Part Four: America Builds an Army for Industry

Where the Quest for Oil Meets the War on Terror

This does not mean operatives "linked" to Al Qaeda have never passed through. According to Time magazine, a top Al Qaeda militant named Saif al Islam el Masry was transferred from here to the United States last year. But other reports cite different names and draw different, sometimes contradictory connections. Laliashvili says he has no information about el Masry—never even heard of him—and an FBI official told the Voice there are no unclassified records of anyone from Georgia being turned over. Meanwhile, Colin Powell has made reference to two other Al Qaeda-linked operatives—Abu 'Atiya and Abu Hafs—who were in the gorge but are currently at large. If these militants formed a single cell, no one here seems to know. "We don't have any Al Qaeda specialists at the ministry," said Laliashvili.

Perhaps not knowing is the greatest danger. Georgian officials insist that whoever was connected with Al Qaeda in Pankisi left in August, when fighters in the gorge were contacted, both openly and through back channels, and told to leave. Still, the U.S. government maintains that the Al Qaeda threat in Georgia is real. On September 11, a satellite phone call was placed from Afghanistan to an area near Duisi, Laliashvili said. Perhaps that is why four Pentagon Arab-language specialists set up a listening station on the GTEP base in Krtsanisi last year. As U.S. soldiers trained Georgian commandos in marksmanship, tactical maneuvering, and American military doctrine, "they quietly listened, on a range of frequencies, 24 hours a day, for a period of several months," an inside source told the Voice. "But they found nothing, so they went home."


Aims unclear: A Georgian soldier looks out on a firing range at the Krtsanisi military training facility.
photo: Raffi Khatchadourian
Aims unclear: A Georgian soldier looks out on a firing range at the Krtsanisi military training facility.

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Editorís note: As American forces charge on Baghdad, U.S. Marines stationed in Georgia are training and equipping an army that, according to Washington, will clear the remote Pankisi Gorge of terrorists. But Raffi Khatchadourian reports, the trainees could also protect a $3 billion pipeline, soon to provide the West with a new source of oil.


"Part One: Turkish Fishermen Threaten a Blockade"

"Part Two: The Blood of Massacred Turkish Kurds Holds a Fearful Lesson for Those Who Would Flee Iraq"

"Part Three: Pipeline Project Splits Georgian Village Into Winners and Losers"

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Research assistance: Mosi Secret

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