launch cruise missile attacks, and Russia air strikes, would pound Afghan government installations and communications to punish Taliban.

The United States blames Bin Laden for the 1998 bombing of US embassies in East Africa, and the October bombing of destroyer `USS Cole' in Yemen. Washington accuses the shadowy Saudi, who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, of masterminding world anti-American terrorism. Bin Laden tops the FBI's `Ten Most Wanted' list with a US $5 million price on his head.

Russia accuses Bin Laden and Taliban of aiding resistance forces in Chechnya, whose forgotten people continue to battle Russian colonial rule. Moscow also fears Taliban threatens the Russian - backed communist dictators - or `Red Sultans' - of Central Asia. Russia is determined to avenge its defeat in Afghanistan, and regain control of this vast, resource-rich region.

Washington recently joined the `Shanghai Five,' an unofficial pact between Russia, China, and three Central Asian states to combat `Islamic terrorism' - meaning the region's anti-communist Islamic independence movements. The US agreed to share intelligence with them and provide some funding for the crusade against Islamic insurgents.

The Clinton Administration's anti-Muslim alliance with Russia is strategically wrong and morally disgraceful. Leading human rights groups are condemning Russia for war crimes and mass murder in Chechnya, widespread torture, rape, looting, collective punishment, and operating concentration camps. Russia has killed some 140,000 Chechen civilians to date and covered that nation with millions of anti-personnel mines.

America has no business colluding with the perpetrator of these crimes, nor with China's brutal repression of Sinkiang Muslims, nor aiding pro-Moscow police states in Central Asia. All of Washington's new `friends' in the anti-Islamic crusade are major violators of human rights.

America has a better case against Bin Laden, who proclaimed jihad, or holy struggle, to `liberate Arabia and Palestine from American rule.' He may have been behind the terrorist bombings in East Africa; perhaps, too, of the `USS Cole.' But Washington has to date shown no real proof, only leaks and claims by dubious `anti-terrorism experts.'

Old comrades from the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan who know Bin Laden, tell me the US has blown him out of all proportion into a mythical caricature, the latest of long list of Muslim bogeymen beginning with the 19th-Cerntury `Mad Mullah.' Bin Laden's alleged attacks may have actually been done by other Saudi extremists of the Wahabi sect.

Afghanistan's Taliban refuses Washington's demands to hand over Bin Laden, a hero to many Muslims, until the US shows proof of his crimes , which it has not. When Bin Laden and other mujihadin battled heroically against the Russians in Afghanistan, the US hailed them as `freedom fighters.' But when these `jihadis' called for liberation of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf from US domination, they were branded `Islamic terrorists.' In 1998, the Clinton Administration showered cruise missiles on guerilla camps in Afghanistan and an innocuous drug plant in Sudan, killing over 100 civilians and fighters.

The US engineered a punishing Iraq-style embargo of war-ravaged Afghanistan at a time when many of its 18 million people are starving and homeless. Though Taliban controls 95% of the country, the US refuses to recognize or aid the Islamic regime. Washington and the US media have launched a fierce propaganda campaign against Taliban, accusing it of encouraging the opium trade, harboring `terrorists,' and abusing women. The woman's issue has resonated loudly in the west, particularly on college campuses.

All the women's groups now shrilly lamenting that Afghan women must go veiled were silent when the Soviets slaughtered close to 2 million Afghans - half women --from 1979-1989; silent about 500,000 Afghans maimed by Soviet mines since then; silent about thousands of women raped during the post-war anarchy before Taliban restored internal order.

Taliban is battling the opposition Northern Alliance in the northeast corner of Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan. The Alliance commander, Ahmad Massoud, is a long-time collaborator with the Russians. His cornered forces are being increasingly aided by Russian arms, pilots, artillery, air support, as well as covert help from Iran, India and, likely, the US - all of them fueling the decade-old Afghan civil war.

The Clinton Administration, which shamefully financed Russia's massacre of the Muslim Chechen, is now actually helping Russia re-enter Afghanistan, an act of dazzling geopolitical folly that will endanger Pakistan and further convince the Muslim world that the United States is its sworn enemy. American money now pays for the killing of Palestinians in the Mideast, the slaughter of the Chechen, the death of 500,000 Iraqi children (UN figures, not mine), and now the punishment of ravaged Afghanistan - all this under the banner of a war against terrorism.

Instead of trying to overthrow Taliban, which will surely pave the way for a second Russian occupation of Afghanistan, the US and its allies should recognize Taliban as the legitimate Afghan government, and work with Kabul to curtail the opium trade, which is currently beyond anyone's control in a nation that is starving and desperate.

The west may not like the fierce Taliban, but it is the legitimate government of Afghanistan and the only power holding that nation together. Taliban is also the only force blocking Russia's plans to restore its former rule in Central Asia, and to reoccupy strategic Afghanistan.

[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and author of the just released War at the Top of the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet which was reviewed in The Economist, May 13, 2000]

Copyright © 2000 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved
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