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Context of '1991: Philippines Senate Votes to Close US Bases'

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During breakfast at Washington’s Madison Hotel, Stephen Bryen, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer and a close associate of Richard Perle, is overheard offering to pass classified material to Zvi Rafiah, the Congressional liaison officer for the Israeli embassy and a suspected senior Mossad officer (see October 1973). (Saba 7/4/1986) “I have the Pentagon document on the bases, which you are welcome to see,” Bryen reportedly says. (Holland and Bird 6/29/1985) The eavesdropper is Michael Saba, a businessman and former executive director of the National Association of Arab Americans. Saba, who recognizes Bryen as a staff member of the Senate Committee, promptly reports the incident to the Justice Department, which quickly launches an FBI investigation. The investigation will find that Bryen has illegally obtained classified documents of military and scientific importance and that he has been seeking material that “could prove to be a major embarrassment to the US government.” (Saba 7/4/1986) The investigation also learns that he has been meeting with Zvi Rafiah “two or three times a week.” (Saba 7/4/1986) The FBI ultimately assembles “a good circumstantial case” that Rafiah “routinely issued orders to Bryen” and will recommend that the case be brought before an investigative grand jury for espionage. Instead, the case will be closed (see April 1979). (Holland and Bird 6/29/1985; Saba 7/4/1986)

The Philippines Senate votes to close all US military bases in the country, a major strategic blow to the US in the region. (Kuppuswamy 2/28/2002)

Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, one of the founders and top leaders of al-Qaeda (see August 11-20, 1988), periodically lives in the Philippines during these years. Philippine officials will later note that their country makes a good place for Islamic militants to hide out due to lax immigration and “places of refuge” in the southern Philippines where a number of Islamic groups are fighting the government. (Burgos 10/1/2001; Abuza 12/1/2002) In addition, Salim is believed to have visited Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) in 1994 while they were working on the Bojinka plot in the Philippines. It is thought that he already had close ties to KSM by that time. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 139) Salim will be arrested in Germany in late 1998 (see September 16, 1998) and charged with helping to plan the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Between 1994 and his 1998 arrest, it is believed he traveled to more than 20 countries, including Russia and Canada. (Bonner 12/5/1998)

In a 2007 book about the “Lackawanna Six” entitled The Jihad Next Door, author Dina Temple-Raston will write that al-Qaeda “shuttered the training camps in August 2001, leaving little sign of the encampments that once dotted the Pakistan-Afghan border.” After 9/11, the camps are not reopened. (Temple-Raston 2007, pp. 130) One article shortly after 9/11 suggests that bin Laden moves his training camps in Afghanistan “in the days before the attacks.” (Bowden 9/16/2001) Presumably the CIA notices. CIA Director George Tenet will later claim a group of men from an allied intelligence agency penetrated the camps not long before 9/11 (see Early September 2001), satellites are monitoring Afghanistan from the sky, and the CIA had over 100 assets in Afghanistan before 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). FBI agent Jack Cloonan will also later say, “There were agents run into the camps” (see Before September 11, 2001).

Reportedly, the US is improving bases in “13 locations in nine countries in the Central Asian region.” (Grier 1/17/2002) US military personnel strength in bases surrounding Afghanistan has increased to 60,000. (Arkin 1/6/2002) “Of the five ex-Soviet states of Central Asia, Turkmenistan alone is resisting pressure to allow the deployment of US or other Western forces on its soil…” (Traynor 1/10/2002) On January 9, the speaker of the Russian parliament states, “Russia would not approve of the appearance of permanent US bases in Central Asia,” but Russia seems helpless to stop what a Russian newspaper calls “the inexorable growth” of the US military presence in Central Asia. (Traynor 1/10/2002) Commenting on the bases, one columnist writes in the Guardian: “The task of the encircling US bases now shooting up on Afghanistan’s periphery is only partly to contain the threat of political regression or Taliban resurgence in Kabul. Their bigger, longer-term role is to project US power and US interests into countries previously beyond its reach.… The potential benefits for the US are enormous: growing military hegemony in one of the few parts of the world not already under Washington’s sway, expanded strategic influence at Russia and China’s expense, pivotal political clout and—grail of holy grails—access to the fabulous, non-OPEC oil and gas wealth of central Asia.” (Tisdall 1/16/2002)

President Bush and Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai sign a “strategic partnership” allowing the US to have a long-term military presence in Afghanistan. The US is allowed to have access to existing military bases and potentially new bases as well. (Parameswaran 5/24/2005) Both the US and Afghanistan government try to avoid talk of permanent US military bases in Afghanistan, because the idea is highly unpopular with the Afghan population. There are about 18,000 foreign troops in the country, half of them American. There also is a NATO-led force of 8,500 peacekeepers in the capital of Kabul. (Salahuddin 4/26/2005) Asia Times reports that the US is constructing new military bases in the country, and in fact began work in February 2005. The bases “can be used in due time as a springboard to assert a presence far beyond Afghanistan.” The largest US air base is Afghanistan is located only about 50 miles from the border with Iran, “a location that makes it controversial.” (Maitra 3/30/2005)


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