Whose Islamic State Is It?
NEW DELHI: It was the al Qaeda earlier. It is the Islamic State now, an amorphous yet vicious entity that has spread out into the world with sophisticated weaponry and a deadly reach that clearly now extends outside West Asia into Europe as the deadly attacks in Brussels have so tragically demonstrated. It was, as security experts across the world, have been warning just a matter of time before this amorphous, vicious, entity crossed international borders and hit vulnerable civilian targets to strike terror at a time and place of its choice.
This has happened with Brussels taking the toll for what the Americans and the Nato members have been doing in West Asia since 2001 when US planes pounded Iraq and its tanks and soldiers marched in for a war that might have shifted targets, but has shown no signs of ending. In the process Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen have all been virtually destroyed, with large tracts of territory now occupied by the Islamic State, an army of Salafists, smugglers, mercenaries, victims of the US war like members of the Baath party from Iraq, remnants of the al Qaeda, al Nusra, all woven into a vicious fighting machine. The weapons have come in large numbers, and sufficient quantity and quality, from the war supported by the US and its western allies on Syria, with Turkey and Saudi Arabia ensuring the supply line.
Three years ago the Syrian government had warned of exactly this. Senior advisor to President Bashar al Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban told this writer in Damascus in 2012 that the al Qaeda had joined the rebels being pumped with arms and money by the governments opposing the Syrian government. Shortly after she said that new forces had joined the Opposition and could be more dangerous than even the al Qaeda. This was stoutly denied by the US, Turkey and of course Saudi Arabia with the powerful media of the world eclipsing the claims with the insistence that Assad should go. Regime change, remained the theme as arms poured into the region and the war seeking to destabilise the Syrian government continued with more ferocity than before.
The Syrians insisted at the time that the Islamic State was being created by the US, consciously and with the same deliberate strategy that had given rise to the al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Washington would have none of this, and revved up the propaganda machinery and the war to convince the world that salvation for democratic forces lay in the removal of Assad. This was confirmed last year by the release of classified documents of the US Defense Intelligence Agency by Judicial Watch that obtained these through a federal lawsuit in the US. It was doubly confirmed in an interview to Al Jazeera a little later by Lt General Michael T.Flynn , the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, and chair of the Military Intelligence Board from July 24, 2012, to August 2, 2014.
The DIA report, formerly classified “SECRET//NOFORN” and dated August 12, 2012, was circulated widely among various government agencies, including CENTCOM, the CIA, FBI, DHS, NGA, State Department and others.
The DIA report stated:
“THE WEST, GULF COUNTRIES, AND TURKEY [WHICH] SUPPORT THE [SYRIAN] OPPOSITION… THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME…”
The cynicism and the manipulations that have laced US strategy for West Asia are again visible in the following:
In an interview with Al Jazeera where he was questioned thoroughly US military’s top intelligence man admitted that extremist insurgency that turned into the Islamic State has been stoked by US policy in West Asia. General Flynn said that clearly there was something wrong with American policy and strategy for the region as the number of designated terrorist groups had doubled. He said that the war had given rise to the Islamic State, and the US should have focused not on conflict but perhaps on solutions. He said that history was not going to be kind when it looked on the US involvement in Iraq. He agreed that the ‘system’ was guilty of war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the prisons in Iraq had contributed directly to the rise of the Islamic State.
General Flynn confirmed in the interview that the US had information about the Islamic State in 2012 saying, “I don’t know that they turned a blind eye, I think it was a decision. I think it was willful decision… It was a willful decision to do what they’re doing”.
Bouthaina, a dynamic and bold advisor to President Assad, had full details right from the very beginning of the composition of the so called rebels who were set up by the US, Turkey and the Gulf countries to fight the Syrian regime. It started with the funding of border smuggling and arms mafias, who were joined by various small insurgent groups in the region. The Syrian Army that despite being largely Sunni in composition stayed united behind President Assad right from the beginning till date was able to tackle these groups at the onset. However, these were then added to by what the Syrian government had identified as the Salafists, the al Qaeda and other more hardline groups operating in the region. Arms and money was poured into the region to fund these groups as the powers behind them were determined to get Assad out.
The dual policy remains with the Islamic State being supported by Turkey that has been working closely with the US against Syria. An announcement by the Turkish government in 2015 to crack down on the IS surprised many, but as was exposed by the Kurds this was again a cover to bomb and kill them. The Kurds who for long have been seen by Ankara as the real threat have been mercilessly attacked by Erdogan’s government for, as their spokespersons have said, “fighting the Islamic State.”
The confirmation has, however, not placed Washington in the dock with the wars being intensified in the region as a result of which waves of refugees fled for safer pastures in Europe. Even as one writes Saudi Arabia continues to bomb Yemen with impunity, the intense war between the Syrian Army and the Islamic State continues for the territory that in some areas is now completely deserted, without the people who have all fled, with terrorism and conflict continuing to take a toll in Libya and Iraq.
Former Special Secretary in the Cabinet secretariat and a well informed intelligence officer Vappala Balachandran took note of this in an article for The Citizen where he asked ,”Was the core of this group trained by NATO countries and supported by leading Arab nations in their effort to destabilize the Syrian Assad regime? Is the Jihadi war against Iraq an unanticipated by product of those efforts?” Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar has pointed to these developments when he wrote,” The specious plea being advanced by Washington currently is that the US wants to turn Afghanistan into a regional hub to wage a war against the IS — a war by the US and its partners, which, in the opinion of Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, could last not less than a generation.
This Dempsey guy is a smart general, isn’t it? It was under his watch that the IS was finessed and deployed as the instrument of US regional policy to overthrow the established government in Syria and to force Baghdad to allow the return of American troops to Iraq – and now he pops up in Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office in Kabul one fine day two weeks ago to make the proposition that Washington might need an open-ended military presence in Afghanistan for another 15-20 years to wage the global war against the IS.”
Syria is clearly central to the survival, or otherwise of the Islamic State. This was the rationale behind Russia’s decision to move its troops to fight the IS with President Vladimir Putin making it clear then that the fight against IS had only now begun. The Syrian dispensation was more categorical stating that the US had not been targeting the Islamic State in these months and years, and in fact helping it by attacking the Syrian Army and President Assad. Russia claimed that it had immobilised several IS targets and even after the rather sudden troop pull out, made clear its support for the Assad regime by retaining an Air Force presence in Syria.
After Brussels US Defence Secretary Ash Carter stated,"If we can expel ISIL from Raqqa and Mosul, that will show that there's no such thing as an Islamic State based upon this ideology.” Raqqa is seen as the headquarters of the IS in Syria, with the Russians till recently leading the attack. Mosul is in Iraq and the statement by Carter is indicative of continued, and more intense, military action in both countries.
In January, Carter had identified "North Africa, Afghanistan and Yemen” as IS territory. Bombing of Libya is still on, with several persons being killed recently in air attacks. Washington has claimed that they were all militants.
The question that needs an answer, perhaps even more urgently now that the IS has expanded its reach into Europe: will these wars eliminate terrorism? Even as the people of West Asia caught in the fire ask repeatedly, “whose IS is it?”