By Christopher Swift
Best Defense bureau of Chechen affairs
I've done fieldwork on the insurgency in Chechnya and Dagestan and have studied the war there for nearly 15 years. I've also interviewed several very prominent rebels.
This would mark the first time Chechens have attacked any sort of U.S. target. Up until now their focus has been on Russia. This is a big deal. And it shows how the conflict in the Caucasus has metastasized into a kind of globalized jihadist theatre, at least in the minds of the young people fighting there.
These guys likely had no connection to the Caucasus Emirate in person; connection would likely have been online. This looks more and more like "resonant effects," rather than something planned and executed by a cadre-level organization.
Chechens I know are completely crushed. Let's hope the FBI gets to the remaining suspect before the Chechen refugee community in Boston does. Boston welcomed and protected Chechen asylum seekers like no other city. Those people will tear these kids to pieces for the harm they've done.
A midday update:
As I'm learning more and more, it looks like most of these "connections" would have been online rather than through working with a terrorist syndicate out in the field. These kids have been out of Russia for more than a decade. And it looks like they've been living highly compartmentalized lives as well.
Based on these facts, I doubt we have a Faisal Shahzad-style situation. The Caucasus Emirate is about two companies in size. Most of these guys are living in tents in the mountains and constantly moving between safe houses. Their reach outside the region is very limited. Even the Kavkaz website is run outside the region.
I've been in that terrain. It's very difficult physicial and sociological ground to traverse, even for a local. So I'd be shocked to see that they were connected directly to the group.
It looks like the bomber was in Russia just last year. If this is true, then we may in fact have a Shahzad-type event on our hands. It's still too soon to know whether this is international or a lone-wolf event based on these new facts.
Christopher Swift is an adjunct professor of national security studies at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a fellow at the University of Virginia's Center for National Security Law.
Editor's Note: The headline on this post has been changed.
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I was reading Robert Sherwood's Roosevelt and Hopkins, and was struck that in March 1943, President Roosevelt made a prescient observation about the future of Yugoslavia. Harry Hopkins, his close aide, quotes him as saying in a meeting with Anthony Eden that, "the Croats and Serbs had nothing in common and that it is ridiculous to try to force two such antagonistic people to live together under one government."
A reader writes with this request for you well-informed BD readers. It reminds me that I read the other day that Russia took more casualties at Stalingrad than the United States suffered during the entire war:
While I've read many books about World War II, they've all been from the Western perspective (and predominantly about the United States' role in the war). I've been reading Dominic Tierney's mediocre but salvageable How We Fight, and he made a particularly interesting note about Russia's more significant role in WWII compared to the US -- more loss of life, greater stakes, and ultimate victory.
I've never read an account of WWII from the Russian perspective, and I'm not quite sure where to start in my search for one or two good volumes. I was hoping you might either have a suggestion, or be interested in posting to your blog to see what answers may come.
But it kept prices low! This strikes me as almost the worst of capitalism and communism combined.
The company says it will donate money for research on forced labor. Here's a better idea: Why not just pay the former prisoners, or their families, decent back wages for the work they did? Better decades late than never.
There are certain events that are made for certain reporters. For example, everything in Anthony Shadid's career prepared him to cover post-invasion Iraq. Likewise, if you want to understand the guy who tried to bomb Times Square, you need to read the New Yorker‘s Steve Coll, the only person I can think of who has written books about the South Asian subcontinent, the Taliban and Islamic extremism terrorism, but who also understands New York City, and indeed co-authored a book about Wall Street.
Take it away, Steve:
Last week, before the Times Square incident, I was talking with a former U.S. intelligence officer who worked extensively on jihadi cases during several overseas tours. He said that when a singleton of Shahzad's profile -- especially a U.S. citizen -- turns up in a place like Peshawar, local jihadi groups are much more likely to assess him as a probable U.S. spy than as a genuine volunteer. At best, the jihadi groups might conclude that a particular U.S.-originated individual's case is uncertain. They might then encourage the person to go home and carry out an attack -- without giving him any training or access to higher-up specialists that might compromise their local operations. They would see such a U.S.-based volunteer as a ‘freebie,' the former officer said -- if he returns home to attack, great, but if he merely goes off to report back to his C.I.A. case officer, no harm done.
I defer to Pulitzer Prize-winning David "Dead Hand" Hoffman, the King of the Cold War Archives, but I was surprised to read in this account of Gary Powers' downing that the U.S. government concluded that he had actually descended in his U-2 and defected. The government analysts were mistaken because they were confused by another aircraft that the eager-beaver Reds mistakenly whacked at the same time.
Remember yesterday I mentioned David Wood as a good defense reporter? He has a terrific column today about what is going wrong in Afghanistan. I'll summarize it here, but only if you promise to click on this link and read the whole thing.
Wood begins with a good strong "lede" that manages to combine action and policy:
When a warning crackled over the radio of a suspected ambush ahead, Lt. Col. Rob Campbell swore softly and ordered his three armored trucks to a halt. What happened next illustrates why the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is failing, why commanders here are asking for more manpower -- and why they are pleading for more time.
Then his main character strides into the picture, along with a succinct statement of the problem:
Leaping out with his M-4 carbine, Campbell, a tall cavalry officer with sandy hair and freckles, strode through the empty, sun-baked fields flanking the road while his men fanned out, checking the ground for IEDs, sweeping the fields for snipers. The Afghan police assigned to patrol this stretch of road? Nowhere in sight.
Campbell comes off as a good, thoughtful officer doing well, but conscious that time is running out. Anyway, read the whole thing -- one of the best things I've read on Afghanistan in awhile.
Meanwhile, NATO aircraft hit some hijacked fuel tankers in northern Afghanistan, killing a bunch of people. Some of them were insurgents, some of them children and other civilians trying to get the fuel the Taliban was distributing from the trucks for free. The total is somewhere between 50 and 90, it appears. My question: Does this air strike pass the Petraeus test, which I saw him apply in Mosul back in 2003-2004: Before taking any action, consider whether it will create more opponents than it stops. Anyway, this makes me wonder if NATO forces got snookered into the attack.
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Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.