Archive for the ‘Russia and Islamic terrorism’ category

Videos suggest Russian government may be arming Taliban

July 26, 2017

Videos suggest Russian government may be arming Taliban, World Affairs Journal, Nick Paton Walsh and Masoud Popalzai, CNN, July 25, 2017

(Please see also, Taliban seizes 3 districts from Afghan government. — DM)

Story highlights
  • Two videos obtained by CNN suggest the Taliban have received improved weaponry supplied by the Russian government
  • Russia’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment but has previously called claims they are arming the Taliban “utterly false”

(CNN)The Taliban have received improved weaponry in Afghanistan that appears to have been supplied by the Russian government, according to exclusive videos obtained by CNN, adding weight to accusations by Afghan and American officials that Moscow is arming their one-time foe in the war-torn country.

US generals first suggested they were concerned the Russian government was seeking to arm the Afghan insurgents back in April, but images from the battlefield here corroborating these claims have been hard to come by.

These two videos show sniper rifles, Kalashnikov variants and heavy machine guns that weapons experts say are stripped of any means of identifying their origin.

Two separate sets of Taliban, one in the north and another in the west, claim to be in possession of the weapons, which they say were originally supplied by Russian government sources. One splinter group of Taliban near Herat say they obtained the guns after defeating a mainstream rival group of Taliban. Another group say they got the weapons for free across the border with Tajikistan and that they were provided by “the Russians.”

The videos don’t provide incontrovertible proof of the trade, of which Moscow has categorically denied involvement. Yet they offer some of the first battlefield evidence of a flow of weapons that has the Afghan and American governments deeply concerned about Moscow’s intentions here.

“The Russians have said that they maintain contact with the Taliban, we have lots of other reports from other people they are arming the Taliban … there is no smoke without fire,” Afghan government spokesman Sediq Sediqi said. “That’s why our intelligence agencies are up to the job to find out what level of support that is to the Taliban.”

Another Afghan official said they were sure that trade was happening between Russia and the Taliban.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment for this article but has previously called claims they are arming the Taliban “utterly false” and said they were made to cover up for the United States’ failure in Afghanistan. The Russians talk to the Taliban purely to promote peace talks, they said.

US officials have long voiced concerns about any weapons flow to the terror group. Asked in April whether he would refute the reports Russia was arming the Taliban, the US commander here, Gen. John Nicholson, said: “Oh, no I’m not refuting that… Arming belligerents or legitimizing belligerents who perpetuate attacks … is not the best way forward.”

Gen. Joseph Votel, chief of US Central Command, told a congressional committee in March he believed the Russians were seeking influence in Afghanistan.

“I think it is fair to assume they may be providing some sort of support to (the Taliban) in terms of weapons or other things that may be there,” he said.

In one video the Herat group are seen brandishing the guns, which they said were taken from the mainstream Taliban, led by Mullah Haibatullah, after that group attacked them. Eighteen of their rivals were killed in the attack and six were captured, they said.

“These weapons were given to the fighters of Mullah Haibatullah by the Russians via Iran,” said their deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi. He went on to repeat the often-heard rationale behind the arming — which Moscow denies — that the weapons were supplied to help the Taliban better fight ISIS.

“The Russians are giving them these weapons to fight ISIS in Afghanistan, but they are using them against us too,” he said.

The second video was shot nearer Kabul and features a masked Taliban fighter parading arms he says he obtained through the northern province of Kunduz. He said he did not pay for the weapons — insurgents often pay for guns with opium crops — and that his group received the guns via the Tajik border.

“These pistols have been brought to us recently,” he says. “These are made in Russia, and are very good stuff.”

Weapons experts from the Small Arms Survey studied the videos and said there was little in them to directly tie the guns to the Russian state. The weapons were not particularly modern or rare, and even some of the more elaborate additions, like a JGBG M7 scope on one machine gun, were Chinese made and readily available online, they said.

Yet Benjamin King from the Survey said, “the weapons didn’t seem to have the manufacturer markings where we would expect them.” He said that elsewhere there have been reports of supplying governments and others going to great lengths to remove identification markings from weapons.

“If this is a pattern seen in Afghanistan then it would be noteworthy,” he added.

Sediqi, the Afghan government spokesman, said they had put the allegations to Moscow and also received a denial. He added Afghan officials have expressed their concerns about Moscow’s contacts with the Taliban, which coalition officials say legitimizes the insurgency.

“The issue of contact with the Taliban with the Russians was something that really concerned us as well,” Seddiqi said. “No contact with non-state groups.”

Radical Iran-led Axis Confronted with U.S. Deterrence for First Time

April 11, 2017

Radical Iran-led Axis Confronted with U.S. Deterrence for First Time, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Yaakov Lappin, April 11, 2017

Until recently, the United States focused its attention exclusively on Sunni jihadist threats – ISIS and al-Qaida-affiliated groups. While these terrorists certainly need to be attacked, turning a blind eye to the activities of the more powerful radical Shi’ite coalition did nothing to stop the region’s destabilization. In this context, Assad’s numerous crimes against humanity went unanswered.

This helped embolden Assad to use chemical weapons. It also gave the Iranians confidence to magnify their meddling in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, and to target many other states. The end result is Iran’s enhanced ability to export its Khomeiniest Islamic fundamentalist doctrine.

Just as Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have poured into Syria, the same has happened in Iraq, where 100,000 fighters supported by Tehran fight alongside the Iraqi government forces against ISIS. The IRGC’s network extends to Yemen’s Houthi Ansar Allah forces, who receive Iranian assistance. Ansar Allah, a heavily armed Shi’ite military force, fires ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia on a regular basis.

The IRGC and Hizballah have been linked to a recent large-scale terrorist plot in Bahrain.

If the message addressed in the cruise missile strike is followed up with a strategy of deterrence, addressed to Ayatollah Khamenei as much as it was addressed to Assad, the U.S. could begin projecting to the world that it recognizes the threat posed by Shi’ite jihadists as much as it takes seriously the threat from their fundamentalist Sunni equivalents.

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The conflict in Syria has long ceased being a civil war, becoming instead a clash between coalitions and blocs that divide the entire Middle East.

The Iranian-led axis is the most dangerous and highly armed bloc fighting in Syria. Bashar al-Assad’s regime is not an independent actor, but rather, a component of this wider axis. In many respects, Assad is a junior member of the Iranian coalition set up to fight for him.

Russia joined the Iranian axis in 2015, acting for its own reasons as the pro-Assad coalition’s air force, helping to preserve the Syrian regime.

This coalition enabled the Assad regime to conduct mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Syria, while also using unconventional weapons against civilians in an effort to terrorize rebel organizations into submission.

Feeling confident by its growing control of Syria, Iran also uses its regional coalition to arm, finance, and deploy Shi’ite jihadist agents all over the Middle East, and to attack those who stand in the way of Iranian domination.

The Iranian-led axis has been able to spread violence, terrorism, and Islamic militancy without facing repercussions.

Until recently, the United States focused its attention exclusively on Sunni jihadist threats – ISIS and al-Qaida-affiliated groups. While these terrorists certainly need to be attacked, turning a blind eye to the activities of the more powerful radical Shi’ite coalition did nothing to stop the region’s destabilization. In this context, Assad’s numerous crimes against humanity went unanswered.

This helped embolden Assad to use chemical weapons. It also gave the Iranians confidence to magnify their meddling in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, and to target many other states. The end result is Iran’s enhanced ability to export its Khomeiniest Islamic fundamentalist doctrine.

That sent a troubling message to America’s regional allies, who, in the face of these threats, formed a de facto coalition of pragmatic Sunni states – a coalition that includes Israel.

On April 6, the U.S. sent a signal that something may have changed. A cruise missile attack on an Assad regime air base, in response to a savage chemical weapons massacre in Idlib, Syria, was, first and foremost, a moral response to an intolerable act of evil.

But the strike also carries a wider prospective message about Washington’s new willingness to enforce red lines against Assad and his Shi’ite allies.

Potentially, it is an indication that the U.S. is willing to use its military prowess beyond the objective of targeting ISIS, and that it recognizes that Sunni jihadists are not the only global security threat that warrants the use of military force.

Statements by senior Trump administration officials indicate that a shift has occurred. “What you have in Syria is a very destructive cycle of violence perpetuated by ISIS, obviously, but also by this regime and their Iranian and Russian sponsors,” National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster told Fox News Sunday.

Russia must choose between its alignment with Assad, Iran, and Hizballah, and working with the United States, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday. The firm comment was made hours before he touched down in Moscow for talks.

According to U.S. officials, the April 6 missile attack destroyed 20 percent of Assad’s fighter jets. It represents the first time that Washington has taken military action against a member of the Iranian-led coalition.

The strike could evolve into a ‘dialogue of deterrence’ that the U.S. initiates against dangerous actors. These radical actors all have ‘return addresses,’ and are likely to prove responsive to cost-benefit considerations, despite their extreme ideology. They may think twice before considering further development and usage of unconventional weapons.

Washington is now able to exercise muscular diplomacy – the only kind that is effective in the Middle East – and inform all members of the Iran’s pro-Assad coalition that the deployment of unconventional weapons will not be tolerated. It can also begin to rally and strengthen the pro-American coalition of states in the Middle East, who seek to keep a lid on both ISIS and Iran.

With American officials indicating that they are “ready to do more” in Syria if necessary, signs suggest that the strike represents the start of a policy of deterrence, and leaving open future options for drawing additional red lines.

In theory, should Washington decide that Iran’s transfer of weapons and extremist Shi’ite military forces to other lands has reached unacceptable levels, or that Iran’s missile development program has gone far enough, it could call on Tehran to cease these activities. This call would carry substantially more weight following last week’s missile attack on the Syrian airbase.

The U.S. is in a better position to inform Assad and his allies that there is a limit to how far they can go in pursuing their murderous ambitions.

While the objective of creating a renewed American deterrent posture is vital, it should not be confused with plans for wider military intervention in the seemingly endless Syrian conflict.

There is little reason to believe that conventional weapons use against Syrian civilians is going to stop any time soon, or that the enormous tragedy suffered by the Syrian people is about to end.

And there is certainly no indication that the U.S. is planning to initiate large-scale military involvement in this failed state.

Hence, the missile strike should be seen for what it is: an attempt to boost American deterrence, which can then be leveraged to restrain radical actors that have, until now, been operating completely unchecked.

That is a message that will likely be heard loud and clear not only in Damascus, but also in Tehran, which has not given up its long-term ambition of building nuclear weapons.

North Korea, which helped build Syria’s plutonium nuclear plant (destroyed in 2007 in a reported Israeli air strike), and which maintains close links with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, can be expected to take note as well.

If a policy of strategic deterrence follows the strike, it could have an impact on a coalition that is not just keeping Assad’s regime alive, but spreading its radical influence in many other areas.

In Syria, the Iranian Republican Guards Corps (IRGC) oversees ground operations across many battlefields to prop up Bashar al-Assad. Iran has gathered and armed tens of thousands of Shi’ite militia members from across the region into Syria, and manages a local force composed of 100,000 members. They fight alongside the Syrian Arab Army against Sunni rebel organizations, thereby increasing and entrenching Iranian influence.

The IRGC and its elite Quds Force are also helping to fill Hizballah’s weapons depots in Lebanon, with a vast array of surface-to-surface projectiles that are all pointed at Israel, often using Syria as an arms trafficking transit zone. Syria acts as a bridge that grants Iran access to Lebanon, and allows it to threaten both Israel and Jordan.

Jordan, an important U.S. ally, is deeply concerned by Iran’s actions in Syria, as evidenced by recent comments made by King Abdullah, who told the Washington Post that “there is an attempt to forge a geographic link between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah/Lebanon.” IRGC forces are stationed within a mere 45 miles from Jordan’s border, he warned, adding that any hostile forces approaching the Hashemite Kingdom “are not going to be tolerated.”

Hizballah, a Lebanese-based Iranian Shi’ite proxy, evolved into a powerful army by sending 7,000 to 9,000 of its own highly trained members into Syria’s ground war. It helped rescue the Assad regime from collapse, and took part in battles stretching from Aleppo to the Qalamoun Mountains northeast of Damascus.

Last year, the Arab League and the Sunni countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council all declared Hizballah to be a terrorist entity.

Just as Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have poured into Syria, the same has happened in Iraq, where 100,000 fighters supported by Tehran fight alongside the Iraqi government forces against ISIS. The IRGC’s network extends to Yemen’s Houthi Ansar Allah forces, who receive Iranian assistance. Ansar Allah, a heavily armed Shi’ite military force, fires ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia on a regular basis.

The IRGC and Hizballah have been linked to a recent large-scale terrorist plot in Bahrain.

If the message addressed in the cruise missile strike is followed up with a strategy of deterrence, addressed to Ayatollah Khamenei as much as it was addressed to Assad, the U.S. could begin projecting to the world that it recognizes the threat posed by Shi’ite jihadists as much as it takes seriously the threat from their fundamentalist Sunni equivalents.

Washington’s campaign to pressure Russia to distance itself from its Middle Eastern allies could play an important part of this message.

An Émigré Explains Why The U.S. Should Want Russia As An Ally

February 22, 2017

An Émigré Explains Why The U.S. Should Want Russia As An Ally, TheFederalist, February 22, 2017

(Please see also, Is a Trump-Putin Detente Dead? — DM

I am a Russian-born U.S. citizen. Since my old country is all in the news now, unsurprisingly, several people have asked me about the latest spat between the two countries. I have rounded up a few frequently asked questions (FAQ) in no particular order, and here they are.

Question: Is Russia our foe or ally?

Answer: Neither. Lord Palmerston famously quipped, “Great Britain has no friends, only interests,” and the same applies to other countries. The United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were geopolitical adversaries during the Cold War. Prior to that, they were allies in World War II when both faced an existential threat from Nazi Germany and Japan. Now both Russia and the United States are facing a threat of radical Islam, which may bring the two countries together again.

Q: But can we cooperate with the Russians after they captured large chunks of Ukraine and Georgia?

A: Well, the Soviet Union captured Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in 1939, yet Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill cooperated with Joseph Stalin and actively supported his war efforts. The West never recognized the annexation of the Baltic republics; it just put that matter on the back burner for the sake of a more urgent goal. Henry Kissinger calls this realpolitik.

Q: Donald Trump has picked Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobile, as his secretary of State. Tillerson has warm relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. How do we know which side Tillerson is on?

A: Let me cite a historical precedent. Another famous American oil executive was friendly with Soviet leaders. His name was Armand Hammer. He had numerous personal and business ties with the USSR, starting in the 1920s. In 1957, Hammer became president and CEO of Occidental Petroleum. He used his connections to end the Cold War between the two countries. According to his biographer, Hammer was “a go-between for five Soviet General Secretaries and seven U.S. Presidents.” Paradoxically, Hammer’s efforts on behalf of the USSR made him a darling of the American Left, even though he supported the Republican Party.

Q: Has Putin ordered the murder of Russian journalists and other political opponents?

A: That has not been proven conclusively, but is plausible. Regardless of whether that is the case, it should not determine American foreign policy. That was clear to FDR and Churchill, who were well aware of Stalin’s atrocities.

Q: Did Russia side with Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential race?

A: Of course, it did. Nations do take sides and interfere in other nations’ internal affairs all the time. For example, the United States actively encouraged the Arab Spring in several countries and even supported Syrian and Libyan “moderate” rebels. It was the job of the sitting U.S. president to prevent any Russian interference in U.S. elections.

Q: Is Russian spying on U.S. institutions a new phenomenon?

A: Absolutely not! However, things change. Between the 1940s and the 1960s, it was the conservative Right that was alarmed by Russian spying and Communist infiltration of the federal government. The Left dismissed that concern, mocking it as looking for “reds under the beds.” Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted of spying for Russia and executed, became martyrs of the Left. Even in the 1970s when I arrived in the United States, the Left’s favorite motto was “it’s better be red than dead.” Things really changed in the 1980s.

Q: What happened in the 1980s?

A: When Ronald Reagan became president, he faced fierce opposition from the Left. The media elite ridiculed him as an unsophisticated cowboy and right-wing warmonger for calling the USSR an evil empire. The opposition became violent when Reagan proposed an anti-missile defense system, which the media dismissed as a “star wars” program. However, when an opportunity came up, Reagan held productive summits with former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev. These summits eventually led to the end of the Cold War.

Q: Is Putin a reincarnation of Stalin?

A: The two leaders represent two different generations separated by a period of 70 years. During those 70 years, the world has changed, and so has Russia. Stalin ruled Russia with an iron fist, while today’s Russians enjoy a degree of freedom. Putin is more pragmatic than Stalin. Yet contemporary Russian society is still quite different from its Western European counterparts, which is perhaps just fine, given that the latter are in a deep crisis now.

Q: Can the United States rely on Russia in the war on radical Islamic terrorism?

A: If it were a matter of life or death, I would always choose to have Russia on my side, rather than a Western ally, such as France. When Russians wage a war, they do it to win, not to satisfy lawyers by following every rule specifying acceptable ways of killing the enemy.

Here is an example. Somalian pirates threatened international shipping in the Indian Ocean between 2005 and 2013 by taking hostages. The American, French, Italian, and other navies rescued many hostages, caught pirates, and sent them to their countries. The arrests, trials, appeals, and imprisonment cost hundreds of millions of dollars. According to a Guardian report, there was a fear that “trials in European courts would encourage, rather than deter, pirates from committing crimes of piracy.”

In contrast, when a Russian destroyer rescued a Russian tanker with its crew from pirates in 2010, they did not arrest the pirates. They disarmed the pirates and set them adrift in an inflatable boat. The released pirates did not reach the coast. Rumor has it that the rescuers made a hole in the boat before releasing it.