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Between Propaganda and Reality in the Caucasus

March 26th, 2014 No comments
An elderly refugee from southern Chechnya's Itum-Kale district sits in the home of a Kist host family in Duisi, Georgia. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

An elderly refugee from southern Chechnya’s Itum-Kale district sits in the home of a Kist host family in Duisi, Georgia. I was struck by how incredibly hospitable these people relentlessly vilified by the FSB were. They told me of the horrors of Putin’s onslaught on their villages while offering endless cups of tea and bread me. I felt powerless, having nothing to givein return  but a sympathetic ear. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I have an article out in this month’s edition of the CTC Sentinel about the evolution over the last two decades of the fight for the North Caucasus which has morphed a great deal. In my view, Syria has been a game changer with regard to Chechens and other ethno-linguistic nationalities from that region fighting with abundant documentation outside their homeland. I first encountered members of the Chechen community in Georgia in 2002. The stories of their under reported struggle fascinated me.

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 7.20.21 PMPersonally, I was in an early career lull between 9/11 back here in NYC and covering the Afghan war yet before the Iraq would begin in 2003. I was roving around the Levant and the Caucasus in the summer of 2002 looking for original stories to cover on my own. Sure there were the mostly crude analogies to Soviet-occupied Afghanistan of a grass roots holy war being fought by righteous bearded guys against cruel, drunken Russian officers and their hapless young conscripts, but I wanted to meet ordinary people whose lives were gravely affected by the war that solidified Putin as the Russian Federation’s post-Yeltsin czar.

I’d wanted to meet Ruslan Gelayev (an infamous side-witching warlord present in northeastern Georgia at the time) and perhaps travel with his mujahideen unit onward to Ingushetia and Chechnya. I ultimately decided that the risk didn’t measure up to the reward, particularly in the case of being a freelancer with a story no one in the West much cared about anyway. I also wanted to make sure I was back in New York to document the one year anniversary of 9/11 which was of paramount importance at that time to me.

I settled for trekking around villages populated with refugees who had crossed from souther Chechnya in the autumn of 1999. I ended up staying in what I determined was basically a hostel for foreign volunteers heading northward through the ravines of the Greater Caucasus range to wage war against a dehumanized enemy.  Russian soldiers and officers from various federal organizations like the OMON were portrayed as soulless cannon fodder in muj propaganda videos produced in the GCC which were used to draw attention to the fight for Chechnya among Arab audiences. These videos–some of which I were shown by Chechens in Tbilisi–painted the conflict as a righteous cause. The whole situation was a mess and Georgia itself was in a state of contained chaos back then.

One of the major points I have tried to make in my new piece is that propaganda has–over time–become a kind of new reality. From the fantasies of the Lubyanka to the web forum hosts of the Gulf, Chechens are other North (and South) Caucasians are now really, undeniably fighting abroad. I remember being at a terrorism conference in Washington in the mid-2000s and a young Marine officer stood up during a Q & A session and spoke of his unit having fought ‘Chechens’ in Iraq. But when pressed, he had no method of verifying this. Of course there are Chechens who are semi-indigenous to Iraq from their expulsion to the Ottoman empire–though that nuance was rarely, if ever, mentioned. Then there were the stories of Chechens fighting ISAF troops in Afghanistan and the Pakistani Army encountering Chechens in various battles in the FATA. But not one of these assertions was ever proven with even a shred of evidence.

Ismail with his scruffy cat in the village of Birkiani. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

Ismail with his scruffy cat in the village of Birkiani. He was a young refugee living in limbo like thousands of others. Though there was condemnation of all-out war in Chechnya at the time, there was no real action to back it up. Or should I say nothing ‘actionable’ was ever done. Challenging so-called tin pot regimes in weak states was acceptable and even fashionable for a time among liberal internationalist and neoconservative circles for a time but challenging Russian neo-imperialism directly has never been on the table. One could even draw a continuity between inaction on the Caucasus then and Crimea now. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

Now, however, Chechens (many coming from the EU or those who were already present in the Arab world), Dagestanis, Azerbaijanis, Georgian Kists, Tatars and all sorts of other guys are indeed fighting in Syria. It is as if the FSB and GRU’s dream has come true…albeit over a decade too late. This situation serves several interested parties but in my view does a great disservice to the Chechens themselves. As a colleague and friend messaged me earlier this year: “[It is] sad what has happened to my people.”

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A peace plan forth by ChRI’s Ilyas Akhmadov which went essentially nowhere. By 2003, it was far too late.

When Chechen rebel officials were asking for the internationalization of the situation in their republic, they were ignored. When moderate Syrian rebels asked for a no-fly buffer zone along the Turkish border, they were ignored. Then when these places descend into nihilism, people condemn them devoid of context.

The Chechens were villains in poorly scripted Hollywood films and novels but the reality has always been they were mostly an embattled people consumed with the fight for their own homeland as a opposed to global salafi-jihad in general. A pillar of this sort of thing was the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (ie the Taliban) recognizing the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (the rebels).

This move of non-state diplomacy served to benefit neither party. The Taliban wanted to be recognized worldwide well beyond the just littoral states of the Arabian Sea and when their efforts were rebuffed, they recognized the ChRI government. Moreover, the late Aslan Maskhadov, who was then president of the ChRI, was less than thrilled with the Taliban recognition and apparently believed it to be a play by Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev and Movladi Udugov to strengthen their position within a growing rebel schism.

The outside world’s contempt in the form of apathy for the horrors perpetrated in Chechnya with it relegated to an “internal affair” for Moscow to resolve struck me as simply sad. Interventionists patted themselves on the back for aleviating suffering the Balkans and lashed themselves (to a far lesser extent) for doing nothing in Rwanda,  while they let the internal affair in the Caucasus fester for years.

In other news, my CTC Sentinel article on Syria from 2012 was cited The War Report: 2012, edited by Stuart Casey-Maslen, published by Oxford University Press and an interview I did with a top former Afghan police official was cited in Policing Afghanistan: The Politics of the Lame Leviathan by Antonio Giustozzi and Mohammed Isaqzadeh by Columbia University Press.

I appeared on BBC Arabic on March 22 with presenter Rasha Qandeel and former Russian diplomat Vyacheslav Matuzov to discuss Russian's foreign policy of protecting its external minorities.

I appeared on BBC Arabic on March 22 with presenter Rasha Qandeel and former Russian diplomat Vyacheslav Matuzov to discuss Russian’s foreign policy of protecting its external minorities. I pointed out what I see as a staggering hypocrisy in Russian policy with regard to internal minorities within the Russian Federation and Moscow’s military adventures in the post-Soviet space.

Anbar-Insurgency Redux

February 25th, 2014 No comments
Once popularized by media outlets as the "Mother of All Battles" mosque ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Once popularized by media outlets as the “Mother of All Battles” mosque, the Umm al-Qura mosque complex sat in lush greenery save for the destroyed Soviet-era piece of armor that was likely hit in an airstrike in the “shock and awe days of mid-March a month before this image was taken. I remember trying to enter the mosque’s grounds with my Shia fixer and getting a less than warm reception from some men that I suppose were representing the Association of Muslim Scholars there. Umm a-Qura is situated in western Baghdad between the al-Adel and Ghazaliyah districts on the road to Fallujah. When the situation quickly became hostile, I put my camera down and we roared away in an old rattletrap of a car. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I have an article out now for IHS Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst on the eruption of violence in Iraq’s sprawling western al-Anbar Governorate that borders the relatively calm governorates of Ma’an, Amman, Mafraq, and the somewhat sketchier Zarqa in Jordan, the war ravaged governorates of Deir ez-Zor, and Homs in Syria and, lastly, Saudi Arabia’s Northern Border Region. Control of Anbar is a security issue for the entire region that surrounds it when considering the war in Syria that is attracting foreign fighters like moths to a flame and the transnational outlook of salafi-jihadi thought in a geographically contiguous KSA.

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 4.14.49 PMAnbar became the symbol of anti-American resistance in Iraq so much so that the restive northern town of Hawija in Kirkuk Governorate was referred to as the “Anbar of the North” by the US military at one time. Anbar became almost a catchall term for a place that was difficult to pacify through traditional counterinsurgency doctrine much less purely by means of military hard power. Only through cooperation and co-opting was the Sunni Arab insurgency there quelled for a time with the raising of Sahwa militias.

In the now bloody aftermath of the American troop withdrawal that took place at the tail end of 2011 and was hailed by President Barack Obama as ‘ending’ the Iraq war, Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Da’wa Party die-hard prime minister, has done nothing to tamp down the collective ire of Sunni activists from Fallujah north to Hawija. Maliki’s moves have merely moved the Iraq war into a much more indigenous phase.

From accusing notable Sunni politcos of being involved in terrorism, a crime punishable by death in Iraq’s draconian penal code, to doing nothing to assuage the concerns of angry protestors, Maliki at least partly set the stage for the arrival of ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyyah fi Iraq w’al Sham, know locally by its acronym DAASH, and by its English acronym ISIL, into Fallujah’s city centre and sections of Ramadi and several villages in the respective surrounding areas at the outset of 2014.

The Iraqi elections are approaching quickly on the country’s troubled political horizon on April 30th. How ‘free and fair’ voting will be carried out under such circumstances is entirely unclear.

I’m illustrating this post with the following images because I personally feel much of what is going on in Iraq today can be traced directly back to the elaborately expensive yet incredibly poorly planned Bush/neo-conservative regime decapitation initiative called Operation Iraqi Freedom. That moniker seemed to me to say that 99.9% of all Iraqis were equally oppressed by Hussein’s dreadful Ba’ath Party policies.

By and large, yes, Iraqis were treated terribly by an anti-egalitarian strongman in a nation-state rife with deep tribal, sect, and ethnic division. But the late dictator could not have ruled for decades without a degree of genuine support fostered by patronage networks and adroit imbuing of his own ideology among at least a cadre of willing followers.

An American Humvee gunner holds a makeshift sign that reads "Go" in English and then Arabic at the entrance to a bridge over that Tigris River that has been partially destroyed by American munitions. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

An American Humvee gunner holds a makeshift sign that reads “Go” in English and then Arabic at the entrance to a bridge over that Tigris River that has been partially destroyed by American munitions.Note the boy staring in wonderment out of the blue minibus on the left. These wars don’t happen in a vacuum and children often abound. Some of them undoubtedly would grow up in the following years to become militants attacking coalition forces and Iraqi federal forces. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

But it should be noted that not all the Sunnis fighting the state right now are doing so under the black banners of salafi-jihad. Though those banners make for exciting headlines, there is a viable retro or neo-Ba’athist strain of rebellion going on. Though it had been primarily focused more on the Kurds and territorial issues pertaining to the Green Line in terms of strategy and tactics, the Jaish Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi (JRTN) and Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq which has been described as a political front group for the JRTN–since gone operational, are kind of Ba’athist revivalist groups (or two parts of the same movement depending on perspective).These movements have sought to resuscitate Saddamist symbolism to garner the support of disaffected Iraqis tired of what they perceive as “Safavid” (Iranian)-influenced political primacy in Baghdad. Certainly DAASH/ISIL and JRTN have starkly different ideologies and objectives, but for now they have a common enemy in PM Maliki and those who defend and support him.

Forest of destruction. All that was left of the building after a "surgical strike" were its ornery pillars which refused to topple. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Forest of destruction. All that was left of this particular building after a “surgical strike” were its ornery pillars which refused to topple. Upon arrival in Baghdad, what immediately impressed upon me visually was how the American air campaign in Iraq differed from that I’d witnessed in Afghanistan after 9/11. American bombardments there struck mostly unremarkable hillsides as the Taliban had hardly any fixed concrete targets. Iraq was the polar opposite as swaths of brick and mortar cities were leveled in an instant as ignorant Fox television viewers looked on with a non-chalant curiosity. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Although the Americans wouldn't yet admit an insurrection against the US-led occupation was already underway from the war's inception, it was pretty obvious walking around Baghdad that things were going to get ugly. Here, I found the upside down chassis of a what appeared to be a car bomb. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Although the Americans wouldn’t yet admit an insurrection against the US-led occupation was already underway (we all remember Rumsfeld’s “dead enders”) from the war’s inception, it was pretty obvious walking around Baghdad that things were going to get ugly and fast. Here, I found the upside down chassis of a what appeared to be a car bomb. As I quietly photographed this wreckage atop a traffic median, there was an explosion off in the distance indicated by the rising black plume. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

I walked all over the Iraqi capital one day looking for a still intact mural of President Saddam Hussein that hadn't been trashed by the Americans or joyous opponents of his wing of the Ba'ath Party. I managed to find this one in a deserted lot littered with construction equipment. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

I walked all over the Iraqi capital one day looking for a still intact mural of President Saddam Hussein that hadn’t been trashed by the Americans or joyous opponents of his wing of the Ba’ath Party. I managed to find this one in a deserted lot littered with construction equipment. One thing that has always fascinated me about dictatorial regimes is the sheer level of ubiquitousness of ‘big man’ iconography. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Though at the time of this posting Fallujah remains under rebel control in a shaky truce mediated by the Anbar Provincial Council, in my view things aren’t likely to improve overnight in terms of Anbar’s overall security in the lead-up this spring’s election.

Categories: 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Uncategorized Tags: ,

In Darkness

January 24th, 2014 No comments
Murad Mazaev, right, in Birkiani, Georgia, August 2002. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

Murad Mazaev, right, in on a dim , rainy evening in Birkiani, Georgia, August 2002. Murad died near Aleppo, Syria in late May of last year. I was shocked to learn someone I once knew perished apparently as a salafi shaheed in war not concerning his own people. Murad had been living in Sweden as a refugee but decided to leave his young family and seek martyrdom in the war against the Ba’athist regime of Bashar al-Assad. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

New York- While concluding a nearly month-long research trip to the Republic of Georgia in October, on my final night in Tbilisi I met with an analyst from Georgia’s MFA to discuss current trends in Islamic militancy in the North Caucasus and how those trends are currently tied to the civil war in Syria. As we concluded our dinner at a traditional restaurant on Rustaveli Avenue, my contact informed me that a Chechen filmmaker called Murad Mazaev I once knew back in 2002 had died months earlier in northern Syria. I was taken aback and disturbed by this bit of information and sought to dig deeper once I returned to the United States.

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 9.31.22 PMMy Georgian contact pondered that Murad may have died trying to work as a documentarian but it began to seem more and more like he died as a jihadi perhaps fighting for Jaish al-Muhajireen wa’l-Ansar, a constituent movement of ISIL or ISIL proper. Who knows? When I tried to contact his former filmmaking partner in Canada about the circumstances under which Murad died, he replied “why are you asking me about this?” (I think they had had a falling out years previously) When I tried to contact a Chechen friend of Murad’s in Stockholm looking for answers about what motivated him to leave the cold comforts of Sweden, no reply.

As I began working on an article on the topic for IHS Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst, I decided to weave Murad’s tragic tale of refuge, asylum and ultimately doomed salafi jihad, into my work. Murad never struck me as the type to pick up arms. Sure he was a die hard Chechen nationalist and devout Muslim, but a jihadi abandoning his young family to seek martyrdom in Syria? That was hard for me to digest.

Murad and I had last been in touch in the autumn of 2010 via email. In his very broken English he informed me that he was living in Sweden but was not then currently still pursuing his dreams of becoming an internationally acclaimed filmmaker. He struck me as being enamored of the mujahideen when we first met, but still an erudite kid from Grozny who wouldn’t be very effective marching through a battlefield with a Kalashnikov rather than a camera,

When Murad snuck me into the Pankisi Gorge 12 years ago, the first photos he let me shoot were of kids playing basketball at the main school in Duisi. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

When Murad snuck me into the Pankisi Gorge 12 years ago, the first photos he let me shoot were of kids playing basketball at the main school in Duisi. He was nervous if the wrong people found out he had smuggled a Western journalist into the territory that was out of the hands of then President Eduard Shevardnadze. I’ll never forget Murad putting a traditional Chechen cap on my head as we boarded a bus from Akhmeta to Duisi. I did my best to blend in when a Georgian soldier boarded the bus asking “dokumenta!” ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

Over eleven years on I revisited the school in Duisi which had become the Roddy Scott Foundation.

Over eleven years on I revisited this school in Duisi which was now the home of the the Roddy Scott Foundation. Roddy was an English journalist who had known Murad and later traversed the Greater Caucasus range with a unit of Ruslan Gelayev’s mujahideen with Murad’s knowledge. He was then killed by a Russian sniper in the town of Galashki in the Republic of Ingushetia.

Murad’s proudest achievement was making the world’s first Chechen-language film…and with genuine mujahideen from Ruslan ‘Hamzat’ Gelayev’s Pankisi-based unit as extras no less. It was partly through meeting Murad in Tbilisi nearly a dozen years ago that I became fascinated by the struggle for Chechnya and the oppressed people of the Caucasus who suffered wildly under the Czars, Stalin all the way to Yeltsin and Putin. Murad acted as my fixer in meeting the Chechen refugees inhabiting the Pankisi Gorge when it was making headlines around the world but few journalists were actually venturing there.

At the school building in Duisi, then being run by a Norwegian NGO, a Chechen refugee boy stands beneath a Turkish-made poster of Aslan Maskhadov, the emblematic leader of Chechen national liberation movement. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

At the school building in Duisi, then being run by a Norwegian NGO, a Chechen refugee boy stands beneath a Turkish-made poster of Aslan Maskhadov, the emblematic leader of Chechnya’s national liberation movement. Maskhadov was killed by Russian federal forces in March 2005.  At the time, the Guardian labeled Maskhadov “Chechnya’s Arafat.”As nationalism waned, salafism became the dominant ideology ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

But in Chechnya as the war there has mercilessly ground on since it first began in the mid-1990s, the ideology powering the fight has transitioned from Sufi-inflected Chechen nationalism to destructive transnational salafism. No longer was merely an independent Chechen republic the goal, but the proclamation of an Imarat Kavkaz (Caucasus Emirate) spanning from the shores of the Caspian to the rocky beaches of the Black Sea.

Murad took me to meet this Kist woman in Duisi who was baking bread for the Chechen refugees that had sought safety there. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

Murad took me to meet this Kist woman in Duisi who was baking flat bread for the Chechen refugees that had sought shelter there from relentless Russian aggression and the ensuing guerrilla warfare that attempted to counter it. He wanted the world to know of the suffering of his people. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

Rustam Gelayev's aunt holds up a smartphone image of her late nephew who, like Murad, died in northern Syria in August 2012. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

When I revisited Pankisi again in 2013, it was not to learn about foreign militants traveling north to wage jihad in Chechnya, but to learn about who the next generation of Chechens were going in the opposite direction to fight and die in Syria. Rustam Gelayev’s aunt holds up a smartphone image of her late nephew who, like Murad, died in northern Syria at the age of 24 in August 2012. Above is a very different image of a slightly younger Rustam than the one that circulated on twitter of him holding a rifle presumably in Aleppo Governorate. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

When I was back in Pankisi in October to meet with members of the Gelayev family to find out their version of events surrounding the death of Ruslan’s son, Rustam in Syria in mid-August 2012, no one admitted to remembering Murad but when I mentioned Roddy their eyes lit up. Roddy’s parents, Robin and Stina Scott set up the Roddy Scott Foundation to teach English to the youth of Pankisi in their effusive son’s memory. Sadly, Murad sought to put Chechnya on the map in terms of global conscience but he was killed in Syria in what remain murky circumstances. From my canvassing of residents in Duisi, Jokolo and Birkiani, no one seemed to remember his contribution to collective Chechen culture.

What the deaths of Murad and Rustam do indicate is the significant fact that Chechens are now participants in a war outside the North Caucasus. For those of us who covered the wars on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq and war theaters elsewhere after 9/11 where Chechens were never proven to have fought, this feels like a sea change.

On another very grim note, I belatedly found out that someone whose work I really admired died in the Taverna du Liban attack in Kabul.

 Alexandros Petersen who was a colleague of my colleague Rafaello Pantucci was murdered in the recent attack on the Lebanese restaurant in Wazir Akbar Khan. Petersen was an analyst of big-think Eurasian geopolitics in the style of Sir Halford Mackinder and authored The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West which I’ve had in my Amazon queue for some time now and been meaning to read. Now I must. Though I never had the pleasure of meeting him, we wrote for the same D.C. think-tank where I once served as an editor and analyst a few years ago. We are now less one brilliant person who went to great lengths to understand and explain the geopolitical trends shaping today’s world. For shame.

When I first heard about the Taliban operation in the Afghan capital, I recalled spending a fun evening at the Levantine hangout with journalist Jason Motlagh and another guy based in Bangkok who talked about his mission of interviewing Viktor Bout multiple time in a Thai cell before Bout was extradited to the U.S. for prosecution. The latter guy-whose name I don’t remember five years later-and another journo and I walked from WAK all the way back to Shar-e-Nau at about 2 a.m. and I, in a sort of gallows humor, half joked, “we couldn’t do this in Baghdad” (i.e. walk home in the middle of the night). That was back in 2009. Things got worse as that year went on with the attack on the UN compound that September and suicide bomb walls going up around the Indian embassy and so forth.

Are things arguably worse now in 2014? It’s tough to say from sitting here in the West. But I can say this much-I may go back to the old school routine of donning a shalwar kameez and beard when I go back to Afghanistan. Kabul has often been considered a world apart from the rest of Afghanistan in terms of its comparative cosmopolitanism in relation to life in the provinces but it is still Afghanistan. The Taliban want to let the world know that they retain the ability to strike at will anytime, anywhere in the country.

In other news, I have a photo contribution in the new issue of The Washingtonian in the article titled This Is Danny Pearl’s Final Story by Asra Q. Nomani. My image is that of Nomani and Pearl’s home in Karachi’s tony Defence Housing Authority (DHA).

So Long 2013

December 29th, 2013 No comments
An Iraqi Army soldier mans a lonely checkpoint in Dibis District, Kirkuk Governorate, Iraq. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

An Iraqi Army soldier mans a lonely checkpoint in Dibis District, Kirkuk Governorate, Iraq. Soldiers here have to be wary of both the Dawlat al-Islamiyya fi al-Iraq (Islamic State of Iraq) led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Jaish Rijal al-Tairiq al-Naqshbandi led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. These insurgent groups constantly target Iraq’s federal security forces whom they see as representing Maliki’s ‘apostate’ or pro-Iran Shia government. Aside from that constantly morphing nightmare, they are also along a sort of front line with Kurdish peshmerga militiamen. Seeing a post-Western troops Iraq gives one pause for what may happen in Afghanistan once the NATO ISAF coalition is eventually disassembled. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

New York- As the worst year of my life comes to a quiet close, I can look back and be thoroughly grateful for the two reporting trips I was able to make to Iraq and Georgia and for the friends I was able to reconnect with in Catalunya and Greece. I thank heaven for all those who graciously supported me in 2013.

This world is filled with all kinds of people from pathetic nihilists to selfish materialists all the way to gentle altruists. The former are reported on and/or lionized far too often while the latter often fail to receive the credit they so rightfully deserve.

One of the biggest events on the near term horizon slated for 2014 is of course the wobbly future of a post-Karzai, post-America/NATO Afghanistan. With a presidential election scheduled–replete with some candidates of questionable repute–for early April in which Hamid Karzai is ineligible to run for another term and the planned pullout-be it partial or total–of American troops a year from now, it is possible the Afghan Taliban’s writ in the parts of Afghan Pashtunistan that make up its power base may be reenergized.

The pull-out of the Americans would likely lead to an immediate abandonment by its NATO partner nations and others non-NATO contributors such as Georgia. Like the Kurds, the Pashtuns are one of the world’s largest ethno-liguistic groups devoid of a nation-state to call there own.

The Taliban are not akin to al-Qaeda but are rather an Islamist ethno-nationalist movement that seeks to rule Pashtunistan as it is sometimes referred and other adjacent parts of Afghanistan–and now Pakistan as the movement’s once limited ideology has continued to metastasize– inhabited by Tajiks and Punjabis. Uzbeks and Sindhis. Although of course Taliban leadership would never admit such, even though the emirate they once proclaimed back in the 1990s was within Westphalian border principals in the land they inherited and conquered.

It should be remembered that while for the West the raison d’être for its presence in Afghanistan was Mohammed Atta sitting in Tarnak Farms when he wasn’t in Hamburg-Harburg, the conflict is really one of and for the people of that region to decide. The West would be and likely have been best keeping the Afghan war a low impact intelligence effort rather than a swelling-in-troop-numbers vast boots-on-the-ground mission that ended up being more of an obstacle to genuine institution building in the ensuing years.

An effusive Sunni Punjabi taxi driver said to me the other night with great passion: “the [Pakistani] Taliban are bastards. They want to kill Shia, Ismailis, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus (all of whom are minorities in Pakistan).” And while Deobandism has planted its flag here in New York City, thus far it has not materialized as a threat (despite some close calls emanating from or tied to FATA in recent years where Deobandi ideology has traditionally held sway) the way that transnational Salafism has in terms of highly localized security issues here.

A Georgian police officer stands in a cemetery in the village of Zemo Nikozi in Shida Karli region--better known as the Republic of South Ossetia. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A Georgian police officer with an AK-74 rifle stands in a cemetery in the village of Zemo Nikozi in Shida Kartli region–the northern part of which is better known as the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia. The officer looks off into Russian-occupied Tskhinvali, the “capital” of South Ossetia. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Besides the somewhat predictable events hoped for or dreaded in Afghanistan depending on one’s perspective, there will be the other likely events in the news cycle: natural disasters in the Pacific or Indian Ocean regions, mass shootings in the United States, suicide bombings or other insurgent/terrorist actions in the Russian Federation before and after the Sochi Olympics, large scale protest movements driven by economic grievances in capital cities around the world, deaths of old guard leaders, inter-religous violence mislabeled as “sectarian” forever reminding us of the impact Iraq has had on our journalistic lexicon, unabated unrest in the Sykes-Picot legacy states of the Middle East and so forth. Shaping up to be an interesting year already!

A solemn ceremonial fire on perhaps the last patch of entirely undeveloped East River waterfront land after a dozen years of Bloomberg rule in New York. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Closure. A solemn ceremonial fire on perhaps the last patch of entirely undeveloped East River waterfront land after a dozen years of Bloomberg rule in New York. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: 9/11, Afghanistan, Georgia, Iraq Tags:

Observations from the Book Shop

December 6th, 2013 No comments
Now isn't this juxtaposition just rich? Erik Prince's book on the left and Scahill-who rose to fame by vilifying Prince-on the left. Wonder if the store employees thought this was funny.

Now isn’t this juxtaposition just rich? Erik Prince’s self-serving book on the left and Scahill’s–who rose to fame by vilifying Prince, which assuredly set the stage for him getting  2nd book deal resulting in Dirty Wars–on the right. Wonder if the store employees thought this was a funny contrast. I certainly did.

New York- After being gone from the U.S. for a long time one of the weird readjustments I often make is coming back to book shops (the ‘brick and mortar’ ones still standing anyway) is the avalanche of new books from the people whose careers seem to be quickly surpassing mine at least in terms of fame, chat show appearances and cold hard cash. While others were skillfully negotiating book deals I’m either running around some place forsaken by god chasing down some obscure story in South Ossetia or Kirkuk that few in the outside world give a damn about.

More power to the guys and gals getting said book deals. I hope to join them in the near term. But something that has spoilt my usually pleasurable experience is having spent two years rigorously editing a behind-a-paywall publication for a D.C. think thank. Now I can’t seem to look at any new history or current affairs tale I happen upon and find some kind of error. And I’m not looking for errors per se, I’m leafing through the new release non-fiction shelves for enjoyment and opening them in the middle and reading chapters at random totally out of order. But what to do? Last year I found numerous, glaring factual errors in the very beginning of Kurt Eichenwald’s 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars. When I contacted who seemed like the relevant person at Touchstone Books, my email was of course ignored. I was literally simply trying to help for the sake of the historical record, not make a famous author look foolish.

The other day I picked up The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide about a serious dreadful ‘realist’ Nixonian policy decisions during Bangladesh/East Pakistan’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.  I open it to a random page and it is discussing the Maoist response to the deadly crisis in eastern South Asia during that awful period. It describes PLA troop movements near “Sikkim, a small Indian state nestled in the Himalayas.” Now I am certainly no savant on Indian history but I do enjoy 20th century South Asian history as a bit of a hobby a red flag rose. Sikkim was a legally independent state that did not accede to the Indian union until 1975.

To be fair to the author, Sikkim as it existed as a post-Raj monarchy was a tribute state to Nehru’s India which depended on India for its external defense (i.e. from Maoist China) as it sat wedged between the independent kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan. But during Bangladesh’s national liberation, Sikkim was most definitely not a constituent state of the Indian republic, not for four more years.  I kind of wonder if arriviste so-called ‘millenials’ are editing today’s volumes because they seem to be rife with these kinds of discrepancies, however minor seeming. Some years ago I stumbled upon a coffee table book about independent Sikkim that pre-dated 1975 which depicted the life of Hope Cooke, a Manhattan socialite who married the monarch of Sikkim and whose life was once followed by the American press with some fascination.

None of this is to say that The Blood Telegram is no less of an important work of history. The war in Bangladesh has constant reverberations to this date, most recently owing to the war crimes tribunals in Dhaka.

The struggle for Bangladesh, which came to the attention of a good many in the West with George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh perhaps, has had global consequences. Dhaka just now is going through a bout of painful war crimes trials that is felt all the way in Queens where the migrant diaspora is torn between secularist ‘freedom fighters’ and pro-Pakistan Islamists. Bangladesh is the world’s most densely populated nation-state hemorrhaging economic migrants as if it were a bleeding organ atop the bay of Bengal. Bangladeshis have followed the Pakistani migrant model all around the world but in what seem like greater numbers. From Los Angeles to New York to Barcelona small businesses that were once ubiquitously Pakistani are increasingly Bangladeshi.

New York magazine cited a statistic that the migration rate of Bangladeshis to New York City increased 178% under the mayoralty of Michael Bloomberg, the highest of any single ethno-linguistic group in the world to New York. The events described in The Blood Telegram roils the migrants whose Bangla-laguage media obsesses over the “battle of the begums” between the alternating, warring, tiresome female prime ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikha Hasina.

Next I picked up  The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth by Pulitzer winner Mark Mazzetti, of the NYT’s Washington bureau. I’d seen about this book when it came out but hadn’t been able to leaf through it as it’s not being heavily promoted in Tbilisi or Santorini.

One morning in March 2010 I awoke to find that Mazzetti and his then colleague Dexter Filkins had written a front page story titled “Contractors Tied to Effort to Track and Kill Militants” on a couple of characters called Michael Furlong ( whom I’d never heard of until that moment) and the rather notorious Duane “Dewey” Clarridge or Iran-Contra fame. The second echelon of players in that story were an “iconoclastic Canadian writer” named Robert Young Pelton and a “suave former CNN executive” named Eason Jordan. This article forms the central arc of The Way of the Knife although of course my, I suppose, minor role in the view of Mazzetti is never mentioned.

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Furlong pictured in Mazzetti’s book. Pelton and Jordan had never mentioned this clown to me when Afpax Insider was being conceived. Perhaps it was all on a need to know basis. Seeing as they never cleared the air to my satisfaction, I’ll be left to my assumptions.

I haven’t heard from a word Pelton since this weird scenario 3 1/2 years ago. He and Jordan gave me no warning that the story was coming out–which they surely must have known was coming. Then Jordan asked to me retract my statements on the affair made to Mother Jones in an article called “The Pentagon’s Stringers” after an enterprising MJ reporter in D.C. had somehow (?) gotten my landline which I don’t have listed. When I saw that a photo I had taken in Kabul for Pelton and Jordan’s site appeared in the NYT in a screen grab used to illustrate the article, I felt I’d essentially been thrown under the proverbial bus. I contacted Filkins after the article hit and he seemed to not have the faintest clue who I was nor did he appear particularly interested in communicating with me.

Sort of weird considering my name is big letters on this side of the image in his article. I’d sat next to Filkins at Dr. Abdullah’s house the previous year during the 2009 Afghan elections but I wouldn’t expect someone of his caliber to put two and two together as I’m someone deep in the journo underground in relative terms. Obviously it wouldn’t have occurred to Mazzetti to contact me in doing the research for his book as he likely a) would never have heard of me or b) I’m not iconoclastic. I think Pelton and Jordan set their sights on Somalia after this whole ordeal and Pelton is still a friend of a couple of friends of mine to this very day but he hasn’t contacted me since the scandal. And that’s fine with me I suppose. I never bothered to hold a grudge, I just moved on. Then the Arab Spring happened and I haven’t made it back to “AfPak” since.

WayoftheknifeNow here is where I take an issue. There is an earlier chapter in the book where Mazzetti profiles the life of Nek Mohammed. At a cursory glance, he states that Nek Mohammed [Wazir] “found his calling in 1993, and was recruited to fight alongside the Afghan Taliban against Ahmad Shah Massood’s Northern Alliance in the ciivl war then raging in Afghanistan.” It is common knowledge that the Taliban was formed in in Kandahar in 1994, not 1993. Nek Mohammed–who was killed in an American drone strike in June 2004– had fought alongside them in 2001 as had other Wazir tribesmen. A recent work put out by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedeman also says Nek joined the Taliban in 1993. While it could perhaps be argued the Taliban began to coalesce in 1993 the movement was not a known entity of any note until 1994.

When I was reading Ahmed Rashid’s seminal Taliban: Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia at Saeed Book Bank in Peshawar (a great book shop by the way) in 2000, he described the Taliban has having “emerged in 1994” replete with a chapter titled “Kandahar 1994: The Origins of the Taliban.”

Further down the same page, he talks of “Chechen al-Qaeda fighters” who fled to Pakistan at the outset of Operation Enduring Freedom. While impossible to entirely disprove this meme, this is a completely unsubstantiated self-replicating notion propagated for years by Russian authorities in their brutal war against Chechen separatist in the North Caucasus for which there is not a shred of empirical evidence.

In Chechnya in 2001, the rebels were still largely  an ethnic national liberation movement who used mostly Sufi Islam of the Qadiriyya order (as well as the  Naqshabanidiyya order) as a spiritual motivational factor in the fight and in order to emphasize religious difference with their Orthodox Christian Slavic Russian enemies (on the federal forces level) on the battlefield. Those in the Lubyanka in Moscow worked very hard to convince the world they were fighting a bunch of maniacal “vahabbis” in a Eurasian war on terror rather than continuing a genocidal Czarist and Stalinist policy of crushing the rebellious peoples of the Caucasus. Washington and hence its proxies in Pakistan then bought into a bunch of this nonsense hook, line, and sinker. (The Syria situation will be discussed at length in my forthcoming report).

When Mullah Mohammed Omar’s Taliban regime was completely isolated after failing to gain international recognition, out of spite or desperation it belatedly decided in the name of transnational Islamist solidarity to recognize the independence of the self-styled Chechen Republic of Ichkeria-itself a moot action seeing as the Taliban were not recognized as the rightful rulers of Kabul except by Islamabad, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.In mid-January 2000, the Taliban came to an agreement with envoys of Aslan Maskhadov, the late Chechen independence leader, to open a Chechen diplomatic outpost in war ravaged Kabul. A couple of Chechen rebel diplomats does not a giant wave of Chechens fleeing into Pakistan after 9/11 and ensuing Daisy Cutters make.

This does not equate to a grand strategic partnership between Chechen fighters and al-Qaeda 1.0. Furthermore, Pakistani security forces at that time would not likely have been able to tell the difference between salafi Russophone lingua franca jihadis. Neither would members of the CIA in working partnership with the ISI in all probability. Furthermore when I interviewed foreign fighters after the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif, they were almost all Deobandi Pashtun and Punjabi men from Pakistan, not a Caucasian Sufi among them.

All that being said, or rather, written, The Way of the Knife is a thoroughly entertaining read for those interested in high stakes intelligence genre that will have real world repercussions well into the next generation that will inherit these awful policies borne of the Bush administration and amplified by the Obama administration.

I love books and I love book shops…but come on publishers, let’s get some more older, more experienced editors out there! Maybe these mistakes or whatever you want to call them are in no way the fault of the relevant authors but the fact checking must be more rigorous. Just my opinion though.

Categories: Afghanistan Tags:

Thoughts on 9/11 from the Aegean

October 2nd, 2013 No comments
A ghastly toxic plume of smoke and ash rises above Ground Zero after the total collapse of the North and South Towers of New York's World Trade Center on 9/11.

A ghastly toxic plume of smoke and ash rises above what would instantly become known as Ground Zero after the total collapse of the North and South Towers (yet before the fall of Tower 7) of New York’s World Trade Center on 9/11. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

Thira- Two years ago when I was here on this island, the principal of the Santorini archipelago in Greece’s Cyclades group, I was quietly reading the Eleventh Day The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan. That book was a2012  finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in the History category. When nearing the last chapter and scanning the footnotes I was delighted that one of my articles was cited in them.

Here I am two years later catching up on some much needed personal writing. Seeing as we recently passed yet another 9/11 anniversary, it is clearly not one of those topics that will ever be “over” like the endless accounts–each one claiming to be more definitive than the last–put out by publishing houses each year on the Second World War (a.k.a. The Great Patriotic War).

I will never forget taking my photojournalism portfolio by an agency in Manhattan in early 2002 after coming home from six weeks in Afghanistan and Central Asia and a photo editor telling me: “sorry but Afghanistan is kind of like, over…” I heard similar things regarding 9/11 less than a year after it took place. But it is obvious these events will never be “over.” They steered the course of world history in our lifetime. It is simply arrogant to think otherwise. Short sighted people working in fast-paced New York media may have been eager to move on to the next story but I was not. I covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, sure, but even at the time I saw it all as a unified story where each successive event was linked to previous ones to form a continuum of globalized conflict that didn’t respect the Westphalian state system.

I recall talking to a close friend here on the island two years ago and telling him about the book I was then reading and the writing I was doing. His first reaction was “but what about building 7 (WTC 7)?” WTC 7 is the lynchpin of 9/11 conspiracy theorists often known as “truthers.” The perfect pancaked collapse of WTC 7 lead skeptics and the paranoid to insist WTC 7′s collapse was what is called a controlled demolition–meaning it was premeditated which would then imply that perhaps all of 9/11 was some sort of “inside job.”

One of the things people can never accept about 9/11–especially those who were not physically in lower Manhattan that particular day–is that even though it was a televised and well-documented tragedy is that there are some things that all of us will simply never know and we must accept this fact. There were so very many moving parts in the 9/11 attack and ensuing tragedy that it will never be possible to know everything. In a city of 8.5 million in an event with thousands of simultaneous deaths, many people cannot accept that everything about this event cannot be known or understood in its entirety in our time.

For those who actually witnessed the horror that day, not much more need be said in many cases. For those who were far away or too young at the time, they have the luxury of viewing 9/11 as some sort of theoretical abstraction to be neatly dissected by its various anomalies in the realms of physics, chemistry or engineering.  I witnessed WTC 7 engulfed in flames when I arrived via bicycle well after the collapse or the South Tower.

Families arrive en masse to the site of the former World Trade Center to grieve once more for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The attacks claimed victims from across New York's incredibly diverse ethnic and religious communities. Many of the families had t shirts created in honour of their loved ones.

Families arrive en masse to the site of the former World Trade Center to grieve once more for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The attacks claimed victims from across New York’s incredibly diverse ethnic and religious communities. Many of the families had t shirts created in honour of their loved ones. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Of course the U.S government, particularly the Executive Branch has done virtually nothing to quell those of a conspiratorial bent. So many documents remain classified or partially redacted. Any why, we must ask? To protect princes and princesses in the Saudi regime in order to not disrupt the flow of oil to U.S .shores? Or is it merely the bureaucratic culture of secrecy continually perpetuating itself? In the era of wikileaks and Edward Snowden, one may wish some dusty 9/11 documents be released rather than, say, embassy cables from Mauritius. There was a grandiose conspiracy behind 9/11 and it was cultivated in a suburb of Hamburg, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, San Diego and Tarnak Farms outside Kandahar and a litany of other locales rather than at Langley or at Larry Silverstein’s office in Manhattan.

Relatives of victims sign a Ground Zero tribute wall outside the annual memorial ceremony on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in lower Manhattan. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Relatives of victims sign a Ground Zero tribute wall outside the annual memorial ceremony on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in lower Manhattan. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Why certain people prefer to entertain conspiracy theories is often a broader question involving human psychology. The conspiracy theorists are correct on something though. The American government is hiding things about 9/11 from its citizenry. But it is to protect its own tragic incompetence and ego-driven buffoonery than its dark hand in the 9/11 plot. The U.S. government is not made up of an underground lair of dastardly super villains hatching fanciful plots.

A fellow firefighter grieves for a fallen comrade a decade after the attacks that shook New York to its core. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

A fellow firefighter grieves for a fallen comrade, Lieutenant John Napolitano, a decade after the attacks that shook New York to its core. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Anyone who has spent anytime in the corridors of Washington knows that it is made up of individuals, some of them intelligent, some of them quite ordinary, who have had often disproportionate power bestowed upon them by a ballooned security clearance system.  Some of these individuals have their own spirited agendas such as the preservation of Israeli military superiority in the Middle East, the promotion of hardline Protestantism, retrograde Catholoicism or more mundane concerns such as procuring defense contracts to keep or bring jobs and thereby votes back home in their respective districts. OK, so calling something the “Office of Special Plans” certainly doesn’t help the matter in the eyes of the avidly skeptical. But Douglas Feith was and is an idiot, not Lex Luther.

I very belatedly stumbled onto this 2008 documentary regarding the mystery surrounding WTC 7 by the BBC entitled 9/11 – The Third Tower.

City at the Edge of the World

June 5th, 2013 No comments
At dawn on March 3, 2003, sailors stand for attention on the deck of the USS Nimitz as it departs Naval Base Coronado to support ground forces already in the State o Kuwait that would soon invade the Republic of Iraq. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

At dawn on March 3, 2003, sailors stand for attention on the deck of the USS Nimitz as it departs Naval Base Coronado to support ground forces already in the State o Kuwait that would soon invade the Republic of Iraq. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

New York- A brief homage to San Diego, my favorite city in the world.

San Diego is many things. It is a place where one can take a mere footstep from the first world to the third world. It is the world’s busiest border crossing. It is a military town that is a heart of the military-industrial complex. It was home to two of the 9/11 hijackers. It was home to Anwar al-Awlaki who was extrajudicially killed in a drone assassination in Yemen on September 30, 2011. San Diego is the heartland of skateboard culture. And surfing and tattooing and classic cars and punk rock. It is often overlooked by Angelenos but beloved by visiting Australians where it reminds them of Brisbane or Melbourne. It is equally politically conservative and politically corrupt.

The following is a poem I wrote in landlocked Central Asia just after 9/11.

City at the edge of the world

On the ocean sits a city

At the foot of the mountains resides a people

Bridging worlds is a quiescent metropolis

Going unnoticed in the shadow Los Angeles

 

Near no war but not without conflict

Los Pobres dying to get into it

Where midwesterners seek a new life

And southern recruits yearn to start over

 

The city that sleeps shall not be short of  calm leeway

Full moon shining huge over the wide night freeway

Halfway around the world I place my home in the ideal

And when I watch the sunset from the cliffs rest assured it is very real

Families big adieu to the USS Nimitz-nuclear-powered aircraft carrier-as it heads to the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf region on March 3, 2003 in preparation for Operation Enduring Freedom. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Families big adieu to the USS Nimitz-nuclear-powered aircraft carrier-as it heads to the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf region on March 3, 2003 in preparation for Operation Enduring Freedom. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

On July 4th, 2003, Charles Rhyu ollies over the cascading fountain of the Jonas Salk Institute of Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

On July 4th, 2003, Charles Rhyu ollies over the cascading fountain of the Jonas Salk Institute of Biological Studies deigned by famed architect Louis Kahn in La Jolla, California, With the security being what is was, only on a major holiday could we have pulled off such a stunt in an otherwise off-limits locale. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

On the morning of October 25, 2003, I awoke to find my city engulfed in smoke and ash from the Cedar Fire. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

On the morning of October 25, 2003, I awoke to find my city engulfed in smoke and ash from the Cedar Fire that began raging in northeast San Deigo County. Even paradise has its bad days. Apocalyptic would have been an understatement. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: 9/11, Afghanistan, America Tags: ,

Twenty Years of al-Salafiyya-al-Jihadiyya

February 26th, 2013 No comments
Although the U.S. has been in conflict with Salafi-jihadism for twenty years now, American policy can often feel stuck in 'Argo.' ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

A billboard of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on the outskirts of Tehran. Although the U.S. has been in outright conflict with Salafi-jihadism for twenty years now beginning with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center which involved Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, American policy can often feel stuck in ‘Argo’ in its relentless pursuit of a post-Shah, Shia-ruled Iran and its proxies. Iran is governed by principle peculiar to modern Shi’ism known as velayat-e-faqih, “the guardianship of the jurist” which is a complete anathema to Sunnism’s al-Salafiyya-al-Jihadiyya doctrine. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

New York- It’s been twenty long years since Eyad Ismail, Ramzi Yousef and co drove that Ford Econoline Ryder rental van through the Holland Tunnel from Jersey City and parked a massive urea urea nitrate bomb in the parking garage of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Today was a quiet anniversary of an event largely forlorn in America’s national collective conscience in the shadow of the much more dramatic 9/11 attacks.

That wintry day two decades ago, the United States faced the beginning of a poorly outlined struggle against the decentralized doctrinal ideology of al-Salafiyya-al-Jihadiyya [Salafi-jihad]-a form of Islamism that articulates violent means to achieve political gains.

One of the points about the Sunni jihadi attack on New York in the winter of 1993 is that it marked an unexpected pivot from the perceived threat of highly centralized millenarian Shia revolutionaries and resistance terrorism epitomized by the rise of the clerical regime in Iran in 1979 and the formation of Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1982.

This suited America’s so-called ‘moderate’ Sunni or Sunni-dominated allied nation-states just fine. These regimes could be free to espouse anything from the export of the Wahhabiyya strain of Salafism that serves at the state theology in Saudi Arabia and Qatar to the Marxist-tinged radical Arab socialism emblematic of the Hizb-al-Ba’ath (Ba’ath Party) or the post-Nasserist-turned-personality cult regimes of Egypt and the Maghreb. That was of course until these ideas either collided with American foreign policy as in the case of Iraq or collapsed under their own weight as in the case of Tunisia.

A friend who was stationed for the U.S. State Department in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province-where the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing took place-and later Bahrain, privately hinted to me this view of the Shia threat had changed little at least in some official channels even while the U.S. was propping up a succession of Shia prime ministers in its Iraq project and its Special Forces had fought alongside Shia irregulars to oust the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.

But while the United States has done a great deal to degrade Ba’athism by invading Iraq in both 1991 and 2003 and aiding Syrian rebels bent on demolishing the Ba’ath in Syria at present, for instance, American foreign policy still remains fixated on Iran and Hezbollah and would still not dare challenge the vitriolic Wahhabism prevalent in the Arabian Peninsula. Though it is a fool’s errand to pit absolutist wings of Islam’s great schism against one another for purely hypothetical purposes, it has been transnational Salafism that has attacked the American homeland in 1993 and 2001 and in East Africa in 1998 and Yemen in 2000. If the two fronts of radical Islamism were simplistically made analogous to the space race, Khomeini may have successfully launched Sputnik first, but it was bin Laden who put a man on the moon.

We should be reminded that the 1993 attack was connected to 9/11 through the common thread of Khalid Sheikh Muhammed (KSM as he came to be referred to in intelligence jargon-inflected reporting) who is currently in the pre-trial hearing phase of the never ending, apparently never closing saga at the sweltering detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Though Yousef and the other 1993 plotters were not known to be formally pledged members of a then fairly embryonic al-Qaeda, they certainly were connected to the Peshawar-based jihadi nexus borne out of the CIA and Saudi funded anti-Soviet jihad that took place west of the Durand Line. The radicalization of the Masjid al-Farooq in Brooklyn and its refugee center-cum-Office of Services set-up visited by Abdullah Azzam was a definite factor in the 1993 plot. While the trial of the five accused al-Qaeda men in Cuba (KSM, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ammar al-Baluchi, and Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi) is referred to by the United States government as a “9/11 trial” In sense, it dates back the events of 1992-1993 in Brooklyn and Jersey CIty involving the men linked to KSM and the original plot against New York City.

Though there are conflicts about some of the precise specifics, one of Omar Abdel Rahman’s sons, Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman was nabbed (by the CIA, the Pakistanis or a mix of the two) in Quetta, Pakistan around the time of KSM’s apprehension when Pakistani authorities were hunting KSM. Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman is now a free man back at home in Egypt after having been listed as one of the CIA’s “ghost prisoners” (as was KSM) in 2005. He was released by the Mubarak regime in 2010.

KSM was apprehended in Rawalpindi, Pakistan ten years ago (though alternate sources may say he was actually captured in Quetta a month prior and the news of his arrest delayed by Pakistani authorities). His and four other co-conspirators’ painfully deliberating preliminary hearings has been described as being in “discord.” From what information does come out of the proceedings, it has partly the air of a circus what with Walid bin Attash (a.k.a. Khallad) making multiple outbursts about violations of attorney-client privilege and his defense lawyer wrapped in “a black abaya out of respect to the religious sensibilities of her client” according to a Guardian report.

The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg describes the awkward goings on at Guantánamo as primarily focused on the ways in which the five suspects were captured and the conditions under which they were detained before being exfiltrated from “black sites” to the American naval base on Cuba’s southeastern coast. In other words, these proceedings are not about 9/11 .

A shop selling a model of the original World Trade Center's Twin Towers. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A tourist shop just dozens of meters from the site of the former World Trade Center selling a model of the original Twin Towers. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

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Half a world away from the shop in New York City, a similar shop near the base of Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia selling metal models of Southeast Asia’s twin towers. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood