Amidst ‘dead or alive’ speculations about Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, chief of ISIS, he emerged in a video on April 29, 2019, talking to three others with faces blurred. Baghdadi accepted new pledges of support from extremist groups in Burkina Faso and Mali, praised attacks against French forces, Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, and mentioned regimes falling in Sudan and Algeria, which was covered in these columns on May 7 (http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/specter-of-isis-over-south-asia/). Before April 29, Baghdadi had showed up in a video five years earlier in June 2014. Pentagon’s secret ‘Caliphate Project’ has been in the news past several years. Since 2013, Baghdadi was reported killed many times by Western and Russian sources. Question was whether he evaded the US-led coalition or was there more to what meets the eye?
In August 2014, CIA and MI-6 admitted former British officers were training the ISIS. But considering the scale at which this was happening inside Turkey, CIA-MI 6 were obviously involved with Pentagon in the know because it is unthinkable that US-NATO don’t have lien on mercenary outfits in their countries. In 2015, Michael Flynn, former Director, US DIA told Al Jazeera that the rise of Islamic State and Jabhat al Nusra was “Willful Decision” of the US. Flynn was also briefly NSA of President Trump. News about US weapons drops falling “erroneously” in hands of Al Qaeda and ISIS, and collaboration between these two organizations has appeared in the past. Cost of America’s war on terrorism is reportedly $6.9 trillion but what about the unaccounted millions that is keeping these terrorist organizations armed and equipped? Interestingly, Recall BBC revealed in October 2017 that hundreds of Islamic State terrorists were smuggled out of Raqqa in Syria and allowed to “spread out far and wide across Syria and beyond” under a deal between the US and UK.
It may be recalled that in October 2012, US presidential candidate Mitt Romney had publicly vowed to arm Al Qaeda in Syria. In 2014, a former head of MI-6 wrote that Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and other terrorist outfits. The US has a history to help create terrorist organizations, fight them and reuse them. Take the case of Taliban to whom Donald Trump appears ready to hand over Afghanistan. The ISIS is not dead. It is going strong as Islamic State Greater Sahara in Africa, as Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) in Afghanistan, and has struck in Sri Lanka. ISIS consolidation in Central Asia and on Afghanistan-Tajikistan border indicates its new role in the ‘Great Game’. Same may be the case of Islamic State entry in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India, with Indian Ocean Region emerging as another centre of gravity of future power play.
By no means is ISIS out of Iraq-Syria also. Take or leave it, US bloggers in March 2019 claimed Baghdadi is under US protection, even posting his photograph inside a US Humvee. Then you have Turkey’s Erdogan who his own caliphate on lines of the Ottoman Empire, even as US appears somewhat estranged with him. But having provided the training ground for ISIS and induction of terrorists in Iraq-Syria on behest of west, US can hardly afford to be on cross purposes with Turkey. That is why Erdogan spoke in Osaka recently that there would be no US sanctions under CAATSA against Turkey for importing the Russian S-400 Triumph system. In fact, he hinted it was personal guarantee by Trump and that first lot of S-400 would arrive in Turkey in July 2019.
Costs of wars have increased phenomenally both in terms of finances and human lives. Many of the wars today are being fought by proxy and the methods employed by both sides are un-conventional. It is not the US alone which is employing these forces; terrorist organizations, mercenaries, and others. China, NATO, Russia all are doing similarly. This will happen more and more in regions where global players are vying for geopolitical power. This is the reason Pakistan remains in the good books of these countries, no matter the FATF; it may never be put on the ‘black’ list of FATF and even if that happens, it will not be permitted to sink, and consequently Pakistan will continue to generate terrorism as always.
Outfits like the Taliban, ISIS and Al Qaeda fit beautifully into the web of Iran coming into the crosshairs of America. American policies of intervention are criticized incessantly but such criticism fails to acknowledge there is method in this madness. According to a report by the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the UNSC, released on June 13, 2019, Al Qaeda and the Taliban remain close allies former has grown stronger operating under the Taliban umbrella across Afghanistan and is more active than in recent years. More significantly, the report says that “Taliban is the primary partner for all foreign terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, with exception of” the Islamic State’s Khorasan branch, which seeks to undermine the Taliban’s legitimacy”.
Information about US support to ISIS leadership in Syria was appearing regularly a year ago. Then reports appeared of helicopters of 160th Aviation Regiment of US SOCOM inducted ISIS cadres into Afghanistan as a counterweight to the Taliban. In late June 2019, US had to evacuate ISIS leaders from highlands of Afghanistan after the Taliban began to actively attack them. The inset photos show US regulars with ISIS cadres in one such evacuation; formation signs of the US soldiers are clearly visible. Concurrently, Saudi Arabia released a video of Saudi Arabia’s Special Forces capturing three ISIS leaders in Yemen. Faces of the ISIS leaders were blurred in the video which had no reason since their names were specifically mentioned in the release. It wouldn’t be surprising if Saudi Special Forces and ISIS are operating jointly in Yemen. A recent British study has established that Saudi Arabia continues to actively spread Wahabism globally.
Where Baghdadi is today is anybody’s guess. He apparently has more lives that nine of the proverbial cat. He could still be in Syria, shifted to Afghanistan-Central Asia or elsewhere. But he will continue to be protected by his benefactors until he outlives his utility. All this should mellow down the euphoria after every international event and the pledges for jointly fighting terrorism, and a UN Convention on Terrorism. Ever wondered why after so many years there is no global consensus on the definition of terrorism? Deliberations on terrorism at international forums are good for enhancing camaraderie and backslapping but terrorism is a reality that is here to stay. Looking at the armament with terrorist organizations, they will continue to prosper as long as nations continue to use them to advance own national interests. This needs to be acknowledged beyond the rhetoric of peace and stability.
Years back, Ashley Tellis wrote, “India being continuously subjected to terror actually suits many … India is a sponge that absorbs global terror”. The conflict in Middle East has advanced national interests of many global powers. Similarly, why would nations not benefit from conflict in South Asia? Stands to reason, mere import of big weapon systems is not going to help India unless the required attention is given to develop sub-conventional warfare capacities. That is where conflicts are being fought and will so continue in future, even as space and cyberspace too will be activated.