Bin Laden’s Death and the Russian Insurgency

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In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, Russian leaders congratulated the United States and stressed the shared mission of the two countries in fighting Islamist terrorism. It would be easy to write this off as opportunistic justification for Russia’s anti-terror tactics—often rightly criticized by human rights groups for their heavy-handed nature, collateral damage, and lack of transparency—and the chance to conflate their cause with the West’s.

“Part of the reason Russian leaders have been so effusive in praising the US operation to kill bin Laden is because it looks to them just like one of our Russian actions,” Sergei Strokan, foreign affairs columnist for the Moscow liberal daily Kommersant, told the Christian Science Monitor. “We’ve been dealing with our own bin Ladens using targeted killings for quite some time.”

But the Russian response shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Though Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov’s rule has been marked by brutal suppression and rampant corruption—both sanctioned by the Kremlin—Russian officials are not inventing the Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus. If anything, they downplay the threat so as to give the impression they are in control of the volatile region.

Consider this: In 2010, 440 Russian security, military, and police forces were killed in the Caucasus—the same number of American forces killed in action in Afghanistan. And, though it was a decade and a half ago, the Russians were the last authorities to have Ayman al-Zawahiri—the man expected to take over for Osama bin Laden—in custody.

That was after Zawahiri traveled to Dagestan to see if he could re-establish Islamic Jihad there and use the Caucasus as headquarters. Instead, Zawahiri was arrested, and when freed (most likely after bribing officials there) fled to Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

It was no surprise, then, that the situation in Chechnya (which quickly spread to neighboring Dagestan and Ingushetia) continued to show similarities with Afghanistan. When I reported on this story in 2009, Yossef Bodansky, former director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare of the U.S. House of Representatives, told me that Chechen fighters had shown up in Afghanistan to help attack coalition forces there. Money was also pouring into the Caucasus from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states for the Chechen jihad. Svante Cornell, research director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University, warned of the “Afghan-ization” of the Caucasus conflict—the moment at which violence reaches a level it is unlikely to drop below.

And Russians were reminded of the reach of the Caucasus Emirate—the breakaway Islamist authority in the region—when in January terrorists bombed Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, killing more than 30.

Russian authorities also used bin Laden’s death to call attention to their own successes in the war on terror. A spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry said he wanted to emphasize that “this is a natural result: Bin Laden, Basayev and others like them sooner or later catch up with what they have done.” The Moscow News called it a “Basayev moment.” Shamil Basayev was second-in-command to Aslan Mashkadov, elected Chechen president after the first Chechen war. Basayev soon quit the government and declared his movement was no longer solely about Chechen independence but was part of the global jihad. There is evidence that Basayev received funding from bin Laden himself during this time. (The timeline fits as well, since Basayev’s decision to challenge Mashkadov for the presidency was made the same month Zawahiri made his trip to the Caucasus, establishing links he would take with him to Afghanistan.)

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  • ApolloSpeaks


    Fox News counted 18 lies or "untruths" related to the administrations muddled story about the operation to capture/kill Osama bin Ladin. But there is a 19th lie misssed by Fox, the biggest whopper of them all: the whopper about Obama's canceled authorization to bomb bin Ladin's compound.

    Click my name to read my widelylinked piece: Why Obama Delayed The Mission To Kill Bin Laden, And His 19th Lie.

    • kinggeorge

      RIGHT ON BROTHER APOLLO !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Chezwick_mac

    I don't agree with Pat Buchanan over very much, but his assertion that "demography is destiny" is certainly a truism. Whatever Russia is today…sometimes friend, sometimes foe, later this century it will certainly have – just like like France, Britain, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Belgium and Holland – a Muslim majority. Our strategic planners better be paying attention.

  • patriotwork

    Mr. Mandel makes a valid point. I have wondered for awhile why we didn't support Russia on this sometimes, instead of automaticly jumping astride its back every time a terrorist incident occurs there and it has to defend itself.

    Whp'n the world was it shot Osama?
    Media are saying Obama.
    But O was goofing off
    Playing nine holes of golf.
    Did he die from a stray golf ball trauma?

  • Steve Chavez

    I call it "PUTIN'S REVENGE!" The United States aided in the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan which was then one of the puzzles pieces that led to the downfall of the Wall, the Iron Curtain, and the Soviet Union itself! The Mighty Red Army was defeated by a ragtag bunch of unprofessionals. Our Stinger was the turning point!

    KGB Putin and our American Communists, their dupes, fronts, and unknowing followers and Democrat members of Congress, were the most BITTER when the country, and system, they loved more than their own, fell! They followed their masters throughout their college years and listened to the virtues of Soviet propaganda taught to them by their professors who have sided with every Communist group, country, and thug!

    They now scream "No War On Iran!" Putin and China, both hard-core Communists, are aiding Iran's nuclear program and any meaningful UN sanction against Iran is vetoed by these two comrades! "Putin's Revenge" is that he seeks our defeat in Afghanistan as revenge for the U.S. aiding in their defeat, aids insurgents in Iraq and Pakistan through proxy, and aids Iran so they can they aid Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria with the ultimate goal of destroying Israel! Israel and the Jews are number one enemy of our American Communist groups, many members of Congress and even those who publicly support them only for the Jewish vote which I still can't understand with all this evidence, how any American Jew can be a Democrat!

  • Rochmoninoff

    Following the Beslan school incident in 2004 when the Russians put down the terrorists, my mother callled the Russian consulate.
    They thought she'd call to criticize and complain (apparently that's what most people were doing).
    When they found out she called to congratulate and console the consulate rep cried.

  • ziontruth

    "Russia’s anti-terror tactics—often rightly criticized by human rights groups for their heavy-handed nature, collateral damage, and lack of transparency"

    Please. Anyone who thinks the soldiers of Islamic imperialism can be dealt with a light hand, avoiding collateral damage and informing the world of every move has let the lessons of at least a decade pass him by.

    My criticism of Russia's foolishness in selling to Iran notwithstanding, I stand with Russia on its hammering of the Muslims in its midst 100%.

  • Amused

    Ahh , a point to agree on ! Kudos to you ziontruth . The Russians understand , that the only language the muslim hordes understand is brute force .

  • g_jochnowitz

    Russia is fighting against its own Muslim insurgents, but it continues to support Assad and Ahmadinejad.

  • Amused

    Russia will continue to break our shoes , as long as we continue to break theirs .The missle defense in Europe was not only unneccessarry but an affront to Russian paranoia fueled by American hubris regarding their concerns . We criticize how they handle their muslim insurgents , we stomped their relatives the Serbs , so what we have is a post Cold War tit for tat .Our foreign policy should be one that would give the Russians a good reason to cutoff Iran and Syria . We forget ,. Russia has national interests , just as we do , trample theirs and they will trample ours .

    • Michael

      “the missle defense in Europe was not only unneccessarry but an affront to Russian paranoia fueled by American hubris regarding their concerns . ”

      And what about Russia’s funding of nuclear poer plants in Iran? A process that began in 1993, well before the missile defense shield. As a matter of fact Russia has one of the most advanced missile shields in the world and continues to export to its allies.

      “We criticize how they handle their muslim insurgents , we stomped their relatives the Serbs , so what we have is a post Cold War tit for tat ”

      Serbs are related to Russians? hmm Anyway Russia has been selling weapons to Syria since the 1950’s, well before the war in Yugoslavia. It has maintained this relationship through-out the 90’s. But I guess Russia is only allowed to respond in a “tit for tat manner”.

      “Russia has national interests , just as we do , trample theirs and they will trample ours .”

      Oh, you mean like in Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Isreal and Western Europe? Russia has been trampling on our interests for close to a century.

  • Amused

    Wow , now that's a first !

  • Amused

    So I guess pro Russia views are deleted eh Admin .? To say the missle defense plan in Europe tweeked the Russians and was unnecessarry is a no , no ?

  • Amused

    To say a post Cold War tit for tat mentality exists between the US and Russia is unacceptable ?

  • Michael

    Russia has maintained a close relationship with the terrorist funding regime in Syria for half a century. It has armed Iran for nearly two decades. It’s media consistently refers to Hamas and Hezbollah as “movements” instead of terrorist groups.

    Why should we help them in their efforts?