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November 28, 2005


The Kurdiranistan Trail

By Steve Schippert | November 28, 2005

The level of violence in Afghanistan has steadily increased over the past year, with the number and methods of attacks in Afghanistan becoming more and more reminiscent of attacks carried out by al-Qaeda in Iraq and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, including suicide bombers, kidnappings, murders of foreign reconstruction workers and attacks on police stations. The weaponry and explosives used has become much more sophisticated as well, including Russian and Chinese shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles.

To understand how the tactics and weapons now used in Afghanistan have become a mirror of the same in Iraq, it is important to understand the Kurdiranistan Trail, a conduit of weapons, information and sometimes human resources between the Kurdish area of Northern Iraq and mountain passes of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Kurdiranistan Trail: Supplying a Revived Taliban

The Kurdiranistan Trail is a primary supply route for a newly armed Taliban, recognized as such as the September 2005 Afghanistan elections drew near. The Kurdiranistan Trail, stretching from the northern Kurdish region of Iraq through the breadth of Iran and into Afghanistan, is a relatively direct land route used to smuggle arms primarily from the seized arsenals of the fallen Saddam Hussein regime.

Kurdiranistan Trail MapAmong the higher-tech arms making their way to the Taliban are Chinese and Russian made shoulder-fired surface to air missiles as well as arms sold to Hussein by the French. This is a considerable capabilities enhancement for the Taliban, who cling to existence following the rout by the American military in 2001. Far more deadly than firing unguided RPG's at US helicopters, The Kurdiranistan Trail likely supplied the shoulder-launched missiles that brought down an MH-47 Nightstalker helicopter, killing the crew and an entire squad of Navy SEALs in June of 2005.

Before the US invasion of Afghanistan, some members of the Taliban were sent to northern Iraq for training. They stayed long enough to learn from and fight with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq and have since returned to Afghanistan to bring the Iraqi-style resistance tactics to the Taliban... complete with the wagon train of deadly supplies that surely still commutes as often and as loaded with tools of the trade as possible.

Oriented with the Ansarul Islam [Ansar al Islam] in northern Iraq by al-Qaeda-linked Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, they were taught the guerrilla tactics then being successfully applied in various Iraqi cities - and which still are. The group returned to Afghanistan some time ago. One of the members was Mehmood Haq Yar, an expert in guerrilla and urban warfare.

The Afghan Taliban have learned and begun to adapt the highly de-centralized Iraqi strategy and tactics. Lower profile, smaller footprint, more agile and nearly autonomous operations, linked more by their common thinking than direct communication.

Asia Times Online has learned that this Iraq-style resistance is to be activated in Afghanistan. The central command of the Iraqi resistance has been eliminated and various groups, mostly Islamists, are engaged in guerrilla activity on an independent basis. This decentralization is the guarantee of their security and successful clandestine operations.

An identical tactic has been adopted in Afghanistan. On the advice of Haq Yar, all prominent commanders have withdrawn from the battlefield. The most prominent ones, such as Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani, Saifullah Mansoor and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, took refuge in tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the rest were asked to stay with the local population.

This caused a lull in the resistance, which was the aim.

A spike in Taliban violence has been fully realized, complete with new tactics and better weaponry, since prior to the Afghanistan near the elections as the learning curve collides with both opportunity and necessity. Unfortunately for the Taliban, a 'spike in violence' complete with decentralized operations, Middle Eastern style suicide bombers and even guided Russian and Chinese anti-aircraft missiles, does not equate victory.

Just more death and violence. Now-voting Afghanis have likely seen enough of that. Tough as nails by necessity for decades, they will likely shrug and weather the storm, and move on.

Untouched in all of this is the simple and telling fact that fully two-thirds of The Kurdiranistan Trail treks through the friendly confines of Iran. That issue is a book unto itself, most likely the next installment in this saga.


Understanding Ahmadinejad

By Steve Schippert | November 28, 2005

On one hand, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric is aggressive, frightening and violent. Yet, on the other, his direct manner presents openly the true intentions of the Iranian regime, even though it appears that some of his own aggressive designs stretch beyond that of even Ayatollah Khameini and the Guardian Council, ‘peaceful civilian nuclear power’ development notwithstanding.

Ahmadinejad is a true ‘1979 revolutionary radical’ who is in many ways in opposition to the mullahs of the Guardian Council, which hand-selected and approved his own presidential candidacy, as he believes they have lost touch with their revolutionary roots. He is opposed by the Mejlis (Iranian parliament) while he openly awaits the return of the 12th Imam.

It is the latter, the radical religious aspect, that makes Ahmadinejad potentially dangerously unpredictable in an international conflict/crisis management scenario.

After his election, Ahmadinejad met in Tehran with Hassan Nassrallah, the leader of Iranian-supported Hizballah. Ahmadinejad praised Hizballah as a "symbol of pure thought of Islam". In what seemed to be a signal of their coming increased active operational importance, he went on to say of Hizballah:

"Success, victories and progress of this popular and faithful force in political, cultural, social and military domains of Lebanon are results of purity and reliance on God's will which should be preserved and institutionalized as the main factor in the fight against enemies of Islam."

It is said that, as mayor of Tehran, he had city plans drawn up for the return of the 12th Imam. At his address to the United Nations General Assembly in October, he indeed ended his speech with a prayer imploring God to hasten the return of the 12th Imam for the good of humanity.

“From the beginning of time, humanity has longed for the day when justice, peace, equality and compassion envelop the world. All of us can contribute to the establishment of such a world. When that day comes, the ultimate promise of all Divine religions will be fulfilled with the emergence of a perfect human being [12th Imam] who is heir to all prophets and pious men. He will lead the world to justice and absolute peace. O mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace.”

For foreign policy and national security analysts, discerning the potential impact of his fundamentalist beliefs is crucial. From the information available, it points to a troubling predicament of a purist fundamentalism potentially even more radical and dangerous than that of al-Qaeda, which seeks to establish a global Islamist Caliphate. Ahmadinejad appears to go one step further than the Sunni al-Qaeda and possibly seek to usher in the ‘second coming’ of the hidden 12th Imam, the Mahdi.

"Our revolution's main mission is to pave the way for the reappearance of the 12th Imam, the Mahdi," Ahmadinejad said in the speech to Friday Prayers leaders from across the country.

It is important to be able to discern the degree to which he was either speaking in the general sense or in a more specific, concrete purpose, for to assume the former and be wrong could prove to be a fatal misjudgment.

Adding fuel to the ideological fire, Ahmadinejad’s statements at the Tehran al-Quds Day conference, “A World Without Zionism”, caused a worldwide commotion when he openly spoke of the need to ‘wipe Israel off the map’, which he went on to say was ‘very attainable’ and ‘very soon.’

“I do not doubt that the new wave which has begun in our dear Palestine and which today we are also witnessing in the Islamic world is a wave of morality which has spread all over the Islamic world. Very soon, this stain of disgrace [i.e. Israel ] will vanish from the center of the Islamic world – and this is attainable.”

AhmadinejadRemember that, at the heart of the ‘wave of morality’ is Hezbollah, which he referred to as a "symbol of pure thought of Islam". The backdrop image for the conference was an hourglass, with the US broken at the bottom and a ball with the Star of David (Israel) falling through quickly behind.

Iran’s government is run in a two-column structure. On one side, there is the Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Khamenei) and the Guardian Council, a collection of mullahs in place to ensure that the government (and all things in Iranian life) adheres to the religious beliefs of the revolution. On the other side of the structure, the Mejlis is the Iranian Parliament. While the parliamentary members are elected by the Iranian public, the candidates they have to choose from are strictly screened and controlled by the Guardian Council (read: democratic reformists need not apply). The Iranian Presidency sits essentially between these two bodies as chief executor of their dictates.

Ayatollah Khameini and the mullahs of the Guardian Council seem to unexpectedly have a tiger by the tail. The Tiger continues to effectively and boldly remove the mask from the regime on an international stage. At the same time, to the degree that the Guardian Council has desired to improve at least economic ties internationally, Ahmadinejad is making this exponentially and possibly perpetually more difficult. While he was hand-selected by them, he has proven to be even to the right of them.

The Mejlis is at odds with Ahmadinejad, most notably having rejected all of his Oil Minister appointments since assuming the presidency. They are very displeased with his continuous appointments of people almost exclusively from within his ‘inner circle’ and his shake-up of government positions, firing many ministers and diplomats, including seven bank presidents.

Internationally, the United States and the EU have agreed to postpone an Iranian referral to the UN Security Council for a vote on sanctions regarding their nuclear program, having brought Russia into the fold to offer Russian enrichment of Iranian fuel and limiting Iran to the initial process of uranium ore conversion. At first glance, this can appear another frustrating delay and advantage for Iran. However, it is entirely possible that this move was put forth in full expectations that Iran would reject anything that removes their ability to enrich uranium. They have, as would be expected, accepted to ‘talk about having talks’ on the Russian solution. That in itself buys operations time and forestalls sanctions. But eventually, Iran will surely reject it, putting the final nail into the Iranian/Security Council coffin. It will have effectively brought Russia (and its veto power) on board.

Probably not by coincidence, it was released that Western intelligence reports indicate that Iran is training Chechen terrorists inside Iran near Qom and sending them back to Chechnya to fight Russian troops there. While entirely conceivable, the report’s validity is not the immediate issue. What is the issue in the context of the coming Iranian/EU-US-Russian negotiations is that intelligence agencies do not accidentally leak things to reporters. It was made publicly available for a reason: To solidify the Russian stance with America and the EU on Iran. The Russian vote at the Security Council would leave China to stand for Iran alone with a veto. China is not likely to choose this route and will therefore abstain. UNSC coffin nailed shut.

Ahmadinejad has made repeated statements (as have many Iranian officials) regarding Iran’s “right” to a full nuclear fuel cycle. He is being internationally boxed in.

Ahmadinejad is dangerous as it is, given his apparent disposition, as the president of the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism. But as the president of a nuclear armed nation, the situation could be untenable.

Considering his aggressive radicalism in context with the potential convergence of nuclear opportunity, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be the most dangerous foreign leader we have faced. He must be seen and analyzed as more than just ‘potentially’ irrational, as his religious beliefs must be clearly and thoroughly understood. His openly stated desires to “wipe Israel off the map” and “pave the way for the reappearance of the 12th Imam” open the possibility that, with the power of nuclear weaponry at hand, he could unthinkably forsake the well-being of his own nation. In order to serve a ‘greater purpose’, he may be capable of creating a situation so cataclysmic that it would usher in the 12th Imam, thereby, potentially in his mind, saving the world and restoring Islam.

November 18, 2005


The Importance of Foreign Terrorists to Iraq's Insurgency

By Steve Schippert | November 18, 2005

In a Washington Post article by Jonathan Finer (Among Insurgents in Iraq, Few Foreigners Are Found), the importance of foreign terrorists to the Iraq insurgency is wrongly minimized. The general tone of the article is that America is improperly hyping up and overstating the presence of foreign terrorists (or, according to Finer, 'foreign fighters') within the Iraq insurgency. This is wrong-minded at best. Buried within the article are two key points that are essentially dismissed in route to the Washington Post's desired message of 'The US is hyping and misleading'.

Point 1: Paragraph 5 quotes Col. H.R. McMaster, commander of the Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, and veteran of the Tal Afar clear and hold operations:
"They trained indigenous terror cells and moved on somewhere else," he said.

This leadership role is absolutely essential to the effectiveness of the indigenous elements of the insurgency. Without organization and training, the insurgency would be completely flailing and major portions of it would likely fall apart of its own inertia. This training provides an invaluable sense of direction and confidence. The value of these aspects should not be under-estimated. Finer and the Washington Post fail to note this significance.

Point 2: Nearly completely and inexplicably dismissed is the force multiplying factor of foreign-supplied weapons increasing the deadliness of attacks. This was indirectly hinted at by a quote from Maj. Gen Rick Lynch in paragraph 10:
"We believe that the most lethal piece of the insurgency here is the terrorist and foreign fighters. And it's because of the level of violence they're willing to go to accomplish their objective, which is to derail the democratic process and discredit the Iraqi government."

That the foreign terrorists scurrying along the various ratlines in Iraq are the most motivated and violent should be a given. But what the article fails to fold into the equation is the influx of deadlier and deadlier weaponry from foreign sources (primarily Iran and Syria) via foreign terrorists. For instance, it is known that Iran has been supplying shaped charges for use in deadlier IED's, currently the most effective weapon and the top killer regularly encountered by Coalition forces in Iraq.

That said, there are some useful facts and figures within Finer's article.

But that the tone of the article tends to suggest the US and the Iraqi government are over-hyping the impact and importance of foreign terrorist (and their state sponsors') influence and impact in some sort of a 'Jedi Mind Trick' effort to 'pull one over' on the Iraqi people is simply off the mark and ill-advised.

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