Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 208

According to unofficial reports in both Baku and Washington, an American air base will soon be established in Azerbaijan to support U.S.-led antiterrorist operations. U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell are said to have gotten President Haidar Aliev’s consent to this in their latest telephone conversations. Aliev’s military adviser, Lieutenant-General Tofig Agahuseinov, indirectly confirmed those reports by declaring that Azerbaijan has no political objections to establishing U.S. Air Force bases in the country.

Azerbaijani military officials, interviewed anonymously in the Baku press, suggest that the immediate goal is to set up a logistical air base. Its functions would include refueling and servicing U.S. planes en route to combat theaters and storing military supplies for U.S. and allied ground troops to be deployed in those theaters. On September 8 in Baku, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lynn Pascoe, touring the region on a special mission, discussed the matter of bases with Aliev. Aliev declared on television that “we are with you, the [United States], in the same alliance and coalition and have offered our help.”

Azerbaijan joined the coalition on day one of the U.S. antiterrorist campaign. In early October, it granted America overflight rights and provided what Powell termed “critical intelligence cooperation.” It also took the initiative in offering the use of its air bases before Washington proposed to set up a U.S. air base in Azerbaijan. Since the October 7 start of the air campaign, numerous U.S. flights crossed Azerbaijani air space en route to Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan from bases in NATO Europe. Some of the planes, variously carrying humanitarian and military supplies, made refueling stops in Azerbaijan.

Looking beyond the current antiterrorist operation, Azerbaijani officials undoubtedly view the U.S. military entry as a guarantee of stability and security for the entire South Caucasus-Caspian region. The region, with its oilfields, currently forms a security vacuum–recently dramatized by Iranian air force and naval incursions into Azerbaijani air space and offshore waters, which culminated in the eviction of a major international oil consortium from its offshore contract area.

Now that construction work on oil and gas pipelines via Azerbaijan and Georgia is set to begin, providing security for them has become a matter of some urgency. International terrorism and its agents within the region pose a potential threat to these projects. Azerbaijani officials consider that the antiterrorism campaign must not stop short of preparations for addressing this set of threats as well.

In a partially related development, Azerbaijan is for the first time now hosting a NATO exercise. Cooperative Determination 2001, a command and staff exercise being held in Baku from November 5 to November 16, involves 350 officers from nine NATO member countries, as well as representatives of NATO partner countries including Azerbaijan and Georgia. Planned well ahead of September 11, yet partly reshaped by that event, the exercise is sponsored by NATO’s Southeastern Command and is supervised in Baku by four-star Turkish General Oktar Ataman. The computer-supported exercise rehearses crisis management, the formation of joint staffs at brigade and battalion levels, and the planning and execution of peacekeeping operations by those staffs (Western news agencies, November 5-6; Turan, November 3, 8; Ekho (Baku), November 3, 6-7; Azerbaijani Television, November 8; see the Monitor, October 29; Fortnight in Review, November 9).