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25/03/2024 | Opinion: Fumbling Russian spies fail to stop ISIS-K attack, despite warnings from U.S.

Joseph Fitsanakis

NO COUNTRY HAS BETTER intelligence on the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (known as ISIS-K) than the United States. American forces have faced ISIS-K almost from the moment the group was founded in 2015 in Pakistan, just a few miles from the Afghan border. It was there that a group of disaffected members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP, commonly referred to as the Pakistani Taliban) began turning their backs on al-Qaeda, which they saw as a failing brand, and joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

 

By 2017, ISIS-K had begun to draw to its ranks hundreds of fighters from central and south Asia, who were inspired by the group’s goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate in the lands of the greater Khorasan. The term refers to a historical region that extends from eastern Iran and Turkmenistan, to the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, containing all of present-day Afghanistan, most of Uzbekistan, and even some parts of the Russian Caucasus. Like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) during its heyday, ISIS-K aspires to establish control over a territorially unified entity and then use perpetual war to expand its influence in central Asia and beyond.

Until 2021, the biggest obstacle to ISIS-K’s plan for regional domination was the U.S. By some accounts, American forces and Western-trained Afghan commando units had managed to eliminate more than half of ISIS-K’s 4,000-strong base in northeastern Afghanistan. Since the hurried U.S. withdrawal from the country in 2021 (which was marred by an ISIS-K suicide bombing that killed nearly 200 people, including 13 U.S. troops), ISIS-K has expanded its reach beyond all prior measure. The group has since claimed responsibility for attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and now Russia, that have killed over 600 people and injured thousands.

A primary reason for the proliferation of ISIS-K’s terrorist activity is that the U.S., which has more intelligence than anyone on the group, issues warnings that are not being taken into consideration by the group’s primary targets, namely Afghanistan, Iran, and Russia. Indeed, despite the Washington’s best efforts, its warnings about pending ISIS-K attacks have been ignored by the group’s primary targets. A few days after an ISIS-K attack killed nearly 100 people in Kerman, Iran, The Wall Street Journal claimed the U.S. government had provided Tehran with “a private warning” of an imminent terrorist threat from ISIS-K. If that is true, then the Iranians clearly did not heed Washington’s warning.

It now appears that, once again, Washington had considerable intelligence insight into ISIS-K’s plans to strike inside Russia. On March 7, the U.S. embassy in Russia warned on its website that “extremists have imminent plans to target large gatherings in Moscow, to include concerts”. The warning provided no specifics. However, seeing how U.S. authorities issued private warnings to Iran, a country with which the U.S. has no diplomatic relations, then it is highly likely they provided similar information to Russia, which at least hosts American diplomats and intelligence officers on its soil. Yet, not only did the Russians ignore these warnings, but they openly dismissed them.

Three days before the fatal attack on the Crocus City Hall in the city of Krasnogorsk, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly stated that the U.S. warning “resembled outright blackmail and the intention to intimidate and destabilize [Russian] society”. Some reports in Western media translated Putin’s use of the Russian term “provokatsiya” as “provocation”. But that translation is not precise; provokatsiya refers to a deliberate ruse, designed or promoted by an intelligence service, in order to achieve a predetermined political goal. Putin went on to say that Russian intelligence should focus on the “terrorist” tactics of Ukraine on Russian soil.

The fumbling Russian leader is now trying to cover his resounding security failure, as well as the failure of his intelligence services, by insinuating that the Tajik terrorists behind the Crocus City Hall attack were somehow connected to Ukraine. For the record, ISIS-K, which claimed responsibility for the attack, has condemned the Afghan Taliban as “Western puppets” and routinely refers to al-Qaeda as “apostates” (traitors). The Kremlin is attempting to suggest that this militant Sunni group, which rejects the Taliban and al-Qaeda for being too soft on America, is now working with American ally Ukraine in order to destabilize Russia. This claim is beyond idiotic.

Instead of concocting inane fairytales about an imaginary alliance between the West and the Islamic State, the Russian leadership should seriously examine the sorry state of its intelligence services and their leaders. These are the same intelligence leaders who assured the Kremlin in 2022 that the so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine would be a picnic in the park. They also appeared to believe that the attack on Ukraine would weaken the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), when in fact it has done the exact opposite. They are now once again failing miserably to carry out their mission, which is to protect the Russian people from harm. Ironically, to achieve that mission, Russian intelligence agencies must learn to rely more on their American rivals.

 

Intelnews.org (Estados Unidos)

 



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