America’s Top Five Mistakes in Iraq

The fall of Ramadi to the fanatical forces of the Islamic State, a big strategic win for the insurgents, has concentrated minds about just how badly things have gone in Iraq for the last dozen years, since American forces annihilated Saddam Hussein’s Ba’thist regime. As at Mosul last year, small numbers of Da’ish mujahidin in Anbar have pushed away far greater numbers of Iraqi troops like a wet rag. An Islamic State drive on Baghdad now seems a question of when, not if.

President Obama continues to engage in public denial, and his incantation that he doesn’t “think” we’re losing in Iraq does not inspire confidence that a much-needed strategic reassessment is taking place inside the White House. To be fair, American policies towards Iraq since 2003 have been one huge trillion-dollar escapism, with many sub-varieties, but Obama’s unwillingness to admit there’s a big problem at hand smacks of his predecessor’s escapism in 2004-06 about just how badly things were going in that troubled country.

There seems little doubt that Who Lost Iraq? will feature prominently in the 2016 election cycle, and we’re already getting a taste of how nasty and a-historical that debate will be. Gotcha questions will feature prominently, as will completely unreality-based discussions that have nothing to do with how the 2003 invasion actually came to pass (for an antidote, read this). To aid any sort of meaningful — and very necessary — political dialogue about Iraq, allow me to present five issues that need dispassionate discussion.

These are the product of my own experiences, including working as an intelligence officer in the early stages of the Iraq war and later employment as a strategic consultant to the Pentagon on certain aspects of the post-Saddam disaster. These are jumping-off points for the discussion, not the final word on anything. But if they aid serious debating, not partisan shouting, that would be a good thing.

1. The Invasion: I fail to see how any serious person cannot now think that deposing Saddam Hussein was a terrible mistake. He was a genocidal monster, to be sure, but the essential wisdom of Bush 41 in 1991 — that throwing the Ba’thists out of Baghdad would only open the door to Iranian hegemony, a choice that got him much criticism at the time — seems fully justified by subsequent events. It must be kept in mind that, by 2001, Saddam felt — pretty much correctly, it must be said — that he had triumphed over a decade of onerous Western sanctions, and he was coming off his leash even before 9/11. Similarly, “regime change” in Iraq was the policy of the Clinton administration, in its second term, so starting history with hanging chads in Florida is deeply misguided. Given the strategic realities of the time, including the idées fixes of the Beltway smart set of the era, it’s frankly difficult to see how an Iraq invasion was avoidable in the hothouse atmosphere that swept the capital after 9/11: a President Gore would have very likely done the same thing, no matter what he says today.

2. That Phase IV: I can still half-defend getting rid of Saddam, who ruined his country well before U.S. troops reached Baghdad, but I cannot excuse, in any fashion, the appalling lack of Pentagon planning about what to do after his nasty regime fell. Simply put, there was hardly any serious planning done by Central Command for what was termed Phase IV of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. Hence the chaos and catastrophic ad-hoccery that followed in the decisive weeks and months after Saddam fled his capital, the period when an insurgency could have been averted, but was not. While Donald Rumsfeld and his cronies bear a lot of blame for this, at least as much belongs on the shoulders of appallingly stupid CENTCOM leaders and planners who succumbed to wishful thinking of the highest order in 2003. The Royal Navy used to shoot admirals for a lot less than Tommy Franks did, and the greatest mystery of all is how this all happened, since under Franks’ predecessor at CENTCOM, Tony Zinni, war plans for Iraq consisted mostly of Phase IV stuff, since it was commonly understood that overthrowing Saddam, who had never rebuilt his conventional military power after 1991, would be the easy part — cleaning up the mess after constituted the real challenge.

3. About That Surge: As we know, chaos and insurgency did follow Saddam’s fall. It was probably inevitable that nasty sectarian-cum-ethnic struggles would emerge in Saddam’s wake, given decades of Ba’thist policies that inflamed those passions, but a war that consumed much of Iraq was avoidable, yet it was not avoided. Here, again, Rumsfeld and his Pentagon deserve a lot of blame for their willful escapism — which means that buck ultimately stopped with Dubya — but a succession of idiot generals in Iraq should get blame too. The U.S. Army at its worst was on display in Iraq, 2003-06; history will not be kind, nor should it be. These failures were then saved by the miraculous Surge of hoary Beltway myth. David Petraeus, using brainpower and cunning, turned the tide in Iraq in 2006-07, or so his fans and FoxNews talking heads have said nonstop for years. The Surge is a half-truth, the true part being that by 2006, it represented the least-bad strategic option on the table; but it is a myth all the same, as I’ve explained before, and in some ways a pernicious one. In particular, it white-washes the reality that, under the guise of The Surge, Baghdad’s Sunnis got ethnically cleansed away by their Shia enemies, while Sunnis in Anbar, who sided with Americans, temporarily and decisively, against fanatical mujahidin during The Surge — for the right price, as always — would eventually realize that we were going to leave them in a Shia-run Iraq that hates them

4. Pulling Out At Any Cost: Political illiteracy has been the signature feature of our all-but-endless Iraq war. A basic unwillingness to see Iraq as Iraqis see it — a country profoundly divided by sectarianism and hatreds that run centuries-deep — has meant that America has pursued inherently contradictory policies that guarantee long-term failure. This is much like the foolish hash Washington, DC, made of Bosnia, due to basic blindness about the country, but with far worse strategic consequences. The advice of Vice President (then Senator) Joe Biden in 2007 to divide up Iraq into self-governing Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish entities, while maintaining a notionally united country (in other words, to make it like Bosnia: dysfunctional but not totally failed) was the least-bad outcome at the time, and its not being pursued looks like a tragic what-if, in hindsight (as does Biden’s sage advice, early in Obama’s first term, to scale-down U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, which the president ignored in favor of his own Surge in that country, which predictably failed to deliver as advertised: one suspects history will look upon Joe Biden as the Last Wise Man in our capital). Obama wanted to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, and it’s hard to blame him for that, once he realized the full scale of the disaster he had inherited from his predecessor. That said, if you don’t want to make hard choices, don’t run for president, and by any fair accounting the list of Obama’s mistakes in Iraq — pulling out too quickly, not taming Shia abuses against Sunnis, leaving the Iraqi military unready to stand alone, and above all failing to secure a Status of Forces Agreement with Baghdad — is long and painful.

5. Not Defeating Da’ish: Given the political errors of both the Bush and Obama administrations in Iraq, some sort of Sunni revolt against the rampant Shia thuggery emanating from the top in Baghdad was inevitable. Yet the insurgency that has emerged with a vengeance, which now threatens the Iraqi state itself, was not preordained, and represents the outcome of many things, including mistakes inside the Beltway. When Da’ish burst on the scene in a big way in Iraq last summer, trouncing far greater numbers of Iraqi troops, diligent use of Western airpower and special operations forces could have blunted it — as I explained here and here, in detail —  through attrition. That was still a viable option early this year, as I elaborated, but the lack of willpower in the Obama White House to employ lethal force persistently has led to a terrible outcome. For want of reality-based planning and toughness in Washington, DC, Da’ish is on the march and airpower and SOF alone may not suffice to halt their genocidal advance now. Certainly Obama’s diffident application of force against the Islamic State to date has been grossly insufficient to attrit the enemy in anything less than decades, as has been evident for some time. By wanting to avoid war, Obama may have helped cause a far greater one than anything yet seen in post-Saddam Iraq.

At this point, Obama’s Iraq war, which he tried and failed to get out of, has lasted longer than Bush’s Iraq war. Neither has been anything resembling a success. There is ample blame to go around. It is important now that our Iraq debates not become even more freighted down with partisan food-fighting than they already are, since the consequences of more Da’ish victories will be terrible. But we cannot assess what to do now if we cannot honestly reckon with the mistakes that we have already made in Iraq. Who Lost Iraq? We all did.

Putin’s Macedonian Gambit

Macedonia, a small, impoverished Balkan state, has appeared in the newspapers lately, which it seldom does outside of Southeastern Europe. Macedonia was the only Yugoslav republic to escape the collapse of Tito’s federation in the early 1990’s without bloodshed, but its history since then has been a tale of woes. As everywhere in the Balkans, crime, corruption and ethnic politicking have rendered Macedonia a less than fully functional state, and all-out war between the Slavic Macedonian majority and the Albanian minority was narrowly averted in 2001. Diplomatic intervention by NATO and the EU cooled heads and a bloody conflagration was headed off, but only just.

Now Macedonia is in turmoil again. Earlier this month, a massive cross-border raid led to the deaths of eight policemen and fourteen terrorists, said by the government in Skopje to be Albanian radicals who infiltrated the border city of Kumanovo to perpetrate mass murder. The country’s fragile ethnic balance has been thrown into chaos by the spectacular raid, the actual events of which remain shrouded in a good deal of mystery, in best Balkan fashion.

Macedonia has a long history of such never-solved major crimes. Back in 1995, President Kiro Gligorov, who got his country independence without bloodshed, was seriously injured by a car bomb, yet nobody was ever charged in the spectacular crime, though most Balkan spy-watchers detected more than a whiff of shadowy networks controlled by UDBA, Tito’s nasty secret police, behind the assassination attempt.

Similarly, it seems safe to expect that the real story behind the Kumanovo raid will remain shrouded in mystery, as some wish. In the absence of evidence, rumors have spread like wildfire. Most Slavic Macedonians attribute the attack to Albanian radicals bent on creating Greater Albania to include western Macedonia — it doesn’t help that some Albanian politicians state their goal openly — while most Albanians believe the raid was a “false flag” operation by Skopje to discredit them. Since false flag terrorism really does happen in the Balkans, it’s difficult to say with any certainty what really transpired in Kumanovo.

It should be noted that the Kumanovo atrocity was exceptionally well timed for Skopje, where the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is facing mass protests against crime and corruption during his near-decade in power. Confronted with public outrage, Gruevski has retreated into ethnic politics, per standard Balkan practice. On cue, the Kremlin has backed Skopje, suddenly remembering that they represent Russia’s Slavic Orthodox “brothers,” with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov bluntly stating this week, “The events in Macedonia are blatantly controlled from the outside.”

According to the Kremlin, Macedonia is being lined up by the Americans and NATO to be the next “color revolution” which, like the alleged “coup” in Kyiv early last year, will install a pro-Western government in power against the (alleged) popular will. It must be said that, as in Ukraine, Moscow is lining itself up with a coalition of corrupt cronies that, if widespread Balkan rumors are to be believed, is tracking to fall from power, and soon. The recent resignation of top officials, including Macedonia’s interior minister and intelligence chief, over revelations of their deep corruption has been taken as a bad sign by most impartial observers.

Never wanting to miss a crisis that could be geopolitically useful, the Kremlin has dispatched numerous “diplomats” — in reality, Russian intelligence officers — to their embassy in little Skopje, and they have been busy disseminating disinformation aimed at maligning the West and Macedonians who want a less corrupt government. A popular Russian rumor is that the Kumanovo terrorists were, in reality, American and British special forces who infiltrated Macedonia from the NATO base in Kosovo, Camp Bondsteel. Of course there is no evidence for this fairytale but that only makes it more popular among Macedonians who like spooky conspiracies.

Upping the ante in Kremlin Active Measures, to use the proper Chekist term, is a new piece in the right-wing Macedonian outlet Fakti by the Russian political strategist Sergei Markov, which posits a grand conspiracy theory about Western manipulation of recent Macedonian events. The root issue, he explains, is pipeline politics being orchestrated by the Americans and the Europeans, and Western intelligence is pulling the strings behind anti-government protests in Skopje, while NATO spy agencies were behind the Kumanovo terrorist raid. There is no evidence for any of this, but Markov goes one step further and explicitly fingers the National Security Agency and its partner the BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence service, as the culprits behind the nefarious destabilization of Macedonia. Thanks to the Snowden Operation that Moscow has orchestrated over the last couple years, NSA is now the all-purpose boogeyman for Kremlin agitprop, though as the former technical director for NSA’s Balkan operations, I’m confident in stating that nobody at Fort Meade is “really” behind Macedonia’s grave crisis.

The Kremlin’s hand behind this Active Measure is revealed by the author of this hit-piece. Sergei Markov is not, as one might suspect, a tinfoil-hatted conspiracy monger, some sort of Russian Alex Jones webcasting from his basement. Instead, he is a very prominent Moscow academic and politician who just happens to be the guy Putin drags out to sound scholarly when propagating absurd Kremlin lies. He has denied that Moscow had anything to do with the assassination of FSB defector Sasha Litvinenko in London, while Tallinn has fingered him as a suspect in the massive 2007 cyber-attacks on Estonia; as a result, he has been banned from that country, and Ukraine has done the same over Markov’s vicious anti-Ukrainian statements. He has recently warned of deep Russophobia in Stockholm, threatening that Russia may start World War III if Moscow feels “backed into a corner” — by Sweden.

Moscow’s equally outlandish talking points in Macedonia have been made clear by Professor Markov. I explained a few weeks ago that Putin’s Kremlin has initiated a secret offensive in the Balkans, in both Bosnia and Macedonia, using Special War to open up another front as Europe slides towards greater crisis and perhaps wider war. Appealing to Slavic Orthodox “brothers” in Southeastern Europe, while sending spies and cash to stir up trouble, is a surefire way to exacerbate ethnic tensions in already damaged societies, but Moscow does not care about consequences. Russia seeks to cause problems for NATO and the EU in the Balkans, and it is doing so successfully. Shattering the fragile settlements of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession in the 1990’s, maintained with difficulty by the West, will be easy for the Russians. That the cost of this dirty and unnecessary war will be borne by innocent people in Southeastern Europe is no concern of Vladimir Putin’s.

Kremlin Disinformation and Propaganda [VIDEO]

I recently was honored to participate at the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) conference in Washington, DC, where I took part in a discussion of Kremlin disinformation and propaganda. My comments, on Chekist Active Measures and their relevance today, kicks off at 25:25, and the Q&A following the talks may be worth your time. Enjoy (and ignore that JBANC oddly called me a blogger, and that I got cut off in the middle of one of my all-time favorite KGB anecdotes)!

On Comments

I’ve always allowed comments on this blog. Managing comments has been a task that’s been mostly enjoyable, the occasional troll notwithstanding.

However, there’s been a gradual rise in commenters who feel entitled to an extended response to their statements, and will pester if they don’t get the affirmation they seek. Some clearly need their own blog while others seek a research assistant. I can’t help with either of those so I’m shutting down comments.

Thanks to those who have commented enjoyably — you know who you are.

New Intelligence on Italian Jihadists

Compared to France, Germany, or Britain, Italy’s problem with domestic jihadism is relatively modest, yet it is growing fast, thanks to the wars in Syria and Iraq. A new report in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s paper of record, based on current intelligence from Italian secret services, paints a disturbing picture of rising radicalism.

At present, according to the latest intelligence in Rome, some fifty Italians are fighting with the Islamic State (IS — get my assessment of that dangerous group here), of whom a shocking eighty percent are converts, not immigrants or born Muslims. Many go abroad to wage holy war after a surprisingly brief period of conversion and radicalization. They are very young and come mostly from northern Italy. The Salafi jihadist scene in Italy is fragmented regionally and a key role is played by what Italian intelligence terms “liaison officers,” the individuals who facilitate the recruitment of new holy warriors and get them to the war zone. Over 200 of these “liaison officers” are currently being monitored by the security services. They play a critical role, and here the Italian experience is different from most European countries, as Corriere della Sera explains:

Our intelligence considers them to be very dangerous because they have returned to our country after a period of training in secret bases, mostly in Afghanistan. They are a totally new phenomenon, going against the trend by comparison with other European countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Belgium. In those countries most of the jihadists recruited — and they are far more numerous than Italy’s jihadists — go directly to fight as volunteers in the theaters of conflict. In Italy the opposite occurs. Most of them stay behind to offer logistical, organizational, and recruitment support on our soil, which is considered a nerve center. This, among other reasons, because migrant integration and intake policies are making it increasingly difficult to identify, among the poor wretches who land on our shores, those individuals who are returning from Syria or from Libya with leading roles and who are capable of acting as a focal point for new recruits.

Those recruits are very young, mostly between eighteen and twenty-five years of age, and so far exclusively male. To date, ten Italian jihadists have been killed in Syria. Nearly all have been recruited via the internet:

Indoctrination takes place with pervasive and rapid techniques which prompt these kids to take the crucial step of departing for war theaters in a very short time. These powerfully manipulative psychological techniques have been tried and tested in the training camps for young suicide bombers in Pakistan. When the IS’s recruits are ready, they can rely on liaison officers to organize their transportation, which is often a one-way journey only. 

Although some jihadists come from Rome and Naples, most are from the north, with high extremist activity being noted by Italian intelligence in the Brescia area, along with the cities of Turin and Milan, as well as Ravenna and Bologna, the Padua area, and the Valcamonica region, while Cremona is a particular hotspot for would-be jihadists, because the Bosnian extremist Bilal Bosnić, who heads IS recruitment in his country (see my analysis here) has spent time there and is very popular due to his fiery sermons urging holy war against the West and “infidels.”

Neither can the jihadist problem in Italy be separated from the migration crisis that is facing the country, as intelligence reports conclude than many of the 200 “liaison officers” working in the country have arrived illegally, mixed in with the economic migrants who are flooding southern Italy. For the secret services, detecting the criminals in the mix has been nearly impossible so far.

 

 

 

 

War and the (Islamic) State

The barbaric murder this week of the American journalist James Foley by a British jihadist has served as a tragic reminder of the gravity of the global threat posed by the Salafi jihad movement. For the first time in years, the Western public, seeing the horrific images of Foley’s butchering, has been confronted with the reality of our enemy. Those who thought the death of Osama bin Laden three years ago signaled the beginning of the end of his vile cause, a view championed by the Obama administration, were naively mistaken. Bin Laden’s demise was, as Churchill said of British victory at El Alamein, “the end of the beginning” of the struggle against the Salafi jihad movement.

And a movement it is, rather than an organization; those who apply Western, military-style organizational charts to it, in the manner beloved by intelligence analysts everywhere, are and have always been wrong. It shares an ideology but operates differently depending where it goes: there is tactical flexibility nested in severe ideological rigidity. Al-Qa’ida (AQ) never had a monopoly on the global jihad movement, and its slow, predictable decline under the uninspired leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri has opened the door to the even more extreme jihadists of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). While AQ is far from dead — its Yemen-based franchise in particular, AQ in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), remains very dangerous — it’s evident that the center of gravity in the global jihad movement has shifted to the fanatics of the Islamic State and their self-proclaimed Caliphate.

The struggle between AQ and the group now calling itself IS goes back a decade in Iraq, beginning with Sunni resistance to the U.S. invasion in 2003, and, given the gradual decline of bin Laden’s faction, it was perhaps inevitable that the even more murderous IS would win out. Its message of uncompromising holy war against all enemies, from “infidels” outside the Muslim world to the many “apostates” within it, appeals to the basest human instincts and is intoxicating to angry young men who pine for murder, martyrdom, and glory. IS embraces the extreme Salafi vision — they are takfiris to use the proper term — of jihad for jihad’s sake, a fanatical fantasy of “pure” Islam that invariably kills more Muslims than “infidels.” The takfiri tendency lies in the DNA of the Salafi jihad movement, and has burst forth murderously on many occasions, most horrifically in Algeria in the 1990s, where the local AQ affiliate, the Armed islamic Group (GIA), was expelled from the “official” movement for its indiscriminate killing, just as IS was recently. The only difference now is that the world has noticed, with horror, the mass killings of innocents perpetrated by IS murderers in Iraq. True “shock and awe” in Iraq has been delivered by masked fanatics rallied around a black flag, not the U.S. military.

I’ve watched the global jihad movement closely for years, both as a security practitioner and a scholar, and I’ve analyzed its metastasis as it’s moved from region to region. I’ve written books about its strategy and operations as well as its growth in the 1990s into a worldwide phenomenon. Since 9/11, I’ve witnessed two American presidents wage war against the global jihad movement in a rather similar manner, contrary to much public fuss about the differences between Bush and Obama-style counterterrorism, and from the outset I’ve maintained that the U.S. approach is deeply flawed and doomed to fail. My sharper critiques of American counterterrorism strategy have been largely confined to secret and off-record discussions inside the government, within the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Intelligence Community (IC), as well as with key Allies. As I am now leaving government employ, I am free to speak my mind. This is a start.

Let me state unambiguously that this is a war that the West must win. Our Salafi jihadist enemy is a threat to virtually every country on earth, including Western ones. Their vision is fanatical and uncompromising. They are a foe who must be killed off through attrition. There is no room for negotiation or dialogue. We must face the reality that our struggle against these fanatics will last decades, not years; everybody currently waging this war will retire before the job is done.

Winning the war will require the full effort of Western governments, working with each other and partners across the Muslim world. This is a two-front war, against Salafi jihadists who struggle against the Muslim world, and also against the fanatics in our midst who reside inside the West itself. For years, we’ve heard facile statements that America embraces a (bad) military-focused approach to counterterrorism while Europeans stick to a (good) law enforcement model. This view was arguably true a decade ago but is wholly false today, with all Western governments now employing police, militaries, and above all intelligence to combat the Salafi jihad wherever it finds sanctuary.

First, the external front. Here there is some good news. In the first place, the very fanaticism of IS and its make-believe Caliphate will ultimately undo it. Without exception, Salafi jihadists who embrace takfiri methods sooner or later wind up alienating the great majority of Muslims around them. While Iraqi Sunnis have allowed IS to play a vanguard role in their broad-based uprising against the Shia-run regime in Baghdad which they hate, eventually mainstream Sunnis will sour on IS butchery visited on co-religionists. Yet this should not overly comfort us, as it will be years, not months, before most Iraqi Sunnis realize they fear IS fanatics more than Shia.

Yet the war against IS in Iraq will be aided by the fact that we have many allies and partners in the struggle who are eager to put the “boots on the ground” that we do not wish to. Kurdish militias are fighting for their lives and Shia militias may be able to show the stamina in battle that the U.S-raised and trained Iraqi military so humiliatingly failed to against IS. We are already assisting Kurds, and more help is needed, with the proviso that DoD should supply weapons, logistics, and some intelligence — and no more: let locals fight in the manner they know how to. The collapse of the Iraqi military in the face of lightly armed fanatics, with whole divisions fleeing before an IS battalion, illustrates that the U.S. military, having wasted years and billions of dollars on Baghdad’s security forces, is thoroughly incompetent at building Middle Eastern militaries. We need to stop pretending otherwise and let the Iraqis, who are quite competent at killing, get on with fighting the fanatics.

Here U.S. and Allied airpower will be decisive, as long as it is applied properly. For years, I dined out on my oft-stated belief that if the Salafi jihadists wanted to destroy their cause, all they had to do was 1. embrace takfirism as a strategy, and 2. set up physical sanctuary somewhere, the Caliphate they pine for. Which is exactly what the Islamic State has done. I believed this because takfiri views are rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, who find them repugnant and barbaric, moreover setting up shop in any place for very long would be an open invitation to be crushed mercilessly by American airpower. I had assumed, naively, that no U.S. president would hesitate to dispatch AC-130 gunships to annihilate any jihadists foolish enough to control large swaths of territory.

Let me be clear: Attriting IS out of existence in Iraq — and Syria too — where they have erased the Allied-drawn state boundaries of the post-World War One settlement, will not be quick but it can be done through proper application of Western airpower tied to proxy forces on the ground. Indeed, this is the sort of fight the U.S. military today is ideally suited for. Since 9/11, the DoD and IC have honed their terrorist-killing acumen, with secret warriors of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), guided by time-sensitive intelligence, becoming the bane of jihadists in many countries. They have no equal at what they do in secret. The JSOC-IC combination will be critical to destroying IS, one deadly raid at a time.

Just as important will be airpower, delivered through both manned and unmanned platforms. As yet, IS has only rudimentary air defenses, and U.S. and Allied air forces can deliver hammer blows to their battalions without serious losses on our side. Contrary to what activists tell you, the U.S. military goes to great lengths to avoid civilian deaths, what we euphemistically term “collateral damage,”  in its use of airpower. We must understand that IS will use civilians as shields, as HAMAS has done in Gaza. This must not deter us. IS leaders (high-value targets or “HVTs” in the trade) must be killed wherever they are, regardless of whose house they are hiding in. After enough airstrikes, Sunnis will seek to expel IS from their midst for fear of our lethal reach.

The virulent extremism of the Islamic State — they represent to the Salafi cause roughly what the Khmer Rouge did to Marxism-Leninism — means that nearly everybody will want to partner with the West to some degree in fighting it. Once they see the seriousness of our intent, certain Gulf states whose support for IS has been important to their growth will quickly reconsider their position. Even Russia could be a valuable partner in the fight against IS, while Putin’s friends in Damascus are very eager to eliminate this existential threat to the Assad regime. Iran must be handled carefully, as Tehran will be an enemy of the West as long as it is ruled by the mullahs, but they are deadly serious about destroying the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. To wax Churchillian again, the British prime minister famously said that if Hitler invaded Hell he would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons, and that nicely sums up Iran’s place in the loose anti-IS coalition too.

I have been a frequent critic of post-9/11 American beliefs that there is a military solution to every problem, a viewpoint that has caused much heartache for the United States and many foreigners in recent years. In the long run, the wave of Salafi radicalism that has shaken the Muslim world in recent decades will burn itself out. Islam has seen similar waves before. But we would be naive to expect it to recede anytime soon, and the wave may not have crested yet. Moreover, political problems across the Middle East that have assisted the rise of extremism, for instance the sectarian stupidity of the Baghdad government that emerged under U.S. tutelage, leading to a Sunni rebellion with IS at its head, are largely beyond the West’s control to repair or even ameliorate. A Bosnian-style partition of Iraq into Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish entities, devolving power on ethno-sectarian lines while maintaining a notional Iraqi state, looks like an even better idea now than when Vice President (then Senator) Joe Biden proposed it in 2006 (whatever my criticisms of Bosnian dysfunction, that country looks like Switzerland compared to Iraq now), but we ought not believe that politico-economic reform in the Muslim world, however welcome and necessary it may be, offers any short term solutions to the problem of Salafi jihadism. Right now the sole remedy to the challenge presented by the Islamic State is crushing it with brutal force.

The issue, then, is intent. We have it in our power to destroy IS in Iraq and Syria, and although that attrition-based strategy will not achieve success quickly, ultimate victory over at least this part of the Salafi jihad movement is assured as long as we pursue the struggle with patience and vigor. Will, not way, is our problem. President Obama’s take on the jihadist enemy has never inspired confidence in the counterterrorism community, and his reaction to the rise of the Islamic State does not reflect the seriousness of the threat we now face. While none can fault Obama for a lack of ardor for certain aspects of the war that he refuses to call a war, as the death of Osama bin Laden and hundreds of lethal drone strikes during his presidency attest, his unwillingness to confront the ideological aspects of the struggle has been troubling to many who wage that war. Obvious White House squeamishness about the “I-word,” coupled with idiocies like terming the massacre of thirteen U.S. soldiers by Nidal Hasan, Army psychiatrist turned self-styled jihadist, an incident of “workplace violence,” bespeak a fundamental lack of seriousness about the struggle we are in. While we must always be careful about delineating Islam from Islamism, and I have been sharply critical of those who do not, pretending that Salafi jihadism is not what it actually is only helps the enemy.

President Obama’s penchant for golf, particularly at inopportune moments, has received much criticism of late, with even what might be termed the court press reporting frankly on its negative impact on public perception, including scathing op-eds. It is difficult to escape the suspicion that the president is tired of the hard job of being Commander-in-Chief. Certainly his public comments on the Islamic State lack the dire tone emanating from some senior administration officials. This week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke of IS in alarming terms as a threat “beyond anything that we’ve seen…They’re beyond just a terrorist group.” General Martin Dempsey, DoD’s military head, stated that IS possesses an “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision” and the group “will eventually have to be defeated.” It’s an open secret in the Pentagon that such blunt statements reflect widespread concerns in DoD and the IC that President Obama is not taking the current threat seriously enough. At a minimum, the president must inject his national security staff, which I’ve never found talented or inspired, with purpose and seriousness, while antics such as disclosing failed top secret counterterrorism operations to score political points are unworthy of the presidency and must cease at once.

It is hoped that, confronted by the rising madness and violence of IS in Iraq and Syria, Obama will find the ability to pursue the war against Salafi jihadism with the required vigor, as well as to communicate to the public the nature of the threat we face, including the reality that the struggle will be long and difficult. The Islamic State can be crushed in what remains of Obama’s second term, while defeating Salafi jihadism itself is a generational enterprise, but refusing to use the time between now and January 2017 to fight IS with all the means at our disposal will not only give the enemy time to grow and metastasize further, it would amount to presidential dereliction of duty. If President Obama does not possess the will to wage this war that has been forced upon us, he should consider devoting himself to golf full time and stepping aside in favor of Joe Biden, who has demonstrated some quite sensible views on terrorism over the years.

That said, the war against IS inside the Muslim world is only part of the struggle we now face, and in many ways it’s the easy part. That James Foley’s killer is British (his identity has been established by British intelligence but not yet released to the public) has focused attention on the painful fact that a considerable number of IS fighters in Iraq and Syria are from the West. British citizens are estimated to represent a quarter of the roughly 2,000 Europeans fighting with IS at present. Numbers of Westerners in IS ranks are difficult to estimate and the true figure is likely 3,000 or more. Additionally, since many jihadists go to Syria or Iraq for a few months and return home, leading to a high turnover rate, the number of Westerners who have fought with IS in the Middle East exceeds 5,000 and is rising fast.

Going to Syria or Iraq to join IS is very much in vogue among radical Salafis across the West. Getting there is easy, especially for Europeans: Turkey’s looking the other way about the movement of thousands of foreign fighters through the country en route to the jihad is a key factor here. The fanatical IS message resonates among an alarming number of European youths: in a recent poll, sixteen percent of French had a “favorable” view of IS while three percent admitted to having a “very favorable” view of the Islamic State. Warnings from dissenting experts that extremism among European Muslims is considerably more commonplace than it’s politic to admit fell on deaf ears on grounds of political correctness, but have been proved wholly correct. It’s fashionable among hardline European Salafis to go to Syria or Iraq to fight, though in reality most of them spend far more time hanging out than actually engaging in combat. Many of their rest centers, safely away from the front, are surprisingly lavish, leading to the Syrian war being memorably termed a “five-star jihad” in extremist circles.

Historically, only five to ten percent of foreign fighters engage directly in terrorism when they return home, but that figure is cold comfort given the unprecedently vast numbers of Westerners who are going to Iraq and Syria. Some returnees have already engaged in terrorism in Europe, while it is obvious that even effective European security services are overwhelmed by the numbers of jihadists coming back. French intelligence is monitoring some 300 persons, one-third of them women, with links to the Syrian jihad; as they require 24/7 surveillance, this is a daunting task for even the best resourced and most technically capable security services. Some European intelligence agencies, seeing “huge growth” in jihadist numbers, admit to being deluged by potential terrorists. Britain’s security services are likewise overwhelmed by the numbers of jihadist targets they must monitor, a situation that was hardly helped by the massive leaks by Edward Snowden, which the head of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, scathingly called a “gift” to terrorists.

Moreover, for every returning jihadist who plots terrorism, ten or twenty more veterans engage in furthering the cause through proselytizing, preaching, fund-raising, and generally radicalizing and preparing the next generation of angry youths for jihad. Those who have actually gone to Syria or Iraq, where they have learned to butcher innocents, have enormous cachet among the wannabes back in Europe, who find their message of vitriolic hate toxically enticing. I have been warning for a decade that the West, particularly Europe, functions as a de facto safe haven for many Salafi jihadists who make up what I call the Sixth Column. We have seemingly forgotten that the 9/11 plot was hashed out more in Hamburg, Germany than in any Muslim country. It is long past time for the West to deal with this threat seriously.

There is no single profile for who abandons life in the postmodern West to join the Salafi jihad, particularly its most virulent brand. Some are rabidly pious Muslims, but many lack a firm foundation in matters Islamic, and a surprisingly large number of Western jihadists seem to have scant interest in anything theological: many join for the hate and the camaraderie, a need to belong, not the belief. They are consumed by rage and frustration and seek out a belief system that justifies acting out their evil urges — not the other way around. Many are ne’er-do-wells who have spent time in prison and possess unstable family backgrounds, but the son of privilege who abandons a life of comfort to wage jihad abroad is a Salafi cliche for a reason. Many are born Muslims who revert to a faith they never seriously practiced in their youth, while others are converts. Most are young, with many still in their teens, but the nearly middle-aged are not unknown in jihadist ranks either. Their psychology in many cases resembles that of a spree killer more than any popular conception of an arch-terrorist, while their ideology — a cut-and-paste version of Qutbism, dumbed-down for the online generation, that thrives on hate — is astonishingly consistent worldwide. Women often play an important role behind the scenes in radicalizing their men and keeping them that way.

One trend that is clearly visible among Western jihadists is the prominence of online recruiting and propaganda. Most young Salafis today enter the movement virtually, becoming markedly radical before ever meeting another extremist in the flesh. The time required to become dangerously extreme has shortened noticeably, no doubt due to the prevalence of online jihadism, the digihad, if you like. Back in the 1990s, most Westerners who “joined the caravan” (to use the movement term) were radicalized gradually, over months and even years, slowly turning their backs on their old life, while it is now commonplace to see young men who decide to abandon normalcy in favor of the jihad after only a few months of radicalization, and sometimes only a few weeks. All this makes it increasingly difficult for Western security services to track would-be terrorists, or to differentiate the merely extreme from the positively dangerous.

While the United States has been fortunate in many ways compared to Europe, possessing a Muslim community that is proportionately smaller and far less radicalized than in much of the European Union (EU), there is no reason to think that this will last forever. Americans are fighting with IS abroad too and some will return home with jihad still on their minds. The FBI, with the Intelligence Community, has done a commendable job since 9/11 keeping the domestic terrorism threat largely under wraps, aided by the fact that most of America’s homegrown jihadists to date have been frankly inept, some of them almost comically so. That, too, is a trend that is unlikely to continue indefinitely.

America has no room for comfort as it confronts the Salafi jihadist threat. The enemy’s desire to strike the United States directly remains as great as it ever was, while the fact that we functionally do not have border security means that any terrorists who seek to enter the country illegally will have no more difficulty than the millions of Latin Americans who have infiltrated without detection. Moreover, the large numbers of extremists possessing EU passports (and Canadian too: about 130 Canadians are currently fighting in Syria and Iraq), who are able to enter the USA without a visa, mean that attacks on the country can be handled by foreigners easily.

What, then, is to be done? Legal changes are in order if we are serious about defeating this enemy. Some European countries have recently criminalized going abroad as a foreign fighter, or facilitating that, and this is something that all Western countries should adopt promptly. While this will not cease jihad tourism, it will certainly complicate matters for would-be holy warriors. Westerners who do engage in jihad abroad should be deprived of citizenship and told to not come home, ever. While free speech is to be defended, it should at least be asked if engaging in jihadist propaganda ought to be criminalized (as, say, Holocaust denial has been in much of the EU). At a minimum, those who engage in material support of any Salafi jihad-related activity should face severe legal penalty.

In the United States, this also means we must end our security-theater act and get serious about stopping terrorism. The terrorist threat to our airlines is as great as it has ever been, as Attorney General Eric Holder recently admitted, citing his “extreme, extreme concern” about the threat emanating from Syria. The TSA is equal parts laughingstock and nuisance and needs to be wholly revamped into a serious security agency, relying on profiling rather than making life difficult for countless innocent people every day. “America doesn’t have an airline security system, America has a system for bothering people,” said the former head of security for El Al, Israel’s national airline, and seldom have truer words been spoken.

Yet the long-term way to defeat, rather than merely deter, Salafi jihadism, is through intelligence and covert action, not war in any conventional sense. While pummeling IS kinetically in Iraq and Syria is a necessary first step, it is only the beginning. The military defeat of the Islamic State by Western airpower and commandos, aided by local proxies, will set the stage for the strategic defeat of their movement. What must follow is a version of what I term Special War, tailored for counterterrorism, combining offensive counterintelligence, denial and deception, and long-term manipulation of the jihadists leading to their collapse and self-immolation.

That strategy is the topic of a forthcoming blog post ….

 

 

 

Bosnia and the Global Jihad Revisited

Back in 2007, my book Unholy Terror ruffled quite a few feathers by pointing out the unpleasant truth that, in the 1990s, Bosnia-Hercegovina became a jihadist playground and a major venue for Al-Qa’ida, thanks to malign Saudi and Iranian influences. This was off-message, to put it mildly, to critics eager to defend failed Western (especially American) policies in the Balkans, as well as the usual coterie of jihad fellow-travelers and Useful Idiots, plus those eager, for personal reasons, not to have anyone look too deeply into where Saudi money goes in Europe.

However, my essential message — that Islamist extremism, though a largely imported phenomenon in Bosnia, has put down local roots and is likely to metastasize further due to that country’s intractable socio-economic problems — has been proven sadly accurate over the last seven years. For years, the debate over Islamism in Bosnia, and Southeastern Europe generally, was divided between security practitioners on one side and academics and journalists on the other, with the former group, which actually understood what was happening on the ground, being concerned about growing radicalism, while the latter bunch was generally happy to avert eyes from obvious signs of trouble, and to hurl accusations of bias and “Islamophobia” at those who pointed out what was happening.

But recently even many academics and related wishful-thinkers have been willing to concede that Bosnia indeed has a rising problem with Islamist extremism. In early 2013, the International Crisis Group, a major NGO that can be considered a standard bearer of Western received wisdom about the Balkans, admitted that there actually is a problem, indeed a “dangerous tango” of Islamic radicalism and nationalism in Bosnia. This was progress of a sort.

By the benchmark of terrorist attacks, Bosnia is not a major hot-spot, there having only been a few, fortunately not very deadly, jihadist terrorist incidents in recent years, such as the blowing up of a police station in Bugojno in 2010 and a shooting attack on U.S. Embassy Sarajevo in 2011. Yet there is little comfort in this, as security experts know. In the first place, Bosnian radicals tend to go abroad to cause mayhem. Their country is viewed as a European safe haven by extremists, a place to build networks personal, ideological, and financial (often routed through Austria too, since Vienna is the de facto hub of Islamist extremism in the region) to support the jihad elsewhere, including in Europe. It is, in other words, a staging base — Iranian intelligence takes a similar view of the country — and it’s off-message for radicals to conduct terrorism in Bosnia, which only brings unwanted scrutiny to their activities.

For years, corrupt Bosnian officials have looked the other way about rising extremism in their midst. Even when they are arrested, known radicals tend to have charges mysteriously dropped or, in a worst case, they “escape” from prison under unexplained circumstances. Here Saudi money and Iranian influence, which have been nurturing clandestine networks for nearly a quarter-century in Bosnia, play a malignant role. Honest Bosnian cops and spies, who do exist, customarily can do little to change this situation, in no small part because Western countries, who could help significantly, are usually reluctant to admit how serious the problem is. Thus you have top Bosnian security officials saying one thing to Western diplomats and media, and something very different — the painful truth — behind closed doors. Welcome to Sarajevo.

The Syrian civil war and the bloody disintegration of Iraq, with the prominent role of foreign fighters in those awful conflicts, have concentrated minds in Bosnia, as in many European countries. Reliable estimates place the number of Bosnians who have gone to Syria and Iraq to wage holy war in the low hundreds since 2011, with about seventy in the region right now. Among them is Nusret Imamović, the country’s leading Salafi jihad propagandist and a minor media gadfly, who went to Syria late last year to bolster the troops in the field. It bears noting that Imamović supports Jabhat al-Nusra, the Al-Qa’ida-backed jihad faction in Syria, not the more radical Islamic State (IS), leading to a schism of sorts in Bosnian extremist circles, since younger Balkan radicals tend to back IS and seek to join its ranks.

Many Bosnian Muslims were shocked on August 7 when Emrah Fojnica, a twenty-three year old Bosnian IS fighter, blew himself up in a suicide attack in Baghdad. Along with two “brothers” from Saudi Arabia and Libya, Fojnica strapped on a bomb vest and walked into a crowded market, killing twenty-four civilians, among them eleven women and six children, two of them infants. As suicide bombing is all but unknown in Bosnian extremist circles, questions arose about what was going on, particularly when it was revealed that the dead man’s father openly celebrated his son’s “martyr’s death.” Further, it emerged that the younger Fojnica was well known to Bosnian authorities and had been arrested in connection with the 2011 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, but was acquitted of terrorism charges for no apparent reason.

It has been difficult for Bosnian authorities to stem the flow of would-be jihadists headed to Syria and Iraq, not least because Turkey makes it so easy for extremists to transit its territory without hassle. And to be fair to Sarajevo, no European country has yet built a working system to prevent radicals from making for the Middle East with jihad on their minds. It was taken as a positive sign in the spring when Bosnia implemented a new law to punish citizens who go abroad to wage jihad with real consequences, including up to ten years in prison. At last, something was being done, or so it seemed.

In Bosnia, however, signing a law into effect and actually implementing it are two different things. As revealed in new reports in the Sarajevo newsmagazine Slobodna Bosna, which has a long history of excellent investigative journalism on extremism and corruption in Bosnia, some fifty Bosnian jihadists have returned home from Syria and Iraq over the last two months, i.e. since the new law has been in effect, yet not a single one of them has been arrested. Worse, Bosnian authorities have not even brought a single jihadist in for questioning, even though their identities are known to Bosnian security agencies, not least because the Balkan IS contingent openly boasts about its exploits on Facebook.

Moreover, Salafi propagandists continue to exhort young Bosnians to wage jihad abroad, with regular paeans to the new “Caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader, both online and in Bosnian mosques, all of which is said to be illegal, but apparently is not in actuality. Just this week, Bilal Bosnić, the leader of the pro-IS faction among Bosnian radicals, told his followers to join the IS in battle, with no reaction from the authorities.

In the meantime, Salafi-related violence continues to rise in Bosnia. In early August, Damir Delić, a street criminal who turned to religious radicalism in an all-too-common pattern, led police on a Hollywood-style high-speed car chase through downtown Sarajevo, with shots fired at police, and the police eventually subduing Delić with a gunshot to the leg. He was known to authorities, being notorious in his Sarajevo suburb for assaulting young Muslim women on the street who were not dressed according to Delić’s view of modesty. As Bosnians return home, fresh from the killing fields of Iraq and Syria, where they have learned to decapitate and blow up innocents, we can expect thugs like Delić to have a new generation of collaborators and teachers.

This rising tide of violent extremism can be combated successfully. Last week, authorities in Kosovo conducted a series of raids across the tiny country that arrested forty suspected radicals who had fought in Syria and Iraq. This sent a strong message that extremism will not be tolerated and the law will be enforced. Relative to population, forty jihadists arrested in Kosovo is like Germany hauling in 1,800 or Britain arresting 1,400. Prishtina deserves praise for taking a tough stand on this important issue. This is something all Europe should emulate. Kosovo is every bit as mired in poverty and corruption as Bosnia, and perhaps more so. The issue is one of will, not funding or foreign assistance. Until local authorities find the strength to confront the problem of radicalism in their midst, it will continue to metastasize.

The rise of the Islamic State in all its murderousness as a major power in the Middle East will impact Europe too, given the large numbers of Europeans who have joined its ranks. IS-style mayhem is headed to the West: it can only be delayed, not stopped altogether. Bosnia stands on the front line of Europe’s resistance to IS madness, and it is time that this reality is recognized before it is too late.

Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Another View

My recent post analyzing what might happen if Putin invades eastern Ukraine has generated much discussion and some excellent comments. I’m posting a recent one by Jim A. (who, full disclosure, I know “in real life” and served in the Navy with; he possesses vast expertise in matters Russian and military), which offers a different perspective that merits your pondering:

Well, it’s probably cold comfort, particularly to those facing them, but I don’t think all those Russian troops massed along the Ukrainian border are as battle-ready as their chain of command would like us to think. The overwhelming majority are 12-month conscripts, and so probably of less utility than one might think. Russian law requires that Russian conscripts may not be sent to a combat zone until they have had at least six months of training, but six months’ training produces a very basic soldier, not one capable of a whole lot more. The draft cycles run in fall and spring which probably leaves Russia with pretty narrow windows for launching a military campaign: the spring 2014 class isn’t fully trained up yet, while the Fall 2013 class is already antsy short-timers. In terms of trained soldier availability though, I might invade in late August to early September to best take advantage of Russia’s available conscript manpower. That also just happens to be the same time of year when Russian runs its annual set-piece military exercises. Thanks to Russia’s archaic military manpower system, the upcoming six weeks are the most potentially dangerous for a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Numbers weren’t a problem for the Russian military of the past, but they are now. The mass mobilization force of the Cold War is long gone, and there is little in the way of a reserve force. I don’t mean to suggest the Russian buildup should not be taken seriously, it should, but rather the Russian Ground Troops and VDV have some real personnel impediments to their effective employment. This was supposed to have been fixed with the introduction of a professional enlisted force and NCO corps, which was one of the original planks of the Noviy Oblik (New Look) reforms of 2008-2009, but this has been walked back several times now due to the failure of sufficient qualified recruits. Both the VDV and Ground Troops have attempted to deal with this through implementation of Permanently Ready battalions (battalions, not brigades here, e.g, always fully manned. mostly with professionals), but even this will may be hard for them to sustain.

Even though the most opportune time for the Russians in terms of manpower is just now opening up, they’re probably lost strategic momentum. The “surprise the enemy” train has long since left the station, Russia has lost whatever international goodwill it formerly had. Should they choose to invade, they’ll be choosing an enemy who’s alert, already mobilized (such as they are) and who has history of fighting a multiyear insurgency. If Putin invades, he’d need to win quickly in order to retain much support, but the odds of military success are against him there. Backing down isn’t likely part of his calculus, since there’s no saving grace there. The best I think he can hope for is another frozen conflict.

I think Jim’s hit the nail on the head there: a frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine probably is the best outcome now for the Kremlin, with a lot of dead people to get there. Think Nagorno-Karabakh, a not-all-that-frozen frozen conflict (just yesterday Azerbaijan’s president had an epic Twitter rant that all but declared war on Armenia over that one, after twenty years of sorta-peace), but on a far grander scale, in a place much more vital to European security.

I also concur that, if he wanted war, Putin should have struck months ago, when Ukraine was even less ready militarily and psychologically to resist, with Kyiv till reeling from the shock of Crimea’s near-bloodless loss. Now, Russia will have a real war on its hands if it crosses the Ukrainian frontier in strength. Let’s hope the Kremlin reconsiders. I think we’ll know what’s going to happen rather soon.

 

Latest Ukrainian Intelligence News

As war rages in eastern Ukraine, with a possible Russian invasion looming, Kyiv has gone public today with shocking stories about the extent of Russian espionage and lethal covert action in their country.

As reported by 5 Kanal TVValentyn Nalyvaychenko, head of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU), today stated that the 17 July shootdown of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 near Donetsk by Russian-backed separatists represented a terrible case of a Kremlin provocation gone horribly wrong. According to Nalyvaychenko, the SBU has evidence that what happened was the outcome of a diabolical Moscow plot to create a pretext for war, meaning Russian invasion, by shooting down an Aeroflot airline (specifically AFL2074, see details here) and killing its (mostly Russian) passengers, then placing blame on Ukrainian forces.

However, the SBU boss explained, Kremlin-backed militants were supposed to shoot down the Russian plane at Pervomaysk to the west of Donetsk, but the separatists, some of them foreign mercenaries with poor knowledge of the area, delivered the Russian Buk (SA-11) missile system to a different town with the same name. In error, the poorly trained militamen launched a missile at the Malaysian plane instead of the Russian one. This terrorist act was planned by war criminals as a pretext for Russia’s direct military intervention. In Nalyvaychenko’s words: “It means that a casus belli for the Russian invasion was created,” resulting in an act of terror “carried out by terrorists from our territory.” You can find the SBU’s English-language press release on this case here.

UPDATE/COMMENT: I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this remarkable claim by Kyiv, specifically: Where’s the hard evidence? I find this story to be plausible, given known Russian intelligence tradecraft, what they call konspiratsiya, but the evidence we’ve seen to date isn’t exactly rock solid (I won’t say “a slam dunk,” thank you very much). The SBU has set a high bar for itself with its aggressive, and highly successful, public outreach in recent months, including its own YouTube channel where it has posted a lot of nearly raw intelligence, mainly SIGINT (see the next story). That Kyiv has not done so here tells me one of three things is going on:

1. The SBU has access to high-level Kremlin SIGINT, meaning they have cracked top-grade Russian codes, and releasing that SIGINT would compromise a very valuable source that Kyiv very much needs right now.

2. The SBU has a high-placed HUMINT asset in the Kremlin camp and compromising that source by releasing too much information here would be stupid as war with Russia looms.

3. This is an analytically-derived conclusion, based on a lot of evidence from many sources, none of them conclusive alone but which, taken together, lead to a firm conclusion based on multi-INT analysis.

Back to our story … Today, the SBU has also released new signals intelligence (SIGINT) intercepts, reported by the Kyiv daily , which demonstrate that Russian intelligence is seeking to clean up ints mess in the Donbass by assassinating the leaders of its own revolt in Donetsk and Luhansk (the link includes the intercept). Today, Ukraine’s National Defense and Security Council (SNBO) asserted, based on the available SIGINT, that the following officials in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) and the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LNR) are on Moscow’s death list:

To be assassinated by the Federal Security Service (FSB):

“Lyeshyy” (LNR, Ukrainian citizen Oleksiy Pavlov, resident in the town of Prymorsk in Zaporizhzhya Oblast);

“Batya” (LNR, operating in the town of Perevalsk, Luhansk oblast, probably Mykola Kozitsyn, head of one of the “Cossack units” in the LNR);

“Kimeriyets” (DNR, operating in the town of Maryinka, Donetsk oblast, probably in Oplot’s 8th Company).

To be assassinated by the General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU):

“Rym” (LNR, commander of a combat unit, operating in the area of Chervonopartyzansk-Sverdlovsk);

“Vitaliy” or “Oruzheynyk” (LNR, operating in the town of Perevalsk, has information on weapons and combat hardware supplies from Russia);

“Mongol” (DNR, was headquartered in the building of the Administration for Combating Organized Crime in the town of Makiyivka);

“Serhiy” (DNR, probably Serhiy Zdrylyuk nicknamed “Abwehr”).

Developing….watch this space.