The Best Defense

Chechen war expert: 'This is a big deal'

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.

Mid-afternoon update:

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.

Darren McCollester/Getty Images

The Best Defense

Rebecca's War Dog of the Week: Wilbur's adventures in Afghanistan (and news of note)

By Rebecca Frankel

Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

I came across a series of photos of Wilbur, a U.S. Marine Special Operations dog, taken over the last few weeks in Afghanistan by Marine Corps photographer Sgt. Pete Thibodeau. The collection of images follows Wilbur through Helmand Province -- working security, encountering livestock, playing fetch in front of an idle Humvee, and watching a group of children, his ears pricked in earnest attention.

Today's post title (and the use of the word "adventures") isn't intended to be flippant -- Wilbur is a Special Ops dog, which means his job is especially taxing and dangerous. But Thibodeau's photos show the non-violent side of combat-zone living from Wilbur's point of view with its own kind of wonder and whimsy -- a view worth seeing.

More photos of Wilbur are after the fold but first a couple of War-Dog Announcements:

60 Minutes will be airing a segment on MWDs this Sunday, April 21, called "Sniffing Out Bombs." The show sent a correspondent out to Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, home to the nation's premier pre-deployment course run by the USMC and Gunnery Sgt. Kristopher Reed Knight and his crew of experienced handlers. (I spent two weeks there last year.) Longtime readers of this column are likely to see the faces of those written about here on the CBS news show this week.

For DC locals (and supporters near and far): The Third Annual Annapolis 5K Run & Dog Walk is raising funds for America's VetDogs -- an organization that "provides service and assistance dogs, free of charge, to disabled veterans." The run will kick off at 9 am this Sunday at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, Maryland. Looks like early registration has closed but walk-ups are welcome, as are dogs -- leashed, of course. 

Wilbur vs. cow:

 

Wilbur watches children after Afghan National Army special forces escorted a district governor to a school on April 15:

 

Wilbur receives his "favorite toy" as a reward for a job well done after "successfully sweeping a build site for an Afghan Local Police checkpoint":

 

Wilbur tries on his handler's gear after a mission:

 

Hat tip to TR for sending the opening photo and an accompanying and particularly apt caption, "Nothing like feeling safe in a war zone."

Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.

U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released