October 14, 2005

Thoughts on Nalchik

The attack on Nalchik in Kabardino-Balkaria is yet another sign of the deteriorating situation in the North Caucasus. While this is the first high-profile attack by Basayev's Chechen fighters and their allies since Beslan, this is unfortunately just the latest indication of the waning Russian control in the region. For some time now, there have been nearly as many clashes between Russian forces and Chechen fighters in Dagestan and Ingushetia as there are inside Chechnya proper and Basayev's followers now consist of large numbers of Dagestani and Ingush Muslims in addition to actual Chechens and Arab al-Qaeda fighters. With the death of Aslan Maskhadov at the hands of Russian forces, the chances for a negotiated peace in the Caucasus is now virtually nil and Maskhadov's successor Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev is little more than a puppet for Basayev, Doku Umarov, and his Arab al-Qaeda backers Abu Hafs al-Urduni and Abu Omar al-Saif, both of whom have called for attacks on US troops in Iraq.

Gateway Pundit has done a pretty good job of rounding up the information on the Nalchik attacks, though it seems that the FSB source that originally claimed that Basayev and Umarov had been killed is now retracting the claims. My own experience with reading Russian media coverage of the Chechen conflict is that it is heavily censored and that it now appears that the Russians are unlikely to acknowledge just how badly they were hurt until they have a better opportunity to assess the situation, particularly how a force as large as 300 fighters according to some reports were able to hit Nalchik without them getting any prior warning about it, for instance.

As for Yarmuk, the Basayev-aligned group that appears to have carried out the attacks, Andrew McGregor has the closest thing to a profile that I've been able to find on the group courtesy of the Jamestown Foundation:

Both the KBR and the neighboring Karachai–Cherkessian Republic (KCR) have supplied a steady source of fighters to the conflict in Chechnya. Many began their careers in the Islamic Peacekeeping Army that invaded Dagestan in 1999. While Chechens are routinely blamed for all bombings and other terrorist acts, it is the Turkic-speaking Karachays and Balkars that have actually been prosecuted for these incidents. An example is the 1999 apartment block bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, where blame was laid on Chechnya but all the individuals actually charged for these acts hail from Karachaevo-Cherkessia or Kabardino-Balkaria.

... Jamaats (Islamic communities) began to emerge in the KCR and KBR in 1996 as a reaction to the opening of the former Soviet Republics to the outside world of Islam. With the established structures of "official Islam" held in distrust, a younger generation began to seek connections with "true Islam", which to many meant adoption of Salafist beliefs current in the Arabian heartland of the faith but foreign to the North Caucasus. Some jamaats are entirely peaceful, while others have felt the lure of the message of jihad and adopted armed revolt. The Yarmuk Jamaat is of the latter type, having been formed in 2002 from Balkar followers of Chechen warlord Ruslan Gelayev in the Pankisi Gorge.

Other young Muslims have turned to the leadership of the self-described Emir of Muslims of Kabardino-Balkaria, Musa Mukhozhev. Mukhozhev's Salafist Islam has experienced a sudden growth in popularity as many young people abandon the region's traditional Sufi beliefs. Russia's new Interior Minister, Rashid Nurgaliyev (himself a Tatar Muslim) has disparaged the republic as a breeding-ground for foreign-supported "Wahhabism."

... In August 2004, the Yarmuk Jamaat announced the beginning of military operations in the KBR. [4] The statement rejected terrorism, calling it the preferred method of Russian security services: "We are not fighting against women or children, like Russian invaders are doing in Ichkeria (Chechnya). We are not blowing up sleeping people, like (the) FSB of the Russian Federation does." (The last sentence refers to alleged FSB responsibility for the 1999 apartment bombings). The author expresses anger at the Russian forces, but focuses on the divisive corruption of the "mafia clans" that lead the republic: "These mere apologies for rulers, who sold themselves to the invaders, have made drug addiction, prostitution, poverty, crime, depravity, drunkenness and unemployment prosper in our Republic."

A January 21 statement is the most detailed exposition of Yarmuk's aims. [6] It begins with a summary of historic injustices suffered by the Muslims of the Northwest Caucasus at Russian hands while maintaining that Shari'a law has been the legitimate legal code in the region since 1807. The authors avoid reference to radical Islamic thought, preferring to establish the orthodoxy of their movement by citing the Hanafite legal code (one of the four accepted schools of Sunni Islamic law) as justification for beginning a "defensive [and hence obligatory] jihad." Emphasizing personal reasoning and exercise of judgment, the Hanafite code differs greatly from the rigid and inflexible terms of the Hanbalite legal school followed in Saudi Arabia. The Hanafite interpretation is traditional in the Caucasus, and is a touchstone in the author's appeal to historic resentment of Russian rule.

The Yarmuk statements are an unusual blend of Islamic militancy and local concerns (extending even to the scandalous behavior of a local pop singer). They describe an indigenous movement that derives its purpose from regional and traditional interpretations of Islam rather than imported "Wahhabism". Indeed, foreign solutions to the problems of the KBR are explicitly rejected – Western democracy is deemed to practice a double standard in its dealings with the Russian Federation, while there is "nothing but betrayal to be expected from the fattened womanlike ‘sheikhs' of the East."

The Yarmuk manifestoes call for political change through moral revolution. Even the Russians are warned that their rule in the North Caucasus is crippling them, "morally and physically". The KBR's large Orthodox minority and tiny Jewish community are both offered the protection of dhimmi status under Shari'a law. [7] The statements were probably the work of Yarmuk leader Muslim Atayev and his associate Ilyas Bichukayev, both graduates of the University of Nalchik. The two were both killed in a day-long gun battle in Nalchik on January 27.

According to Russian accounts, Yarmuk is now led by Astimirov Anzor and Ilyas Gorchkhanov, who were previously wanted in connection with an earlier attack on the regional branch of the Federal Drug Control Service in Nalchik. The reference to Yarmuk as non-Wahhabi (Russian insistence to the contrary) is somewhat curious, as Gelayev himself was a Wahhabi (abeit of a more moderate variety than Basayev) and he certainly fell in with the Wahhabi-controlled Chechen enclave in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge prior to his death at the hands of the Russian military. Whatever the status of Yarmuk's religious orientation, there seems to be little doubt as to their ties to Basayev:

... Though Maskhadov may have ordered the creation of these new fronts, it is the remarkably well-traveled Basayev who has demonstrated operational control. Basayev spent six weeks in KBR in 2003, narrowly escaping capture in a firefight at Baksan.

The Jamestown Foundation's descriptions of the restrictions on Islam in Kabardino-Balkaria and a healthy dose of local corruption also gives one some idea of how extremism might take root there:

The KBR government has imposed restrictions on Islam that recall Soviet rule. All mosques save one in Nalchik have been closed, and the wearing of beards or praying outside the home marks an individual for arrest. Some young Muslims detained by police have had crosses shaved into their scalps. A list of 400 people deemed security threats has been compiled, though some suspect the list contains many non-militants whom the regime dislikes. Mukhozhev notes that "It is very hard for us to keep the youth from retaliating. The authorities' policy cannot be described as sensible – rather, it is provocative." [2] The FSB maintains that the KBR has become a base for terrorism and religious extremism.[3]

I suspect the FSB is correct in that regard, though they're likely confusing the effect with the cause in this instance.

Both Russians and Islamists accuse the other of provoking war in the KBR. Russia has steadily increased the number of soldiers, police and secret services in the republics over the last year and incidents of torture, arbitrary arrest, and disappearances are now commonplace. The Yarmuk statements suggest that Islam will serve as a rallying point for young people tired of repressive rule, corruption and lack of economic opportunity. The war in Chechnya continues to serve as the catalyst for the violence, and the Kremlin's pursuit of a military solution there ensures an escalating cycle of insurgency and repression in Kabardino-Balkaria.

Now before I get accused of sympathizing or legitimizing Basayev's jackboots, do understand that I nothing but abhorrence for their methods and as long-time readers know I don't consider there to be much of a distinction between Yarmuk, the Riyadus-Salikhin, the International Islamic Peacekeeping Brigade, and every other jihadi group active in the Caucasus and Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq (particularly since they've openly thrown in with him), especially if you look at where the money's coming from and who's ultimately calling the shots. However, basic counter-insurgency, especially if the insurgency is taking place in your own backyard, is to try and win over as much of the population as possible. Accepting that Kabardino-Balkaria is majority Muslim and is going to remain so for the immediate future, these types of Russian policies only serve to feed into resentment in the area and gain more recruits to the banner of people like Basayev.

That all said, nothing can excuse the horrific actions of Yarmuk, particularly since the majority Muslim population of Nalchik (particularly those who just happened to be at the store, the airport, or the school on the day in question) weren't occupying anything except perhaps their town. Today's events are yet another grim reminder of how al-Qaeda and its allies, among whom must be counted Basayev, Abu Hafs al-Urduni, and Abu Omar al-Saif, have once again twisted the Chechen independence movement and instead turned into yet another front in their global jihad.

Posted by at October 14, 2005 10:08 AM | TrackBack (2)
Comments

"Today's events are yet another grim reminder of how al-Qaeda and its allies, among whom must be counted Basayev, Abu Hafs al-Urduni, and Abu Omar al-Saif, have once again twisted the Chechen independence movement and instead turned into yet another front in their global jihad."

Yes, well nature abhores a vacuum.

This is all remminissent of eastern bloc support of North Vietnam (during the American War there) and Central American revolutions against US supported dictatorships.

You have a predeliction for seeing a monolithic Al Qaeda - or more properly, radical Islamic - movement with active franchising.

No doubt there are some jihadis who would like to achieve what you see as occurring. However, such is not the case in reality.

You do indeed like to indulge in the game of the six degrees of separation. What makes conclusions based on that game appear more plausible, is the way the underground economy works. Outlaws, terrorists, drug lords, revolutionaries and their ilk all need weapons, money, and certain logistics and intelligence support.

By their very nature these groups cannot easily obtain these things as openly and freely as legitimate entities. So they do what they must. They often whore themselves, turning tricks as it were. Sometimes they cut deals with larger state sponsors (e.g. the the Muj. getting stingers from the US in Afghanistan, Michael Ledeen and co.s support of the Contras and Iran and more recently the MEK). Often these groups trade amongst themselves in the black market. It's all about necessity, narrow alignment of interests, enemy of my enemy is my friend type thinking. Naturally, during the course of business interactions there is an exchange of ideas as well. There are always friendly missionaries willing to buy one's conversion.

For the most part, in the end, these interactions and exchanges are just business. I use you, you use me and when the party is over we each go back to our own homes. Just as the communists of Vietnam were more about nationalism than they were Soviet style socialism, I suspect strongly that the Chechen situation you write about remains at its core nationalism as well. The Chechens can use Al Qaeda now, when they need them, and expell them later when they don't.

There is a policy ramification here. Whenever possible the US should avoid creating and/or perpetuating circumstances that cause revolutionary groups to form and then move to our enemies for assistance. Central America, Cuba and Vietnam are good examples where the US failed in this regard.

There is always the chance that the enemy's ideas will find fertile ground in those who see us as the source of their ills and struggles. Though these allignments do tend to be temporary.

Posted by: ghost at October 14, 2005 11:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have always been amazed that the North Vietnamese, who organized and fought as Communists, proclaimed themselves to be Communists, depended completely for arms on Communist governments and upon conquering Indochina established Communist dictatorships the most important of which (in Vietnam itself) endures today, still find Westerners gullible enough to insist that they were really all about "nationalism" rather than Communism.

Any nation at war is going to fight for nationalistic reasons. That includes the Germans and Russians during World War II, which is no reason to doubt the sincerity of the Nazis and Stalinists who ran their respective war efforts (It also includes -- incredible as it may seem to Hanoi's apologists -- the South Vietnamese who lost the war against the North). One has to wonder how one of these "they were all about nationalism" types would go about persuading a member of the Vietnamese politburo that he wasn't really a Communist, that he was only driven to pretend to be a Communist by misguided American policy. The poor politburo member would probably be as mystified at the special level of gullibility required for someone to pull wool over his own eyes as I am.

Does this have anything to do with Chechnya? Probably not. The demoralized Russian state of the mid-1990s sought to use Chechnya as a means to assert Russian power over a former Soviet territory too physically remote and culturally foreign for the West to care about, using methods that had already failed in Afghanistan. They failed again in Chechnya, but not before wrecking the region's infrastructure, decapitating its leadership and embittering its people. Islamism would probably have entered the region anyway, but by the time the second Chechen war began most of the people who might have been inclined to resist it were dead.

With respect to Dan's post, I agree that the casualty reports sound very fishy. A surprise coordinated attack by multiple teams of terrorists does not square with terrorist casualties equal to those among civilians and security personnel, not unless the terrorists were firing into the air. Putin's government is just buying itself more trouble by keeping the lid on how bad this was.

Posted by: JEB at October 14, 2005 04:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

ghost:

There's 6 degrees of separation and then there's just 1. If you look at the commanders of the Arab fighters in Chechnya, Khattab was bin Laden's protege, Abu Walid al-Ghamdi was from the same tribe as 3 of the 9/11 hijackers, and Abu Hafs al-Urduni has actively assisted both Zarqawi and the GSPC in launching attacks on European targets.

Ledeen also doesn't support the MEK, but that's a discussion for another time.

Also, note that I never said that the entire Chechen independence movement was a jihadi enterprise. It isn't, but Basayev's wing, which is currently what's ascendence, is. They say as much in their own publications and on websites like qoqaz.net or Kavkaz Center, just as they are unambiguous about their desire to create a broader Islamic state in the Caucasus rather than just an independent Chechnya.

Posted by: Dan Darling at October 14, 2005 04:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Sometimes they cut deals with larger state sponsors (e.g. the the Muj. getting stingers from the US in Afghanistan, Michael Ledeen and co.s support of the Contras and Iran and more recently the MEK). "

How did you forget to mention Pinochet ;)


Its as if it was ONLY the US who had contacts with some less than savory groups during the past 40+ years

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at October 14, 2005 05:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I for one am really disappointed in the Russians that they haven't blown the whole godforsaken place to glowing dust. Putin, you reading this?

Posted by: igout at October 14, 2005 06:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"If you look at the commanders of the Arab fighters in Chechnya, Khattab was bin Laden's protege, Abu Walid al-Ghamdi was from the same tribe as 3 of the 9/11 hijackers, and Abu Hafs al-Urduni has actively assisted both Zarqawi and the GSPC in launching attacks on European targets."

I brought up the Michael Ledeen stuff and the stingers partly because I couldn't resist poking at a reprehensible individual, but mostly as some good natured ribbing directed at you. I guess you missed that.

Let's try again, you were Ledeen's protege, Ledeen has dealt weapons systems to Iran, ergo - in your logic - you, yourself, are in league with Iranian militarism.

Or the liberals' famous Don Rummsfeld shook hands with Saddam in Bhagdad - see the smiling faces in the picture - at a time when Saddam was gassing Kurds and fighting Iran. Therefore the US supported Saddam in these activities. BTW, Rummy works with Ledeen and you.............you supported the gassing of Kurds?!?!?

Sill isn't it? We always ascribe some positive motive to ourselves and sinister qualities to others when explaining the hows and whys of otherwise similar situations.

Maybe you're right in your post. I'm merely suggesting that you leap to conclusions to readily.

As for Vietnam, I expressed myself badly. The point was not that the North wasn't communist - clearly they were/are. The point was that they were nationalists first and communists second. They were not going to - nor did they ever - surrender their national identity or autonomy as Viets to some global communistic super entity; presumably with a brain center located in the Kremlin.

Similarly the Chechens are Chechens first. I do not see them joining any global jihadi terrorist movement.

Are jihadis there? Sure. A jihadi is an extremely dedicated warrior. They seek out the defense of Islam any where it is perceived as being under attack.

Are some jihadis al qaeda? Yes. Are all jihadis al qaeda? no.

Again, these are underground networks. When interests align they cooperate. When interests conflict they may fight.

Yes, Bin Laden invisions a return of the glorious caliphate. If he has any chance it will be in uniting Arabs. Indonesians, Chechens, Azeris, etc are not going to surrender national identity and national interests; a few fringe elements, sure, but that's it. I'm pretty sure that Persians are out as well.

Posted by: ghost at October 15, 2005 01:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

ghost:

I think that you can draw a distinction between present/past collaboration on a lot of this stuff. Had the Chechens only been active in the international jihad in the past, they could plausibly argue that they jumped ship when things got really nutty. Instead the reverse has been true, as can be seen from events like Beslan or Nalchik or the fact that Abu Hafs al-Urduni is now calling for attacks on US troops in Iraq, etc.

Now is Basayev only a Wahhabi and an al-Qaeda ally of convenience? Probably. The man is also a monster and a self-described terrorist, which is one of the reasons why I don't feel terribly bad about sullying his good name if that's in fact what I'm doing. He and his allies, going at least as far back as the late 1990s, have been trying to set up some kind of miniature empire in the Caucasus in contrast to the actual independence struggle and have embraced the global jihad as a means to that end.

I agree that most Chechens are nationalists first, but keep in mind that most Chechens are also Sufis who wouldn't even dream of using suicide bombing or what happened in Beslan as a legitimate tactic. Basayev, at best, commands arout 3,000 fighters, including Arabs and however many Ingush, Dagestanis, and other Russian Muslims he's gotten to flock under his banner, which is why I distinguish between his followers and however many people Maskhadov had fighting under him at the time of his death.

As far as the Chechens joining any global jihad movement, the Chechens fighting under Basayev are already participating in one from their perspective simply by being in the Caucasus. This kind of ideology is incredibly receptive to Basayev's long-term agenda, which is one of the reasons why he's embraced it to the degree that he has to begin with and why the fighting has spread outside of Chechnya proper in both guerrilla and terrorist attacks to Ingushetia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, and even Moscow itself.

On the broader issue of whether or not Arabs, Indonesians, Chechens, Azeris, et al. are really going to buy into bin Laden's rhetoric to the point where they ditch their own goals in order to pursue his, that's a pretty complicated question that varies considerably from place to place, especially in cases where his goals are interlocking with their own. That's pretty much the case in Chechnya right now, and I don't think it's something that the US should ignore.

Posted by: Dan Darling at October 15, 2005 05:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here's my question, Dan.

you close your last comment of this interesting discussion with "I don't think it's something that the US should ignore."

What, exactly, should the US be doing, in your opinion?

To me, the prior discussion serves as an insightful example of how it takes two sides to create an international system - through a parasitic process in which all local conflicts are consumed by the rising polar separation.

More specifically,
by supporting autocratic governments in the Middle East (1 degree of separation) the United States of America, along with the Soviet Union, helped the create the global virus (or systemic order) of Islamic fanaticism. We were part of its creation directly on occasion (as early as 1959, by installing the Shah, to use one example), but mostly indirectly (1 degree of separation, in supporting Arab dictators who used overwhelming force to annihiliate Muslim insurgencies).

Eventually, individuals and organizations emerged who instinctively knew that to strengthen 'their side' (Islam) of the conflict, they had to spread it around. September 11, 2001 was obviously a milestone in that loosely coordinated effort, not only for the direct symbolic value from a terrorist perspective, but also for the opportunity to draw the United States into direct armed conflict with Muslim populations. Of course, GWB played right into their hands by transforming Iraq from a statist Baathist dictatorship into a vibrant anti-american insurgency with massively visible global PR. All along here, a very unfortunate conflation is occuring. A movement that could have been "Islam vs. dictatorship" has ended up becoming "Islam vs. America". At the very least, that's what Al-Queda is shooting for, although you could probably substitute Islam vs. "Western rationalism in general" for "America".
Nevertheless, there are still fringe elements, ones less touched by Al-Qaeda, wherein democracy has been advanced by Islamic revolution.

The Chechen dynamic is another example of a successful gambit by Al-Qaida (shorthand for "Islamic supremacists") to consume a local conflict. Of course, as usual, Russia played into their hands even more than us, by a factor of 100. Left to itself, Chechnya could have been a movement towards democracy. Chechnya didn't have to become an Islamic breeding ground in 1998 - it was a failed state, but given time and a genuine opportunity for interests to diverge, the Checnynan nationalists might have purged the opportunistic Islamo-radicals. After Putin started WWIII, that went out the window. In fact, Putin has at every turn seeked to eliminate the Chechen nationalists/moderates and the non-Islamo fanatics FIRST (such as with the killing of Mashkadov) - in order to delegitmize the remaining resistance. (These tactics are similar to the ones practiced by Ariel Sharon in 2001-2002 vs. the Palestinian Authority: luckily he has since become more pragmatic).

The larger point people should be seeing of course, is the classic Insurgency Trap: you don't have to win battles to win - or at least to drag the world closer in some way to your preferences. Bin Laden may never set up an Islamic caliphate, but the waves he has set up are likely to eventually destroy the remaining Arab dictatorships that were the most involved in his creation.

Russia, in my opinion, is quite likely to also be destroyed, or at least cannibalized in that process.

If we were smart, instead of knee-jerk supporting a government that in every way is more like Syria every year, we would be looking to de-link the conflict from Islamic fanaticism by providing an alternate base of support. Russia's arab regions, in my opinion, are headed for greater autonomy, whether we like it or not. What we can choose is how much that role model looks to Bin Laden, or looks to us for support.
Sure, my suggestion is fraught with moral and practical tightropes. But I think the Chenyans would have been a lot more willing to hand over their Islamic fanatics in 1998 in exchange for peace, than the Afghani government would have been in 2001. I also think that for the phrase "you're either with us, or with the terrorists" to apply, there has to be some opportunity to be "with us". I don't think that whatever's left of the non-Islamic fanatic Chechen, and entire North Caucaus population, has that choice. They are quite clearly second-class citizens in Russia, end of story.

I'm interested in your thoughts.

Posted by: Jordan Willcox at October 16, 2005 03:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jordan Willcox:

Arab regions of Russia?

As far as what the US should be doing in the Chechen conflict, we should recognize that there is an al-Qaeda component there headed up by Basayev and work to both delegitimize and disrupt its external support networks (which, in the case of those recruiting international jihadis, are in many cases one and the same as those recruiting jihadis for Iraq) while strengthening our work in order to push legitimate Chechen and North Caucasus Muslims' demands for autonomy in another direction. This is one of the reasons why killing Maskhadov was such a blunder, because it removed the most likely and most credible individual who could be enlisted towards such a venture. The goal of spreading al-Qaeda and Islamic extremism more generally is made a hell of a lot easier when there very real grievances at work that serve to support the worldview they're selling, which is one of the reasons why the US prisoner abuse scandal is such an unfortunate setback.

On the broader issue that al-Qaeda could have been framed in terms of "Islamists vs. dictatorships," I think you have to go back into the theoretical models that Sayyid Qutb and Abdullah Azzam drew up that led to its creation back in 1989. Had the US cared enough at the time to make certain that some kind of program was set up for the Afghan Arab mujahideen, a lot of our current troubles could have been avoided. Similarly as you point out, Chechnya as a failed state in 1998-1999 certainly would have been far more able to help Russia eliminate Basayev than the current rump government set by the Kremlin is.

I don't think that the break-up of Russia is necessarily inevitable, but it's certainly going to require an entirely different paradigm from that which the Kremlin has been relying upon since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Posted by: Dan Darling at October 16, 2005 06:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Re the Arabian Russians, I am not above dyslexia when blogposting, and I error-check less thoroughly than in manuscript preparations. I don't actually know whether or not any of the myriad ethnic groups in the Russian South are of Semitic lineage. It wouldn't surprise me. But that nevertheless wasn't exactly what I meant.

Re the killing of Mashkadov as a blunder: If Putin considers the odd 10000 lives a worthy trade for the political damage and ideological reversal he might suffer in exploring any serious political negotiations with any independent Checken entity, then he might not consider it a blunder.

He's still wrong, though, because he underestimates the extent to which the conflict has undermined his efforts to fight corruption and create respect for the law within his own state.

This ties nicely into Re: Russia's break-up. Here I just want to shout-out, in passing, to a correlative tendency between the following characteristics of a state:

1. An economic concentration/dependency upon the selling of oil

2. A high degree of political authoritarianism

3. A very rocky long-term political future.


Russia's belated return to capitalism has seemingly only begun a slide downward into this unfortunate profile.

Posted by: Jordan Willcox at October 16, 2005 08:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For someone whose own posts are often full of spelling and grammatical errors, I certainly don't fault you. Actually, I was more curious to know whether you knew something I didn't about the people of the North Caucasus ...

As to Maskhadov, the Russians have been willing to negotiate with him before. A lot of their counter-terrorism strategy seems to me to be based more on incompetence than on deliberate malice, especially given the Chechens' proven ability to hit Moscow proper in a major way. My own assumption is that Putin still believes that he can beat the Chechens back into submission if he just kills enough of them. If that is in fact the game plan though, then I think it's entirely fair to say that to date it's been such a monumental failure that it's now doing the exact opposite of what it was implemented to achieve if the goal was to contain separatism.

Posted by: Dan Darling at October 16, 2005 09:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dan,
I won't argue with your take.

My take is nuanced differently.

Should the US ignore the possibility of AQ expanding and setting down real roots in Chechnya? No. Yet I don't think it's something to become too concerned over, either.

I think we should be careful to not fall into the trap of seeing every instance of the surfacing of AQ fighters as evidence of the global jihad against the US.

Just by way of example, in Bosnia AQ fighters went in to defnd their brothers. These fighters did not seem to have a beef with the US and, as far as I know, there was no real trouble between them and US forces and other personnel.

That's one nuance I'm trying to pass along. There's aq and then there's AQ.

Al Qaeda was set up as a training "base" for the purpose of turning out fighters who would defend Islam where ever it was threatened; as a religion and/or as a population.

The base provides funding, weapons, training, logistics support, etc to muslims involved in - primarily - defensive jihad.

It is not accurate or productive to equate all jihad or all AQ with anti-american fanaticism (BTW, I am not a muslim, nor do I have much appreciation for Islam).

It is only a fraction of the jihadis that train and receive support that really buy into the need to go on the offensive against the US (I agree with Eric Martin that the invasion of Iraq increased the that fraction dramatically).

Apparently those few were taken under the wing of special commanders and treated in different ways than the typical recruit.

To some extent AQ functioned as a recruiting venue for Bin Laden's particular brand of Islamic revolution, but entry was restricted to those willing and capable. It certainly was not required of the majority of trainees.

And I will agree that Bin Laden and other ranking AQ officers would like to spread their personal agendas and that having fighters in a country provides a useful avenue to export ideas.

Ultimately though, I find you arguements here and elsewhere flawed (though thoughtful and not wholey without merit) because you insist on AQ as a Bin Ladenesque monolith and you lack appreciation for the power of nationalism and even tribalism (especially in Iraq).

Then there's that whole Ledeen thing, but I'm going to work hard to leave that alone.

Posted by: ghost at October 16, 2005 03:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It seems to me that dictatorship and Islamism are 2 sides of the same coin. Saddam used Ansar-al-Islam against the Kurds. He gave money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and the People's mujahadeen in Iran. The "non-state players" no doubt thought that they were the ones exploiting the dictator. Couldn't this be the case with AQ and Baseyev? Whether is is the Mullahs of Kandahar, Saddam Hussein, or whatever ruler that might emerge in the (heaven forbid) independent state of Chechnya, you can bet that Islamic extremism will find a home.

Posted by: Chuck Betz at October 16, 2005 08:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For what it's worth, there *are* Semitic peoples in the North Caucasus--the Mountain Jews of Daghestan. Their origins aren't exactly clear, but there have been Jews there since the fall of the First Temple. There was a larger influx of Jews from Persia around the 5th C. The other peoples are Kartvelian, Circassian, Turkic, and Persian. And lots of Slavs, of course, plus some Armenians, Greeks, Kurds,...

Some "scholars" claim that the Chechen nation descends from Magog, Noah's grandson. Uh huh. These folks also say that the Georgians descend from Japheth, Noah's grandson, but I've never been told that by a Georgian. I like to think that I descend from Abednego.

Posted by: Jonathan Kulick at October 16, 2005 08:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Correction, Having just returned from Winds of Change and reading your related post, I have to conclude that you are into the realm of fabrication and, thus, I think your analysis stinks.

Tell me why, with "hundreds" of chechens in Afghanistan - presumably fighting the US - not a single chechen body has been recovered from the battlefields there?

Where is the cite for aq training camps being established in Chechnya?

I think you and your neocon pals have an agenda and somehow telling such stories re: chechnya=aq gets you closer to your real goal.

But that's what happens when you are mentored by people that believe in the use of deception on their own populace. No one can tell when you're deceiving for gain or when you're honestly calling it like you see it.

oh well....

Posted by: ghost at October 16, 2005 10:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

ghost:

To answer your first question, one of the reasons that your analysis differs from mine is that you appear to be more or less adhering to school of thought with respect to al-Qaeda that was formulated by Jason Burke, whereas my own is more influenced by Rohan Gunaratna. The recent CRS report on al-Qaeda covers both views in-depth, which might lead one to come to the conclusion that both are equally valid interpetrations of the same data.

To answer your questions:

Tell me why, with "hundreds" of chechens in Afghanistan - presumably fighting the US - not a single chechen body has been recovered from the battlefields there?

I'm not aware that the US military has a stated policy with regard to recovering bodies on the battlefield. How many Egyptians have been found dead in Afghanistan? Uzbeks? Libyans? How would one even go about determining such a figure?

That said, there have been any number of press, French intelligence, and US (to say nothing of Russian) military reports of Chechens active in Afghanistan. More recently, the Pakistani military claims to have killed a number of Chechens active in the Northwest Frontier Province that would have presumably fled there following the fall of the Taliban. Pelton and Gall couldn't find any among the Northern Alliance prisoners who were found at Mazar-e-Sharif or Shiberghan, but that's quite a different thing from there not being any in Afghanistan.

Where is the cite for aq training camps being established in Chechnya?

http://www.cdi.org/program/issue/document.cfm?DocumentID=842&IssueID=56&StartRow=31&ListRows=10&appendURL=&Orderby=DateLastUpdated&ProgramID=39&issueID=56

According to press reports, this was due to Khattab and bin Laden’s shared desire in 1995 to "create one Muslim nation on the Caucasus under fundamentalist rule." Subsequently, millions of dollars per month were funneled into the region to fund this initiative, and shortly there after, Chechens began receiving terror training in Afghanistan as well as indoctrination of the Wahabbi creed in various "learning centers" across Chechnya. Some reports suggest as many as 1,000 recruits passed through these centers during this time. It was these events that were the impetus for the radical Chechen movements of today, such as the SPIR, IIB, and Riyadus-Salikhin.

... Khattab became so successful in funding, training, and arming the necessary radicals into the Caucasus region to fight Moscow that even Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s top lieutenant, began eyeing Chechnya as a possible base during the 1990s as well.

I think you and your neocon pals have an agenda and somehow telling such stories re: chechnya=aq gets you closer to your real goal.

Take a look at the membership of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya and see if you can repeat that claim again with a straight face.

But that's what happens when you are mentored by people that believe in the use of deception on their own populace. No one can tell when you're deceiving for gain or when you're honestly calling it like you see it.

So in the absence of evidence, one should always conclude bad faith, yes? Look, I am not Michael Ledeen, nor am I his stand-in, proxy, etc. You have a problem with Ledeen, you can take it up with him. If you have a problem with my arguments, then take them up and I will address them as I did above. This whole genetic argument that anything connected to Ledeen suffers from some kind of ritual impurity and hence must always be distrusted or regarded in bad faith, however, leaves me in a position where there is little that I can say to defend myself. You want to use me as a stand-in so you can vent whatever problems you have with Ledeen/the neocons, that's fine, but you'll pardon me if I opt out of such cathartic exercises.

Posted by: Dan Darling at October 17, 2005 12:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"I'm not aware that the US military has a stated policy with regard to recovering bodies on the battlefield. How many Egyptians have been found dead in Afghanistan? Uzbeks? Libyans? How would one even go about determining such a figure?"

Dan, the bodies are "picked clean" for intelligence gathering purposes (at least in Afghanistan.

I'll take your cite at face value, but note that it states that Chechens received training in Afghanistan and only learned hard core Islamic values at schools in Chechnya. I thought you were originally saying that there were AQ training camps in Chechnya.

Has there ever been a chechen trained at an AQ camp. Sure, no one will argue with that. There were even Americans amongst those captured/killed in Afghanistan. However, what was the extent of Chechen migration? How many trained at AQ camps? What % of the total? How influencial in the Chechen world - are these members and their groups?

Similarly, just what was taught at these learning centers in Chechnya. What is "radical" is a matter of opinion. I don't recall the article providing examples; nothing qualitative nor nothing quantitative. And that concerns me.

So, like I said earlier, I have no doubt that there is some AQ involvement up in the Caucasus. Yet I remain convinced that it is fringe and has scant chance of blossoming into a controlling influence.

If this is all you have to go on then I think you're making mountains out of mole hills.

Maintain survellience, certainly, but avoid drawing conclusions about monolithic global jihad.

As for Ledeen. It is encouraging - not to mention intelligent of you - to see that you are willing to put some distance between the two of you.

Posted by: ghost at October 17, 2005 12:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"I'm not aware that the US military has a stated policy with regard to recovering bodies on the battlefield. How many Egyptians have been found dead in Afghanistan? Uzbeks? Libyans? How would one even go about determining such a figure?"

Dan, the bodies are "picked clean" for intelligence gathering purposes (at least in Afghanistan.

I'll take your cite at face value, but note that it states that Chechens received training in Afghanistan and only learned hard core Islamic values at schools in Chechnya. I thought you were originally saying that there were AQ training camps in Chechnya.

Has there ever been a chechen trained at an AQ camp. Sure, no one will argue with that. There were even Americans amongst those captured/killed in Afghanistan. However, what was the extent of Chechen migration? How many trained at AQ camps? What % of the total? How influencial in the Chechen world - are these members and their groups?

Similarly, just what was taught at these learning centers in Chechnya. What is "radical" is a matter of opinion. I don't recall the article providing examples; nothing qualitative nor nothing quantitative. And that concerns me.

So, like I said earlier, I have no doubt that there is some AQ involvement up in the Caucasus. Yet I remain convinced that it is fringe and has scant chance of blossoming into a controlling influence.

If this is all you have to go on then I think you're making mountains out of mole hills.

Maintain survellience, certainly, but avoid drawing conclusions about monolithic global jihad.

As for Ledeen. It is encouraging - not to mention intelligent of you - to see that you are willing to put some distance between the two of you.

Posted by: ghost at October 17, 2005 12:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dan,
In Afghanistan bodies are "picked clean" for intelligence gathering purposes. So, yes. I would expect that sooner or later a Chechen or two would turn up if they were there in any significant numbers.

Your link doesn't change my thinking. As noted, the link says that AQ training camps are/were in Afghanistan, not Chechnya. What is claimed to be in Chechnya is some sort of education/endoctrination program; "learning center" where radical Islam is taught.

Again, I don't doubt that such things exist. They're even in New York and Detroit!

The issue is to what extent do they exist and to what extent they have an influence over events, politics, warfare, etc.

And this is where you and I diverge.

You have not provided anything more than opinion, no strong evidence. I would like to see your points backed up by qualitative and quantitative analysis.

Not that I'm saying you're necessarily wrong; just I don't see where there is much there upon which to build a case.

But I also recognize that this a blog and you are, indeed, offering opinion.

As for Ledeen, you are demonstrating character and intelligence in maintaining a ideological distance. I would very much like to read your thoughts and impressions of Ledeen's ideas. Would you feel comfortable writing openly and frankly on this topic?

Posted by: ghost at October 17, 2005 01:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dan,
In Afghanistan bodies are "picked clean" for intelligence gathering purposes. So, yes. I would expect that sooner or later a Chechen or two would turn up if they were there in any significant numbers.

Your link doesn't change my thinking. As noted, the link says that AQ training camps are/were in Afghanistan, not Chechnya. What is claimed to be in Chechnya is some sort of education/endoctrination program; "learning center" where radical Islam is taught.

Again, I don't doubt that such things exist. They're even in New York and Detroit!

The issue is to what extent do they exist and to what extent they have an influence over events, politics, warfare, etc.

And this is where you and I diverge.

You have not provided anything more than opinion, no strong evidence. I would like to see your points backed up by qualitative and quantitative analysis.

Not that I'm saying you're necessarily wrong; just I don't see where there is much there upon which to build a case.

But I also recognize that this a blog and you are, indeed, offering opinion.

As for Ledeen, you are demonstrating character and intelligence in maintaining an ideological distance. I would very much like to read your thoughts and impressions of Ledeen's ideas. Would you feel comfortable writing openly and frankly on this topic?

Posted by: ghost at October 17, 2005 01:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sorry for all the posts.

This crazy blog always gives these error messages that sometimes mean something and sometimes don't

Posted by: ghost at October 17, 2005 01:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

ghost:

There's a lot here that's repeated, so I apologize if I don't hit on everything as I'm going through these various posts.

In Afghanistan bodies are "picked clean" for intelligence gathering purposes. So, yes. I would expect that sooner or later a Chechen or two would turn up if they were there in any significant numbers.

I'm not aware of any US military report definitively stating that there hasn't been. What I am aware of is that Pelton couldn't find any at Mazar-e-Sharif and Gail couldn't find any at Shiberghan, which is not the same thing. The Pakistani government claims, for whatever it's worth, that a sizeable number of Chechens, Uzbeks, and Uighurs have been killed in battle with its troops in the Northwest Frontier Province.

Has there ever been a chechen trained at an AQ camp. Sure, no one will argue with that. There were even Americans amongst those captured/killed in Afghanistan. However, what was the extent of Chechen migration? How many trained at AQ camps? What % of the total? How influencial in the Chechen world - are these members and their groups?

The general figures cited are usually several hundred Afghan alumni out of several thousand fighters. As for their importance to the conflict, here's an excerpt from Gunaratna on the subject:

In addition to the Arabs serving in Chechnya, several hundred Chechens were trained in Al Qaeda's Afghan camps and provided with weapons. In the Caucasus, Al Qaeda's Afghan-trained members were model fighters, who often went on to occupy senior posts, thereby increasing Osama's renown. The Al Qaeda-influenced Al Ansar mujahidin - considered the fiercest and best organized of the three major mujahidin groups fighting the Russians in Chechnya - were also responsible for most of the Chechen conflict's suicide attacks, previously an unknown tactic.

This squares pretty well with other accounts, so it sounds like they've had a profound impact on changing the conflict from a national independence struggle into a jihad.

Similarly, just what was taught at these learning centers in Chechnya. What is "radical" is a matter of opinion. I don't recall the article providing examples; nothing qualitative nor nothing quantitative. And that concerns me.

In the interest of answering this, let me conflate this with a later comment:

Your link doesn't change my thinking. As noted, the link says that AQ training camps are/were in Afghanistan, not Chechnya. What is claimed to be in Chechnya is some sort of education/endoctrination program; "learning center" where radical Islam is taught.

Again, I don't doubt that such things exist. They're even in New York and Detroit!

I don't know about Detroit, but in the case of NYC one of the radical Islamic centers (the al-Kifah Refugee Center) run by al-Qaeda involved various types of paramilitary training under the supervision of one Ali Mohammed. The article also notes that the attendees of these centers formed the core group of Islamists from which the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment, the Riyadus-Salikhin, and the Islamic International Brigade (the latter is one and the same as al-Ansar).

As Dr. Gunaratna notes here:

"Chechnya and the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia partially replaced Afghanistan as a center for terrorist training," said Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert and the author of "Inside Al Qaeda." "The initial wave of terrorists who are now coming to Europe trained in Chechnya or Algeria," he said.

These views were echoed by French interior minister back in 2003:

"The threat from the al Qaeda network remains serious," the ministers said. "In spite of the elimination of most of its bases in Afghanistan, it seems that other camps have been reactivated in other areas."

The statement gave no details. But French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said al Qaeda apparently set up new operational bases in the restive former Soviet republics of Chechnya and Georgia.

I can go further in-depth on this if you prefer. One document I would very much recommend you reading through is the sections of Jihad in Europe as they relate to Chechnya.

As for Ledeen, you are demonstrating character and intelligence in maintaining an ideological distance. I would very much like to read your thoughts and impressions of Ledeen's ideas. Would you feel comfortable writing openly and frankly on this topic?

No, because I doubt that my thoughts and impressions of Ledeen's ideas, particularly as they relate to Iran, would lead to anything more than you arguing once again that I'm some kind of proxy, stand-in, or dupe for him. You more or less accused me of acting in bad faith ("I think you and your neocon pals have an agenda and somehow telling such stories re: chechnya=aq gets you closer to your real goal") and I pointed out the obvious absurdity of such a position by pointing you in the direction of the members' list for the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya. As it now stands we're having a pretty good discussion and I, not to put to fine a point on it, have better things to do than be accused of speaking with another man's voice or used as a stand-in for your own opinions of Ledeen ("But that's what happens when you are mentored by people that believe in the use of deception on their own populace").

Furthermore, when Greg asked me to guest blog, he did so with the understanding that I would be focusing on foreign rather than domestic policy. My opinion of Ledeen and his ideas certainly doesn't fall into that category, and particularly given that you and many other commenters would rip into me were they anything short of disparaging given your own stated dislike of the man I really don't see any reason to throw myself into that situation in this forum.

Posted by: Dan Darling at October 18, 2005 01:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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