ISIS in Afghanistan: A reconstructed timeline

ISIS in Afghanistan photo

ISIS IN AFGHANISTAN:  A TIMELINE

DATE EVENT SOURCE
2014    
March, 2014 “In March 2014, nine members of al-Qa`ida, who were active with the group in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, defected to [ISIS]. The defections took place months before the Islamic State formally announced its Caliphate and at [received little attention initially] despite one of them being the brother of famed jihadi ideologue Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi…[B]ut in hindsight they were an early sign of broader developments affecting Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s militant landscapes.”

https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/situating-the-emergence-of-the-islamic-state-of-khorasan

Don Rassler,

CTC Sentinel

9/26 Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s (IMU) emir, Usman Ghazi, issued a statement announcing that the IMU was now siding with the Islamic State (but stopped short of an formal declaration of allegiance).

https://www.ctc.usma.edu/?p=35522

http://www.dawn.com/news/1136578/uzbek-militants-declare-support-for-islamic-state/print

Damon Mehl, CTC Sentinel

“Dawn” of Pakistan

11/19 Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, “who was detained at Guantanamo for three years, has sworn allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi,” and…[has been] “named the head of the Islamic State’s presence in the ‘Khorasan,’ an area that covers much of Central and South Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.”  Reporting by Thomas Joscelyn (an extensive discussion of Dost’s background is included in this piece).

http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/gitmo-poet-now-recruiting-islamic-state_819587.html?nopager=1

Weekly Standard
2015    
1/10 Hafiz Khan Saeed, former Taliban commander in Orakazi, Pakistan, appointed leader of Islamic State in Khorasan (ISK). With other ex-Taliban commanders, Saeed appears in video pledging allegience to al-Bagdadi.  NB:  Rassler identifies several “expanded networks” of fighters who coalesce around Saeed’s initial cell Id., Don Rassler, CTC Sentinel
Early January “[Mulla Raouf] Khadem set up an IS cell in his native Kajaki district of Helmand province in early January and recruited up to a few hundred fighters from Kajaki and adjacent districts such as Musa Qala, Nawzad and Baghran, as well as the tribal areas of Pakistan.”

https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/the-shadows-of-islamic-state-in-afghanistan-what-threat-does-it-hold/

Borhan Osman, Afghanistan Analysts Network
1/15 ISIS declares a wilayat in the Khorasan (Afghanistan-Pakistan Region)

http://understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/ISIS%20Global%20Strategy%20–%20A%20Wargame%20FINAL.pdf

ISW “ISIS’ Global Strategy”
1/17 Mullah Raouf Khadim is reportedly leading IS fighters “in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand.”  Reporting by Thomas Joscelyn, citing earlier articles in WSJ and AP.  Khadim’s Guantanamo and previous Taliban background profiled;  current Taliban efforts to thwart ISIS expansion discussed. Long War Journal

(“LWJ”)

1/26 In a video address, IS spokesman states, “…we bring the mujahidin the good news of the Islamic State’s expansion to Khurasan.  Indeed, the mujahidin from amongths the soldiers of the Khilafah have fulfilled the conditions…for the declaration of Wilayat Khurasan.”  The address calls for all “muwahhidin in Khurasan to join the Khilafah “and abandon disunity and factionalism,” and calls for obedience dto “the Wali, Hafidh Said Khan [former Taliban Commander], and his deputy [Mullah Abdul Rauf Kaddim].

https://pietervanostaeyen.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/audio-statement-by-is-spokesman-abu-muhammad-al-adnani-as-shami-say-die-in-your-rage/

Trans. Pieter van Ostaeyen.
2/9 Mullah Abdul Rauf Kaddim, presumed commander of ISIS, killed in Helmand province “during a Military operation”

http://www.afghanwarnews.info/insurgency/isis.htm

“…killed in a U.S. drone strike in southern Afghanistan shortly after IS announced ISK’s formation.”

“The missile attack killed Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim along with his son-in-law and three others in their car as they drove through Kajaki district in the volatile southern province of Helmand, Afghan officials said.”

[Khadem’s] killing may increase the ill-will between the nascent IS cell in Afghanistan and Taleban, who are probably relieved at his death more than anyone else and could be suspected by IS members as having cooperated somehow with his killers.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/world/islamic-state-commander-killed-in-afghanistan-drone-strike/article/425618#ixzz3oOv2rRKv

Afghan War News

Don Rassler,

CTC Sentinel

AFP

Borhan Osman, Afghanistan Analysts Network

3/15 Long War Journal map depicts ISIS positions and activities in Afghanistan as of March, 2015

http://www.longwarjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/IS_Map_Afg.jpg

LWJ
3/19 Don Rassler describes the current situation of ISK (“Islamic State of Khorasan”) in Afghanistan as of March, 2015:

“ISK…claims a presence in Afghanistan—even if small and somewhat developmental…a ‘toehold’ for the group in the country.”  Leadership consists of a handful…” not all with operational experience and some who never fit in with or were purged from the Taliban.  Rassler notes “there is limited information about ISK’s presence in other parts of Afghanistan,” but does provide some additional sketchy details.

https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/situating-the-emergence-of-the-islamic-state-of-khorasan

Don Rassler,

CTC Sentinel

3/30 Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, in a statement issued from northern Afghanistan, “says it is pledging allegiance” to ISIS.  “Sadulla Urgenji” states IMU no longer recognizes Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and instead “recogniz[es] the authority of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” leader of ISIS

http://www.rferl.org/content/uzbek-group-in-afghanistan-behead-afghan-soldier/26928658.html

Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty

(“RFERL”)

4/18 Suicide bomber kills 35 in Jalalabad, an attack attributed to Islamic State by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

“The attack in Jalalabad, the capital of eastern Nangarhar province, targeted a crowd of soldiers and civilians gathered outside the bank to receive their monthly salaries. The blast killed at least 35 people and wounded 125, said Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the provincial governor.”

http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/2015/04/18/afghan-president-islamic-state-group-claims-suicide-blast/25980713/

Military Times
5/23 U.S. General John Campbell states that IS is recruiting in Afghanistan but “not yet operational.”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/23/isis-actively-recruiting-afghanistan-us-general

The Guardian
7/2 The Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) forms a Special Force to combat Islamic State of Daesh in Afghanistan.

http://www.khaama.com/special-force-formed-to-combat-daesh-in-afghanistan-3582

Khaama Press
7/7 Direct peace talks between Taliban and Afghan government in Murree, Pakistan

ISW:  “Akhtar Mansour reportedly bypassed… Taliban political office in Doha…in his decision to send representatives to Murree.”

ISW Backgrounder, “The Death of Mullah Omar and the Rise of ISIS in Afghanistan.” Authors:  Hannah Byrne, John Krzyzaniak, Qasim Khan

August  17, 2015 (hereinafter, “ISW 8/17”)

ISW 8/17
7/19 Afghan President Ghani, meeting with U.S. generals Dempsey and Campbell, proposes to make Afghanistan a “regional counter-terrorism hub” for Central Asia and the Middle East. ISW 8/17
7/20 General John Campbell asserts that ISIS has become “operationally emergent in Afghanistan.” ISW 8/17
7/29 Afghan government announces death of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar in a statement issued by Afghan president Ashraf Ghani.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/29/taliban-leader-mullah-omar-dead-claims

Guardian
7/30 Taliban confirm death of Mullah Omar

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/30/taliban-officially-announces-death-of-mullah-omar

Guardian
7/30 Taliban Shura (i.e., an Islamic consultative council)  meets near Quetta, Pakistan and selects Akhtar Mansour “as new leader of the Taliban and Emir al-Mu’minin.”

http://understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Mullah%20Omar%20Backgrounder.pdf

ISW

8/17

7/30 Same shura appoints Sirajuddin Haqqani and Maulavi Haibatullah Akhumzada, members of Hakkani Network (HQN),  as Mansour’s deputies. ISW 8/17
7/31 Shura grants Sirajuddin Haqqani title of “operational commander.”  ISW:  “Sirajuddin is…hardline.”  The Haqqani Network  “operates closely with Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI)” and attacks government and civilians itself, “but branding them under the Taliban imprimatur.” ISW 8/17
7/31 Reports emerge that Jalaluddin Haqqani died over a year ago.  ISW:  “…indicating that the Haqqani network is also preparing to absorb overt leadership changes…concurrent with leadership shifts within the Taliban.” ISW 8/17
8/2 “audio statement attributed to Mansour” reiterates jihad and condemns reports of peace talks with Taliban as “enemy propaganda” ISW 8/17
8/3 Governer of Kunduz provnce reports fighters loyal to Mansour “arrested 60 rogue fighers who subsequently escaped to join the ISIS movement in Afghanistan.” ISW 8/17
8/3 Jihadist group Baitullah Mehsud Caravan, based in Waziristan, pledges allegiance to ISIS. ISW 8/17
8/5 ISIS Wilayat Khorasan released audio attacking “puppet” Afghan government.

ISW:  “Thie is the first time ISIS has directly threatened ANSF.”

ISW 8/17
8/5 ISW:  ISIS argues in its English-language magazine “Dabiq” that “pledges to Mullah Omar had been invalidated once…al-Baghdadi became the ‘caliph.’” ISW 8/17
8/5 Unity shura of 200 Taliban convenes to resolve leadership dispute created by “the contested shura council decision on July 30.” ISW 8/17
8/6 Pakistan cleric Maulana Sami Darul Haq, known as “Father of the Taliban,” offers to mediate shura. ISW 8/17
8/6 Video released by IMU “shows IMU leader [Usman Ghazi] and his followers” taking oath of allegiance to al-Bagdadi.”  “Ghazi goes on to say…that IMU fighters should henceforth be described as IS fighters from the Khorasan region.”

http://www.rferl.org/content/imu-islamic-state/27174567.html

The video: [credit to RFERL website]:

https://archive.org/stream/Bay3atUzbikistan/format=MPEG4

Sharphizan:  “The video…appears to show scenes from Afghanistan…”

RFERL, reporting by Merhat Sharphizan
8/7 Taliban launches attacks on Kabul “in the deadliest assault on the capital since 2011.”  ISW:  These and related attacks are all “signature HQN attacks.”

ISW:  “The intensity of the attacks and the selectivity of the targets” intend to signal that the jihad against the government and NATO will continue

ISW 8/17
8/10 “Fighters for the Islamic State have revealed a new, brutal method of executing their enemies in a video from an unknown location in Afghanistan. In the video, Isis militants are seen burying several explosives before leading a group of men towards the bombs.”

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-afghanistan-video-shows-brutal-new-execution-by-bombing-method-1514902

Taliban spokesmen condemn the video and disclaim responsibility.

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2015/08/12/Afghan-Taliban-denounce-brutal-ISIS-execution-video.html

International Business

Times

Al Arabiya News

8/11 “Russian and India Report” speculates that the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan may be one driver of the negotiations push between the Afghan government and Taliban.  Reporting by Nikolai Pakhomov

http://in.rbth.com/world/2015/08/11/isis-concerns-at-core-of-afghan-negotiations_382787

Russia and India Report
8/13 A spokesman for Resolute Support states that ISIS is “gaining a foothold” in Afghanistan and conducting limited military operations, primarily against the Taliban.  “Daesh” are “operationally emergent,” Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner said, elaborating that “ “we do not see them having the ability to coordinate operations in more than one part of the country at a time.”

http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/pentagon/2015/08/13/isis-targets-taliban/31638443/

Military Times
8/17 ISW:  “Since the [8/5] meeting convened, Akhtar Mansour has garnered both religious and political support that could tip the balance in his favor” [citing pledges of allegiance to Mansour by Maula Sami Darul Haq and “the new head of the Taliban’s political office in Quatar, Sher Abbas Stankzai, as well as by the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

ISW:  “These statements may have been individual expressions of loyalty, but they could also be orchestrated by Pakistan’s ISI in support of its favored candidate.”

ISW 8/17
8/28 Taliban claims that forces under ISIS brand in Afghanistan are mainly from Pakistan, “with a few young Afghans,” and only operate in “one or two districts of Nangarhar.”

http://www.khaama.com/mostly-pakistani-nationals-fighting-for-isis-in-afghanistan-taliban-1446

Khaama Press
9/10-

9/14

ISW:  “ISIS’ Wilayat Khorasan…attacked a UNICEF convoy, Afghan security forces and Afghan Taliban in eastern Afghanistan…” ISW

9/30

9/26 ISIS is “making inroads” and recruiting followers in 25 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, according to a U.N. report.

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2015/09/26/ISIS-gaining-ground-in-Afghanistan.html

Al Arabiya
9/26-

9/27

ISW:  “Wilayat Khorasan launched coordinated attacks on multiple Afghan secudrity positions in Nangarhar, eastern Afghanistan, following the Afghan government’s attempt to expel  ISIS from the area.” ISW

9/30

9/28 Taliban assault and occupation of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/29/us-afghanistan-attack-idUSKCN0RS0A820150929 Reporting by Feroz Sultani and Folad Hamdard

Reuters
9/30 ISW Regional Activity report states “ISIS has established robust ground campaigns in…Afghanistan.”  Author:  Harleen Gambhir ISW

9/30

10/13 ISIS “has made major inroads in turf battles against Taliban commanders, particularly in places in Nangahar Province like the Maamand Valley.”  Reporting by Mujib Mashal.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/14/world/asia/afghan-isis-branch-makes-inroads-in-battle-against-taliban.html

NYT
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Gerasimov: “The Standout Among Them All”

Isserson

[Pictured: Georgy Isserson, a Soviet strategist eulogized by Russian General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov]

In a 2013 article in the Russian journal  Military Thought which has attracted close attention among scholars and strategists in the west, authors Chekinov & Bogdanov (“C&B”) remark on a recent boom in published studies of “the kind of future warfare they call a new-generation war.”  The “standout among them all,” C&B go on, is an article in  Military-Industrial Courier by Russian Armed Forces General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov,  “Prevision Is What Science is Valued for” (an English translation by Rob Coalson [who translates the title more idiomatically as “The Value of Science in Prediction”] is available here, at the In Moscow’s Shadows blog, with an incisive running gloss by blog author Mark Galeotti.  Galeotti also credits Coalson for initially noting and circulating Gerasimov’s piece).

This present post summarizes Gerasimov’s article.  A later post will discuss its implications and the insights of others who have considered it.

Gerasimov’s article is short but dense—and intense.  The line between war and peace has blurred, he warns, and hostilities, all too real though usually undeclared, seem to follow “an unfamiliar template.”   As if at one stroke, in a matter of months or days, “a perfectly thriving state” can “sink into a web of chaos, humanitarian catastrophe, and civil war.”  Most immediately, Gerasimov has in mind the experience of the so-called Arab Spring:  the series of mass political earthquakes, beginning in 2011, that toppled the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya and almost destroyed the regime of Russia’s ally Syria (which was already long locked in a brutal civil war at the time Gerasimov wrote in early 2013). Gerasimov rejects the argument that the largely peaceful “Arab Spring” demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt which led to regime change are “not war,” but rather a democratic expression of popular will.  He retorts, “But maybe the opposite is true—that precisely these events are typical of warfare in the 21st century.”

Indeed, Gerasimov entertains the paradox that war today, and even more so in the future, will be waged by “non-military means”:  “The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.”   The “protest potential of the population” is just another instrument of war, which the aggressor will combine in coordination with “the broad uses of political, economic, informational, humanitarian, and other nonmilitary measures” in order to achieve essentially military objectives.  As for military means themselves, they may initially play only a supplemental role “of a concealed character, including…informational conflict and the actions of special operations forces.”  Open deployment of massed military units will occur only at a late stage of the conflict, “often under the guise of peacekeeping…primarily for the achievement of final success in the conflict.”

Gerasimov then steps back to ask some bigger questions:  “What is modern war?  What should the army be prepared for?”  He advocates a greater emphasis on nonstandard approaches, “dynamic, active and fruitful” military actions, and aggressive exploitation of new information technologies.  The old paradigm of large armies facing off in frontal engagements must be discarded as “a thing of the past.”  On the new battlefield, the distinction between strategy and tactics, and even between offensive and defensive operations, has been obliterated.  These are no longer doctrinal novelties, he explains:  “These ongoing changes are reflected in the doctrinal views of the world’s leading states [i.e., above all the U. S.] and are being used in military conflicts.”  At one end of the spectrum, Desert Storm is cited (“global sweep, global power”; but see B&G, for a more detailed evaluation of the path-breaking strategic significance of the Gulf War [and cf. the unofficial, but highly influential, 1999 Chinese military treatise Unrestricted War]); at the other, “the operation in Libya, where a no-fly zone was created, a sea blockade imposed,” and, he alleges, “private military contractors” were deployed.

The article then takes an interesting turn:  Gerasimov surveys the current state of Russian military-strategic thinking and seems quite dissatisfied.  He portrays the period leading up to the “Great Patriotic War” as a golden age of bold strategic thought, in contrast to what he sees as a timid and unimaginative atmosphere prevalent in strategic circles in Russia today:  “[O]n the eve of World War II…There were extraordinary personalities with brilliant ideas.  I would call them fanatics in the best sense of the word.  Maybe we just don’t have enough people like that today.”  In a passage rather elegiac for a General Staff Chief’s article in Military-Industrial Courier, Gerasimov commemorates the contributions of Georgy Isserson (citing his maxim, “War is not declared.  It simply begins”…) and darkly concludes, “the fate of this ‘prophet of the Fatherland’ unfolded tragically.” (Isserson fell victim to the Stalin purges in 1941 and was interned for many years).   For failing to listen to an innovative military thinker, Gerasimov reflects, “our country paid in great quantities of blood.”

Isserson Operational Art

Gerasimov lashes out at traditionalists who affect “a scornful attitude toward new ideas, to nonstandard approaches.”  To maintain this attitude is “unacceptable” for academicians, and even more so for the officer corps.  The polemical tone of the article at this point is remarkable.  Gerasimov is probably not tilting at windmills here, and when he adds, “We must not copy foreign experience and chase after leading countries, but we must outstrip them…” he presumably aims to parry charges of tailism and of succumbing to the influence of western ideology.

While conceding that “each war does present itself as a unique case, ”  Gerasimov nevertheless insists that military science must strive to forecast the character of the next war in order to prepare for it.  This echoes a theme of Isserson’s military thought.  Gerasimov thus concludes his article on the theme announced by his title:  “Prevision is what science is valued for.”

Afghanistan: Gerasimov’s Next Move

2_mi-24_attack_helicopter

[Image:  SU-24 Attack Helicopter]

While the world is riveted (or aghast) at the hair-raising Russian intervention in Syria, Moscow is continuing to evaluate its options for parrying the perceived threat posed by the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan—and is already starting to act.

On October 7, as the surprise Taliban occupation of Kunduz was still unfolding, the Russian Defense Ministry “announced that it will deploy attack and military-transport helicopters to beef up its military presence in Tajikistan amid rising insecurity in northern Afghanistan.”  Kunduz province abuts Tajikistan’s southern border.  The aircraft, including Russia’s workhorse Mi-24 attack helicopters—ubiquitous during the Soviet occupation, and now in action in Syria—will be stationed at a military base 170 km  (105 m) from the Afghan border.

The announcement came on the heels of an alarm sounded by the Tajik president, who told Russian president Vladimir Putin on October 6 that fighting has washed up “along more than 60%” of the country’s 1400 km (870 m) border with Afghanistan.

As discussed in a previous post, on October 8, Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov and other key Russian security and diplomatic officials outlined the perceived security threats to South Asia and Russia itself:  the rise of ISIS (which is allegedly conducting well-attended terror training camps in the Russian language) alongside the Taliban; the drug trade and other criminal activity; and the apparently fading grip of the central authorities in Kabul just as ISIS forces multiply and the Taliban is showing signs of resuming the offensive.

The situation is further complicated by another factor:  the draw-down of American and NATO military forces.  As the Stanford international affairs scholar Kathryn Stoner recently observed, Russia views Obama’s exit strategy as leaving leaving a power vacuum likely to exacerbate long-standing security threats to the region, and potentially setting a new “bear trap” for Moscow, raising spectres of the horrifically bad old days of the Soviet occupation (1979-1989), which many both inside and outside of Russia cite as helping to precipitate the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union.  (Stoner’s article for Asian Survey is behind a paywall; a summary by Clifton B. Parker is available here.)

As will be suspected, Russia is neither eager nor foolish enough to blunder into a new full-scale military adventure in Afghanistan.  On the other hand, mere passivity is not an option—and, as a separate post will discuss tomorrow, “passive” is not a favored posture in current Russian strategic thinking.   Nor was the just-concluded conference on Afghan security issues an aberration:  the Afghanistan situation, and in particular the rise of ISIS, was a key agenda item at the sprawling BRICS-Eurasian summit in the Russian city of Ufa in July, which was boycotted by NATO countries, but attended by Chinese President Xi Jin Ping as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin and leaders of the China-led “Shanghai Cooperation Organization,” which happens to include a number of countries in the Afghan neighborhood:  Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. “Due to the spillover effect of Islamic State terrorist activities, Afghanistan now faces a grim security situation,” a Chinese diplomat told reporters in the lead-up to the event.  At the summit himself, Putin “did not restrict himself to diplomatic pleasantries,” records correspondent John Batchelor; Putin emphasized the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and acerbically commented that the American’s 14-year campaign had, in the end, done little to improve it.  Xi, for his part, opaquely intimated that China would have to “play a bigger role”—a tantalizing hint that an element of Russian-Chinese joint action may ultimately inform Moscow’s approach to stabilizing security in South Asia. 2_mi-24_attack_helicopter

As Syria Buildup Continues, Russia Warily Eyes Afghanistan

rus_general_gerasimov

[pictured:  Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff.]

As Syria Buildup Continues, Russia Warily Eyes Afghanistan

Moscow recently hosted an international conference on the security situation in Afghanistan (“International Conference on Interaction of Defence Agencies on Security in Afghanistan and Central Asia in the New Environment”).  Senior Russian military and diplomatic officials painted a bleak picture of renewed deterioration in Afghanistan, highlighting the rise of ISIS as a toxic addition to the long-standing threat posed by the Taliban; the significant number of Russian citizens involved in terror activity; and the inability of Afghan government political and military forces to stem the tide.

Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff, discussed Afghanistan in the context of an international situation he described as growing more unstable, at the same time as regional and global institutional means of resolving conflicts peacefully lose credibility and effectiveness.  This observation may serve as an oblique hint that Russia is pondering what it can (or must) do unilaterally to address the perceived security threat to Russia emanating from Afghanistan.  In light of Russia’s new-found willingness to project force in the Middle East far beyond its borders in Syria, what options might be under consideration with regard to Afghanistan, which shares a long border with former USSR republics, now viewed from Moscow’s perspective as part of Russia’s “near abroad” (a term roughly, if euphemistically, synonymous with “sphere of influence”)?   Gerasimov specifically stated that the increase in terrorist activity posed a threat “for neighbors and first of all for states of…Central Asia,” according to a summary of remarks posted on the Russian Defense Ministry website.

Gerasimov estimated the ISIS presence in Afghanistan at 2000-3000 and growing, and the total strength of militant formations at about 50,000.

Speaking at the same conference, Russian diplomat Zamir Kabulov, an Afghanistan specialist, stated that “several”  ISIS training camps conducted in the Russian language are now operational in Afghanistan.

Colonel General Igor Sergun, head of the Main Intelligence Directorate, also addressed the conference.  According to RT, he warned that Islamic State sees Afghanistan as a source of recruitment and finance for expansion throughout Central Asia, “adding that such development poses a real threat to Russia’s security.”

At the “Russia Beyond the Headlines” blog, Sergey Strokan and Vladimir Mikheev describe Central Asia as “the soft underbelly of Russia” and suggest that while Russia’s Syrian air strike template is not currently being considered for replication in Afghanistan, “some pre-emptive moves by Moscow were considered a likely option.”  The article portrays a lively debate in Russian think tanks and the security establishment about just what those pre-emptive measures should entail, with some discounting the gravity of the threat posed to Russia by the proliferation of illegal formations, and others stressing it.

If recent geopolitical events are any guide, we can expect that some of Russia’s “pre-emptive measures” may contain surprises and may be designed and timed with a view to wrong-footing and taking off guard other actors—including in the west.

Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria Intelligence Sharing: A Reconstructed Timeline

qassem-suleimani

A work in progress

Date Event Source
Earlier in 2015 “Three senior officials in the region say Soleimani’s July trip was preceded by high-level Russian-Iranian contacts that produced political agreement on the need to pump in new support for Assad…”

“The decision for a joint Iranian-Russian military effort in Syria was taken at a meeting between Russia’s foreign minister [i.e., Sergei Lavrov] and [Iran leader Ayatollah Ali] Khameini a few months ago…Soleimani, assisgned by Khameni to run the Iranian side of the operatin, traveled to Moscow to discuss details.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/06/us-mideast-crisis-syria-soleimani-insigh-idUSKCN0S02BV20151006

Reporting by Laila Bassam and Tom Perry

7/14 Nuclear Deal Reached with Iran http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/documents/world/full-text-of-the-iran-nuclear-deal/1651/
7/24 Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani arrives in Moscow for meetings with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and President Vladimir Putin http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/08/06/exclusive-quds-force-commander-soleimani-visited-moscow-met-russian-leaders-in/

Reporting by Jennifer Griffin and Lucas Tomlinson:

“Soleimani arrived in Moscow on Air Iran flight #5130, a commercial flight from Tehran, at 6:50 a.m. on July 24, a Friday….

7/24-

7/26

“…Soleimani…went to Moscow in August [sic] with the message that Russian airstrikes against the Islamic state group in Syria weree imperative…The meeting also covered plans to create a joint intelligence-sharing center between Iraq, Syria, Iran and Russia in Baghdad, which began operating later the same month.” http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2015/10/07/iran-lobbied-for-russian-campaign-in-syria-officials-say

Reporting by Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Vivian Salama, AP

7/24-

7-26

“At a meeting in Moscow in July, [Soleimani] unfurled a map of Syria to explain to his Russian hosts how a series of defeats for…Assad could be turned into victory—with Russia’s help.”

“The Russians were very alarmed…The Iranians assured them there is still the possibility to reclaim the initiative…Soleimani [assured] them that we haven’t lost all the cards.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/06/us-mideast-crisis-syria-soleimani-insigh-idUSKCN0S02BV20151006

Reporting by Laila Bassam and Tom Perry

7/26 Soleimani departs Moscow Id.  Griffin and Tomlinson:

“…He left Moscow the following Sunday, July 26, at 10:25 p.m. on flight #5120, according to western intelligence sources.”

7/29 Secretary of State Kerry, Secretary of Defense Carter and others testify before Senate
Armed Services Committee in support of Iran nuclear deal.  Kerry testifies that “under the United States initiative, Soleimani will never be relieved of any sanctions.”
http://www.c-span.org/video/?327380-1/hearing-iran-nuclear-agreement
8/10 “Iranian officials” confirm that Soleimani “traveled to Russia in July to discuss future weapons deals, including the purchase of the S-300 missile system.” http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2015/08/10/Officials-Iranian-General-Soleimani-visited-Russia-in-defiance-of-travel-ban/5321439232413/

UPI

8/12 Kerry raises “concern” about Soleimani visit with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei  Lavrov https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-raises-concerns-about-iranians-apparent-visit-to-moscow/2015/08/13/35a75a32-41e1-11e5-8e7d-9c033e6745d8_story.html

Reporting by Karen de Young

8/14 Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov denies that Soleimani was in Moscow “last week.”  “U.S. reports on the alleged Soleimani visit to Moscow, however, said it took place last month [i.e., July] and not last week as Ryabkov stated in his denial.” http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-denies-iran-commander-visited/27189231.html

Anonymous, “based on reporting by Interfax, Tass, AFP and AP

8/26 “Russia Direct” raises skeptical questions about earlier reporting on the Soleimani visit:  “What is the source of the information, why did it appear, and was there any reason for the Quds force commander to fly to Moscow, and on a commercial flight at that?” http://www.russia-direct.org/opinion/what-saga-top-iranian-general-tells-about-russian-diplomacy

Article by Yulia Sveshnikova, “Research Fellow at National Research Center—Higher School of Economics (Moscow)”

9/22 Soleimani “spotted in Baghdad on September 22.  He met with Shia militias backed by Iran; intelligence officials believe he met with Russians as well.” http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/09/25/russians-syrians-and-iranians-setting-up-military-coordination-cell-in-baghdad/

Reporting by Lucas Tomlinson and Jennifer Griffin

9/27 Announcement by Iraqi military of intelligence-sharing agreement between Iraq and Russia, Iran and Syria http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/28/world/middleeast/iraq-agrees-to-share-intelligence-on-isis-with-russia-syria-and-iran.html?smid=nytcore-iphone-share&smprod=nytcore-iphone&_r=1

Reporting by Michael R. Gordon

9/27 “Military diplomatic source in Moscow” quoted as saying the Baghdad coordination center will be led on a rotating basis by officers of the four countries, starting with Iraq. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/27/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-russia-idUSKCN0RQ0RY20150927

Reporting by Steven Kalin

9/27 Nasir Nouri Mohammed, a spokesman for the Iraqi defense ministry, says the intelligence-sharing operation will open in Baghdad “in weeks, maybe less.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iraq-turns-to-russia-in-fight-against-islamic-state/2015/09/27/18e091d5-c4d6-4edb-9517-e7b12f5781ec_story.html

Reporting by Loveday Morris

9/28 Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi defends the intelligence-sharing agreement, welcoming Russia’s involvement, and states that “we welcomed [Russia’s] interest by establishing an intelligence cell in which Syria and Iraq participate.” http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/2015/09/28/iraq-defends-intelligence-sharing-with-russia-syria-iran/72980592/

AP

9/28 U. S. officials attempt to down-play the significance of the intelligence-sharing announement but are characterized as having been taken by surprise.  “U.S. officials say the new cell is housed in a building across from the Iraqi Defense Ministry in Baghdad’s Green Zone and includes small numbers of low-to mid-level security officials from Russia, Syria, and Iran.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/russian-syrian-partnership-poses-a-new-challenge-for-us-in-iraq/2015/09/28/b1190982-65ee-11e5-9223-70cb36460919_story.html

Reporting by Missy Ryan

10/7 State Department spokesman John Kirby, answering the question, “Why does the U.S. refuse to share [with Russia] intelligence about ISIS positions,” states:  “I don’t know how you can share intelligence when you don’t share a basic, common objective inside Syria.” http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2015/10/248005.htm#SYRIA

Russian Military Briefing on “Results of Usage of Cruise Missiles Against Militants in Syria”

Kartapolov

On October 7, Col. Gen. Andrei Kartapolov provided to Russian news agencies an initial briefing on the “results of usage of cruise missiles against militants in Syria.”  A summary is provided in a press release on the website of the Russian Ministry of Defense.  Several points stand out:

  • Iraq as a new “Russian partner”…Kartapolov states that “the cruise missile strikes had been agreed on with the Russian partners beforehand.” The “Russian partners” are unspecified, but presumably include Syria and Iran.  Is Iraq now on the list of “Russian partners,” given Iraq’s new participation in intelligence sharing with Russia, Iran and Syria?   Since the missiles’ flight path included Iraqi territory, Russia likely did clear the mission with Iraqi authorities.  And if Russia told Iraq, did Iraq bother to mention this bit of news to the U.S., Iraq’s main ally?  (Though Putin routinely refers to the United States as “our American partners,” with heavy irony of late, the Pentagon states that the U.S. was given no advance notice of the missile strikes. )
  • Al-Nusra mentioned as a target in the same breath as ISIS. Kartapolov reaffirmed “plans to build-up the intensiveness of strikes against the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra [the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria] objects.”  Russia continues to ignore U.S. demands that it limit any strikes solely to ISIS.
  • The missile strikes ranged over three northern provinces where ISIS is active. “The strikes engaged plants producing ammunition and explosives, command centres, storages of munitions, armament and POL  [i.e., “petroleum, oil and lubricants”] as well as  a training camp of terrorists on the territory of the Raqquah, Idlib and Aleppo.” In broad terms, these provinces have been identified on U.S. Department of Defense and other battle maps as areas under ISIS control or where ISIS is active.
  • Kartapolov describes the process of target acquisition. The following sources are identified:
    • Space and radio reconnaissance
    • Communications interception
    • Aerial reconnaisance by UAV [i.e., Unmanned Aerial Vehicle]
    • Data from Syrian, Iran, and Iraqi intelligence, “including human intelligence”
  • Russian “due diligence” is stressed. The following precautions and algorithms are described:
    • Strikes are only carried against against “verified targets” after “a long and thorough preparation.” [“Long and thorough” are of course relative terms, but this suggests that specific planning for these strikes may have been underway even prior to the initiation of air strikes, which began September 30.]
    • A “special file” is created for each potential target.
    • A “final decision” to eliminate a target is made “only after the analysis of all the data and computer simulation of the strikes.”
      • Kartopolov states that Russia had “repeatedly” cancelled strikes “just because [terrorists] left their bases and camps and sheltered as a rule in inhabited areas and in close proximity to religious institutions.” No doubt the emphasis on Russia’s meticulous attention to careful targetting, with a claim to err on the side of cancelling a strike if civilian casualties are likely, is partially designed to contrast with recent U.S. failures, such as the bombing of the MSF facility in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
    • Kartapolov adds in passing that the same algorithm applies to Russian air strikes.
  • Renewed request for intelligence cooperation from “Russia’s partners.” Here, the term “partners” is apparently used in the Putinesque sense to refer to America and its NATO allies.  Russia, Kartapolov explains, “suggested its partners to share locations of “Islamic State” objects but there was still no answer.”  Puzzled, Kartapolov concludes that “either the partners did not have the coordinates or they did not want us to make strikes against ISIS; the reason remained unclear.”Kartapolov