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ISIS Blowback from Ukraine, Caucasian Covert Ops?

Swoboda leader Oleh Tiahnybok salutes.

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ISIS followers vowing allegiance to the group. Compare to Tiahnybok's gesturing. Hint: They are NOT auditioning for an anti-perspirant commercial.

COMMENT: We highlight an article noting the military prowess and sophistication of ISIS. Critical to this analysis is the apparent role of the Chechens in the tactical development of the group. In FTR #381. we noted the role of the Al-Taqwa milieu in the funding of the Chechen seperatists, which appears to have continued, as we saw in our analysis of the Boston Marathon Bombing.

In the context of U.S. and Western support for the OUN/B milieu in Ukraine, including the UNA-UNSO fighters who fought with the Chechens and elsewhere in the Caucasus, we may well be seeing “blowback” from our policies vis a vis Ukraine in the development of ISIS’ sophistication. As discussed in FTR #808, the UNA-UNSO fighters were initially composed largely of Ukrainian veterans of the Afghan war. The organization gave rise directly to Pravy Sektor.

“The Durability of Ukrainian Fascism” by Peter Lee; Strategic Culture; 6/9/2014.

. . . . One of Bandera’s lieutenants was Roman Shukhevych.  In February 1945, Shukhevych issued an order stating, “In view of the success of the Soviet forces it is necessary to speed up the liquidation of the Poles, they must be totally wiped out, their villages burned … only the Polish population must be destroyed.”

As a matter of additional embarrassment, Shukhevych was also a commander in the Nachtigall (Nightingale) battalion organized by the Wehrmacht.

Today, a major preoccupation of Ukrainian nationalist historical scholarship is beating back rather convincing allegations by Russian, Polish, and Jewish historians that Nachtigall was an important and active participant in the massacre of Lviv Jews orchestrated by the German army upon its arrival in June 1941. . . .

. . . . Yuriy Shukhevych’s role in modern Ukrainian fascism is not simply that of an inspirational figurehead and reminder of his father’s anti-Soviet heroics for proud Ukrainian nationalists.  He is a core figure in the emergence of the key Ukrainian fascist formation, Pravy Sektor and its paramilitary.

And Pravy Sektor’s paramilitary, the UNA-UNSO, is not an “unruly” collection of weekend-warrior-wannabes, as Mr. Higgins might believe.

UNA-UNSO was formed during the turmoil of the early 1990s, largely by ethnic Ukrainian veterans of the Soviet Union’s bitter war in Afghanistan.  From the first, the UNA-UNSO has shown a taste for foreign adventures, sending detachments to Moscow in 1990 to oppose the Communist coup against Yeltsin, and to Lithuania in 1991.  With apparently very good reason, the Russians have also accused UNA-UNSO fighters of participating on the anti-Russian side in Georgia and Chechnya.

After formal Ukrainian independence, the militia elected Yuriy Shukhevych—the son of OUN-B commander Roman Shukhevych– as its leader and set up a political arm, which later became Pravy Sektor. . . .

“ISIS an ‘Incredible’ Fighting Force, Special Ops Sources Say” by James Gordon Meek; ABC News; 8/25/2014.

With the Obama White House left reeling from the “savage” slaughter of an American journalist held hostage by ISIS terrorists, military options are being considered against an adversary who officials say is growing in strength and is much more capable than the one faced when the group was called “al Qaeda-Iraq” during the U.S. war from 2003-2011.

ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has been making a “tactical withdrawal” in recent days in the face of withering U.S. airstrikes from areas around Erbil in northern Iraq and from the major dam just north of Mosul it controlled for two nail-biting weeks, according to military officials monitoring their movements.

“These guys aren’t just bugging out, they’re tactically withdrawing. Very professional, well trained, motivated and equipped. They operate like a state with a military,” said one official who tracks ISIS closely. “These aren’t the same guys we fought in OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) who would just scatter when you dropped a bomb near them.”

ISIS appeared to have a sophisticated and well thought-out plan for establishing its “Islamic Caliphate” from northern Syria across the western and northern deserts of Iraq, many experts and officials have said, and support from hostage-taking, robbery and sympathetic donations to fund it. They use drones to gather overhead intel on targets and effectively commandeer captured military vehicles – including American Humvees — and munitions.

“They tried to push out as far as they thought they could and were fully prepared to pull back a little bit when we beat them back with airstrikes around Erbil. And they were fine with that, and ready to hold all of the ground they have now,” a second official told ABC News.

ISIS didn’t necessarily count on holding Mosul Dam, officials said, but scored a major propaganda victory on social media when they hoisted the black flag of the group over the facility that provides electricity and water to a large swath of Iraq, or could drown millions if breached.

U.S. special operations forces under the Joint Special Operations Command and U.S. Special Operations Command keep close tabs on the military evolution of ISIS and both its combat and terrorism — called “asymmetric” — capabilities, officials told ABC News. A primary reason is in anticipation of possibly fighting them, which a full squadron of special mission unit operators did in the Independence Day raid on an ISIS camp in Raqqah, Syria.

“They’re incredible fighters. ISIS teams in many places use special operations TTPs,” said the second official, who has considerable combat experience, using the military term for “tactics, techniques and procedures.”

In sobering press conference Friday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said ISIS has shown that it is “as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen.”

“They’re beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded,” he said. “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen.”

Prior ISIS’s recent public successes, the former chairman of the 9/11 Commission, which just released a tenth anniversary report on the threat of terrorism currently facing the homeland, said he was shocked at how little seems to be known inside the U.S. intelligence community about the Islamist army brutalizing Iraq as it has Syria.

“I was appalled at the ignorance,” former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, who led the 9/11 Commission, told ABC News last week.

Kean, a Republican, who with vice chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, recently met with about 20 top intelligence officials in preparation of the commission’s latest threat report, said many officials seemed both blind-sided and alarmed by the group’s rise, growth and competency.

“One official told me ‘I am more scared than at any time since 9/11,’” Kean recounted in a recent interview.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence defended the intelligence community’s tracking of ISIS, saying officials had “expressed concern” about the threat as far back as last year.

“The will to fight is inherently difficult to assess. Analysts must make assessments based on perceptions of command and control, leadership abilities, quality of experience, and discipline under fire — none of which can be understood with certainty until the first shots are fired,” ODNI spokesperson Brian Hale said.

Where did ISIS learn such sophisticated military methods, shown clearly after the first shots were fired?

“Probably the Chechens,” the one of the U.S. officials said.

A Chechen commander named Abu Omar al-Shishani — who officials say may have been killed in fighting near Mosul — is well known for commanding an international brigade within ISIS. Other Chechens have appeared within propaganda videos including one commander who was killed on video by an artillery burst near his SUV in Syria.

Earlier this year, ABC News reported on the secret history of U.S. special operations forces’ experiences battling highly capable Chechen fighters along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border since 2001. In addition, for decades Chechen separatists have waged asymmetric warfare against Russian forces for control of the Northern Caucasus.

The Secret Battles Between US Forces and Chechen Terrorists

In the battle against ISIS, many within American “SOF,” a term that comprises operators from all branches of the military and intelligence, are frustrated at being relegated by the President only to enabling U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. They are eager to fight ISIS more directly in combat operations — even if untethered, meaning unofficially and with little if any U.S. government support, according to some with close ties to the community.

“ISIS and their kind must be destroyed,” said a senior counterterrorism official after journalist James Foley was beheaded on high-definition ISIS video, echoing strong-worded statements of high-level U.S. officials including Secretary of State John Kerry.

Discussion

One comment for “ISIS Blowback from Ukraine, Caucasian Covert Ops?”

  1. No, Obama, you had this right, even if Hagel and Panetta disagree! Go after ISIS first, let someone else deal with Assad. Articles like this are so twisted and Orwellian, it hurts the head. How do people write this stuff?

    It’s like saying “We should remove the Stalinists from power in Russia first, that will make dealing with the Nazis on the Eastern Front much easier.”

    http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/12/politics/obama-syria-strategy-review/index.html

    Washington (CNN) — President Barack Obama has asked his national security team for another review of the U.S. policy toward Syria after realizing that ISIS may not be defeated without a political transition in Syria and the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, senior U.S. officials and diplomats tell CNN.

    The review is a tacit admission that the initial strategy of trying to confront ISIS first in Iraq and then take the group’s fighters on in Syria, without also focusing on the removal of al-Assad, was a miscalculation.

    Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Thursday on CNN’s “New Day” that he had also heard that the White House was shifting its strategy, in part because Turkey and other Gulf states — which are hosting refugees from Syria — were pushing for the removal of Assad.

    In just the past week, the White House has convened four meetings of the President’s national security team, one of which was chaired by Obama and others that were attended by principals like the secretary of state. These meetings, in the words of one senior official, were “driven to a large degree how our Syria strategy fits into our ISIS strategy.”

    Related: Obama’s “no strategy” comment sparks uproar

    “The President has asked us to look again at how this fits together,” one senior official said. “The long-running Syria problem is now compounded by the reality that to genuinely defeat ISIL, we need not only a defeat in Iraq but a defeat in Syria.” The U.S. government refers to ISIS as ISIL.

    Multiple senior administration officials and diplomats spoke with CNN on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions. The White House referred questions about the review to the State Department.

    Meanwhile, other sources denied to CNN that Obama has ordered a review, but admit there is concern about some core aspects of the strategy. A senior administration official, responding to a CNN report, says there is an ongoing discussion and “constant process of recalibration.”

    “There’s no formal strategy review of our Syria policy. What there is is a strategy for degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL that requires us to take a hard look at what we’re doing on a regular basis,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser.

    ” And, as you know we’ve had regular meetings that the President has joined with his national security team on this issue and Syria has been an important subject at those meetings. And I think the President wants to make sure that we’re asking hard questions about what we’re targeting in Syria, how we’re able to degrade ISIL but also how we’re supporting opposition and building them up as a counterweight to ISIL but also ultimately of course to the Assad regime.”

    And Alistair Baskey, spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement Wednesday evening, “The strategy with respect to Syria has not changed: While the immediate focus remains to drive ISIL out of Iraq, we and coalition partners will continue to strike at ISIL in Syria to deny them safe haven and to disrupt their ability to project power.”

    He added, “Assad has been the biggest magnet for extremism in Syria, and the President has made clear that Assad has lost all legitimacy to govern. Alongside our efforts to isolate and sanction the Assad regime, we are working with our allies to strengthen the moderate opposition …”

    Gingrich: Obama, you won’t win a war with Congress

    ‘Iraq first’ strategy now appears ‘untenable’

    In October the United States stressed an “Iraq first” strategy with efforts to degrade ISIS in Iraq as the priority and operations in Syria done to shape conditions in Iraq. Washington hoped that would give time for the U.S. to vet, train and arm a moderate Syrian rebels fighting force to combat ISIS, and ultimately the regime of al-Assad.

    But with the Free Syrian Army struggling in a two-front battle against al-Assad’s forces and extremists from both ISIS and other extremist groups such as al-Nusra, U.S. officials recognize the “Iraq first” strategy is untenable.

    “Developments on the ground have caused the national security team to collectively conclude we may not have time for Iraq first. In an ideal world you would drive ISIL out of Iraq and pivot to Syria. But if by then the moderate opposition has been smacked and ISIL is still there, that doesn’t help,” a senior administration official said.

    Among the options being discussed are a no-fly zone on the border with Turkey and accelerating and expanding the Pentagon program to vet, train and arm the moderate opposition.

    Turkey has called for a no-fly zone, both to protect its border and to provide relief to Syrian rebels facing airstrikes from the regime, but officials said Turkey so far has been vague about what troops and other assets it is willing to contribute to the effort.

    The administration has asked Congress for $500 million to train and equip 5,000 vetted rebels within one year.

    But efforts to expand the program to build Syrian rebel forces may also be stymied by the slow and complicated of vetting the fighters. More than four months after announcing an effort to train and equip the moderate Syrian opposition, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told CNN the vetting process had not even begun and logistics are still being worked out with the Turks and Saudis, who are hosting the training.

    “The vetting hasn’t started. Once it does start, that will be about a three- to five-month process and then it’s about eight to nine months of training after that,” Kirby said in an interview with CNN last week. “So we still (have) a ways to go.”

    A review would come as the military starts meeting with more than 30 countries to “further develop and refine military campaign plans to degrade and defeat” ISIS, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command, which is overseeing U.S. military efforts in Syria and Iraq.

    Many of the President’s top national security advisers, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have long argued that Washington’s political strategy was unrealistic.

    Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent a blunt memo to National Security Adviser Susan Rice in October that a senior U.S. official told CNN’s Barbara Starr was “expressing concern about overall Syria strategy” and expressing a fear that the U.S. is risking its gains in the war against ISIS if adjustments are not made. The official said the focus of the memo was the “need to have a sharper view of what do about the Assad regime.”

    Related: Hagel wrote memo to White House expressing concern about Syria
    U.S., Arab allies strike ISIS in Syria
    Official: Bomb-maker killed in airstrike
    U.S. takes aim at ISIS’ pocketbook
    Why Western teenagers become jihadists

    “It has been pretty clear for some time that supporting the moderate opposition in the hopes of toppling Assad, isn’t going to work,” another senior official said.

    In response to the revelations about the Hagel memo, the White House spokesman said his advisers would be “constantly assessing” the strategy.

    “That means they want to consider a wide range of opportunities to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to protect and defend American interests around the world,” spokesman Josh Earnest said in an interview with CNN on October 31.

    Kerry seeks to preserve fraying coalition

    The U.S. is also trying to preserve a fraying anti-ISIS coalition.

    Many Arab states have expressed frustration with what they perceive as an ambivalence by the United States toward getting rid of al-Assad. Secretary of State John Kerry and Gen. John Allen, the U.S. envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, have reported back to the White House that key allies such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Turkey are calling for a framework for a political transition in Syria.

    “What really tipped this into a more vigorous reassessment was hearing from our coalition partners that they are not convinced by the Syria part and this strategy only works if there is a more coherent Syria piece,” said a senior official.

    Efforts by the U.S. and Russia to strike a deal between al-Assad’s regime and the Syrian opposition forces broke down in January after a long-awaited and ultimately unsuccessful peace conference in Switzerland.

    Now officials and diplomats said Kerry has in recent months intensified discussions with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Russia about the possibility of a diplomatic tract to transition al-Assad and his inner circle out of power, while maintaining large parts of the regime and institutions of the state.

    Brokered al-Assad transition could take months

    But any such transition could take time.

    “It’s not going to be tomorrow and I don’t think anyone even believes that is physically possible. But even if it is a six- or 12-month plan, as long as it has an exit for Assad,” one senior Arab diplomat said. “But we are glad that we finally see a meeting of the minds with the U.S. that there needs to be a rethinking of the strategy.”

    American officials and Arab diplomats said that while Russia has tacitly endorsed the idea of a Syria free of al-Assad, Moscow has done little to effect change on the ground.

    “The Russians are not our friend here,” one of the senior administration officials said. “They have given vague expressions of empathy but that is not exactly the same as saying we are with you and are going to rid of him. They are still arming Assad and providing him direct support.”

    Kerry has also raised the topic with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, officials said. Kerry has met several times in recent months to hammer out a nuclear deal ahead of a November 24 deadline, which officials stressed was the main topic of discussion and was not linked to any potential cooperation in Syria.

    Last month President Obama sent a letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei describing a shared interest in combating ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but it was unclear whether the letter made mention of the three-year civil war in which Iran has backed al-Assad.

    Officials pointed to a debate within the Iranian regime about al-Assad’s fate, but there is little sign that the supreme leader or the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps are interested in getting rid of him.

    Related: U.S. opens channels with Iran over ISIS

    “The moderates are not calling the shots in Syria,” an official said. “The Iranians have come up with plans like constitutional reforms and ultimately an election, and it is better than nothing, but it still doesn’t include Assad going and it is not the basis for an agreement.”

    Russia, Saudi Arabia split on al-Assad

    Arab diplomats have held out hope that if Saudi Arabia and Russia can agree on a political framework, Iran may rethink its insistence that al-Assad must remain in power and strike a deal on al-Assad’s fate. Saudi Arabia is the dominant country in the region pushing for the Syrian President’s ouster

    “It is possible if Russia agrees, the Iranians will feel they are the only ones that who have not played a productive role,” one Arab diplomat said. “We know if we agree it will be the least common denominator, where you maintain whoever you can from the regime that doesn’t have blood on their hands. That is something we believe the Syrian people can accept.”

    Ceasefires could provide room for political effort

    Officials and diplomats said efforts by U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to secure a series of local ceasefires between the regime and Syrian opposition could help strengthen the administration’s efforts to speed up training of the Syrian rebels and Kerry’s diplomatic efforts to diplomacy to reach a political transition.

    The United Nations says that de Mistura has proposed incremental freezes in fighting, starting with the city of Aleppo, so that neither side takes advantage of a lull in fighting. A senior U.N. official described the effort as “very preliminary,” but said de Mistura hopes to increase “frozen” areas and “knit them together,” which can create the atmosphere for a broader political agreement.

    “This is creating the atmosphere from the bottom up,” one senior U.N. official said. “You don’t have to deal with the huge issues of the future of Assad. You can start dealing with a political arrangement in a place like Aleppo so you don’t have to use violence. This would be a way to reduce the suffering and the killing and destruction in the short term, which only helps ISIS.”

    Former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who left his post in February out of frustration with the administration’s policy, said any reassessment of the strategy in Syria must also reconsider the coalition air campaign in Syria, which is squeezing the beleaguered opposition even further.

    “The administration needs to have an honest assessment of whether or not its material assistance to the moderate opposition in northern Syria and the manner in which it has constructed airstrikes in eastern Syria has empowered or disempowered the same moderate opposition upon which it will it will depend to contain the Islamic state in Syria as well as play a vital role in achieving an eventually political solution in Syria,” Ford said.

    “The air campaign so far has infuriated the Syrians fighting the regime. For the first time since the Syrian uprising started in 2011 they are burning American flags because they think we are helping the regime instead of helping them.”

    CNN’s Jim Acosta and Leslie Bentz contributed to this report.

    Posted by Tiffany Sunderson | November 13, 2014, 4:38 pm

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