WHILE EUROPE AND THE US, AS well as other parts of the world, gear up for another round in the global war against terrorism, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are also casting their eyes on another global battle: The struggle to control the world's new oil and gas fields. At stake are not only the interests of politicians and the oil companies, as well as western consumers, but also geopolitical power in the 21st century. However, recent evidence from places as far afield as West Africa and Central Asia, as well as the Middle East itself suggests that both leaders have a lot of catching up to do if they are to regain their once almighty supremacy in the "Great Game" of international oil.
The first indication of trouble, at least as far as the mass media were concerned, came shortly after the bombings in Madrid in March. With the world's eyes on Spain's search for the suspects, and the arrest of a cell of Islamists from North Africa, a few intrepid reporters also discovered what many politicians, oil company executives and aid workers in Africa already knew: Bush has slowly, but surely, begun his battle for control of the large new energy fields being discovered in the Gulf of Guinea, as well as for others already existing, or being expanded, on the continent in countries such as Algeria, Libya, Nigeria, Mali and Angola. US Special Forces training troops have arrived in several North African countries over recent months. While ostensibly seeking to ferret out potential recruits for Al Qaeda, the training troops have noticeably been assigned to those areas where oil companies from the US and Britain are also operating, or seeking to gain new licences for exploration and production. In addition to Algeria, they include Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Mall. The US is reported to be spending some $700m on equipment and training for the military forces in these countries as part of its "Pan-Sahel" plan.
Military cooperation between the US armed forces and their counterparts in Morocco and Tunisia is also being encouraged, according to industry sources, as are security and military relations with Spain and its small enclaves on the North African coast. Although the US military's massive publicity campaign in March highlighted the potential threat the Bush Administration sees from alleged Al Qaeda operatives in the region, the focus on Africa comes amid a push by some in the US, especially conservative think tanks, to do more to secure alternatives to oil from the volatile Middle East."
Washington's justification for the new high military profile in West and North Africa stems front what it claims is intelligence showing that groups...