Trump, Afghanistan, and 9/11

President Donald Trump, led by his generals, will continue America’s longest war in Afghanistan. On this episode of The Geopolitical Report, we look at the history of the war and the effort by the CIA, aided by Pakistani intelligence, to manufacture both al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Prior to 9/11, the US did business with the Taliban and considered them a suitable partner for a pipeline deal. After 9/11, the Taliban offered to hand Osama bin Laden over to the United States, but the Bush administration refused, preferring instead to invade and create the longest war. If we take Trump’s airstrikes in Syria and Iraq as a gauge, the escalation in Afghanistan will result in thousands more dead innocent civilians, every single one illegal under US and international law.

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Show Notes

Taliban closes Laden case

Afghanistan, the CIA, bin Laden, and the Taliban

Afghanistan: Soviet invasion and civil war

US Supports Taliban Rise to Power

Taliban Arise in Afghanistan; Quickly Co-opted by ISI

Enron Gives Taliban Millions in Bribes in Effort to Get Afghan Pipeline Built

Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and UAE Officially Recognize Taliban Government

Did 9/11 Justify the War in Afghanistan?

War on Afghanistan is Illegal

Afghanistan War Has Cost Trillions of Dollars

UN condemns targeting of civilians, infrastructure as airstrikes hit Syria’s Raqqa

Deaths In Other Nations Since WW II Due To Us Interventions

Newsbud Exclusive-Trump’s Afghan War: Based on Neocon Lies.

Standing before a podium at the Fort Myer military base in Arlington, Virginia, President Donald Trump addressed an audience of soldiers on August 21. Trump said the consequences of an exit from Afghanistan “are both predictable and unacceptable. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists. A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th.”

In order to believe this, facts must be put aside and the official version of events be unquestioningly accepted. There is no evidence the attack of September 11 was “planned and directed from Afghanistan.” Then Secretary of State Colin Powell said two weeks after the attack he would “in the near future… to put out… a document that will describe quite clearly the evidence that we have linking [Osama bin Laden] to this attack.”

However, the following day during a press conference in the Rose Garden with President Bush, Powell said the American people would not be permitted to see the evidence. He added the United States had irrefutable proof of bin Laden’s complicity, but “most of it is classified.” Powell’s remark was an effort to conceal the fact the Bush administration had no evidence Osama bin Laden planned and orchestrated the attack from a cave in Afghanistan. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh cited officials from the CIA and the Justice Department as saying there was no solid evidence of this.

In 1998, following the US embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, the Taliban government offered to turn over bin Laden, but the Bush administration refused. Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, the Taliban foreign minister, told Al Jazeera his government had made several proposals to the United States to turn over the Saudi to stand trial.

“Even before the [9/11] attacks, our Islamic Emirate had tried through various proposals to resolve the Osama issue. One such proposal was to set up a three-nation court, or something under the supervision of the Organization of the Islamic Conference [OIC]," Muttawakil said. “But the US showed no interest in it. They kept demanding we hand him over, but we had no relations with the US, no agreement of any sort. They did not recognize our government.”

After the Taliban made the proposals through the US embassy in Pakistan and an informal Taliban office at the UN in New York, the CIA station chief in Pakistan, Robert Grenier, dismissed the offer as a ploy. In mid-September 2001, Grenier had a secret meeting with Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, considered the second-most powerful figure in the Taliban at the time, at a five-star hotel in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. He said if the Taliban were serious about avoiding a US invasion, they would turn over bin Laden immediately for prosecution. Alternatively, as CIA Director George Tenet put it, the Taliban could “administer justice themselves, in a way that clearly [takes] him off the table,” in other words, the CIA wanted the Taliban to assassinate bin Laden.

The ultimatum was rejected by Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Following this, during a second meeting at a villa in Baluchistan, Grenier said Osmani should overthrow Omar and get rid of Osama bin Laden. This was also rejected. Osmani was later killed by a smart bomb during an attack by the US Air Force in Helmand Province.

The reclusive Omar had previously attempted to establish a dialogue with the United States. In response to an inquiry on bin Laden’s alleged terror activities prior to the September 11 attack, a cable sent by the United States to Omar stated: “We have detailed and solid evidence that Osama bin Laden has been engaged and is still engaged in planning, organizing, and funding acts of international terror.” The US did not provide supporting evidence to back up the accusation and this resulted in the Afghan supreme court acquitting bin Laden in October 1998.

A few months earlier, in August 1998, President Bill Clinton ordered the bombing of a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory in retaliation for the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The US insisted the al-Shifa factory in Khartoum “was actually a disguised chemical weapons factory” that produced VX nerve gas. British engineer Thomas Carnaffin, who worked as a technical manager during the plant’s construction between 1992 and 1996, told reporters he never saw any evidence of the production of an ingredient needed for nerve gas. The attack violated numerous articles of the Hague Conventions.

Moreover, the owner of the Shifa factory gave interviews in which he “emphatically denied that the plant was used for anything other than pharmaceuticals, and there was never persuasive evidence to contradict his assertion. At the same time, members of the administration retreated from claims they made earlier that Osama bin Laden had what [Defense Secretary William] Cohen called ‘a financial interest in contributing to this particular facility.’ It turned out that no direct financial relationship between bin Laden and the plant could be established,” writes Richard Bernstein in his book, Out of the Blue: A Narrative of September 11, 2001.

The factory was Sudan's largest commercial manufacturer of prescription drugs for both medical and veterinary purposes, producing 50 percent of the country's supply. “Probably the most important was an anti-diarrhea remedy. They also made drugs against TB and they brought in the basic stock for antibiotics,” Carnaffin explained. It was estimated the destruction of the plant resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Sudanese. [READ MORE]

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The New Great Game Round-Up: October 20, 2015

Turkmenistan to CIS: ‘Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here!,’ United National Movement Protests Georgia's Talks with Gazprom & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Islamabad's recent offer to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table for renewed peace talks with the Afghan government is just one example of Pakistan's influence over the Taliban movement in general and its new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in particular. According to some Taliban sources, Pakistan is now taking a two-pronged approach in dealing with the movement. On the one hand, the Pakistani authorities are backing Mansoor and negotiations with Kabul but, on the other hand, they are also supporting the hawkish anti-Mansoor faction in order to keep the new supremo in check and continue the fight in Afghanistan. A senior Afghan intelligence official confirmed this, pointing out that Pakistan recently helped Mansoor's rival Abdul Qayyum "Zakir" launch large-scale offensives in the south of the country, which prompted Mansoor to offer Zakir to become his first deputy or Taliban shadow defense minister. Against this backdrop, it is interesting to note that the United States is now implicating Pakistani intelligence in the Taliban's takeover of Kunduz as well:

APNewsBreak: US analysts knew Afghan site was hospital American special operations analysts were gathering intelligence on an Afghan hospital days before it was destroyed by a U.S. military attack because they believed it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity, The Associated Press has learned.

The special operations analysts had assembled a dossier that included maps with the hospital circled, along with indications that intelligence agencies were tracking the location of the Pakistani operative and activity reports based on overhead surveillance, according to a former intelligence official who is familiar with some of the documents describing the site. The intelligence suggested the hospital was being used as a Taliban command and control center and may have housed heavy weapons. After the attack — which came amidst a battle to retake the northern Afghan city of Kunduz from the Taliban — some U.S. analysts assessed that the strike had been justified, the former officer says. They concluded that the Pakistani, believed to have been working for his country's Inter-Service Intelligence directorate, had been killed.

U.S. Keeps Troops in Afghanistan as Kabul Takes Desperate Measures 

The Associated Press emphasizes that it is unclear whether the responsible commanders knew about these reports or that the site was a hospital. But although the U.S. keeps changing its story every few days, it is becoming more and more evident that the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz was deliberately targeted. The American military's "unannounced and forced entry" into the hospital compound immediately after the bombing suggests that Washington is not telling the whole truth. Interestingly, there is no public evidence to suggest that a Pakistani was killed in the attack, which makes the allegations against the ISI even more curious. Meanwhile, government forces have managed to drive the Taliban out of Kunduz - the Taliban claim to have withdrawn by their own choice "to avoid further civilian casualties" - but the situation remains highly volatile. The fall of Kunduz has put Afghanistan back on the map and U.S. President Barack Obama used the opportunity to announce that thousands of American troops will stay in the country when he leaves office:

Citing 'very fragile' security in Afghanistan, Obama slows pace of U.S. troop withdrawal Reversing policy on Afghanistan, President Barack Obama announced on Thursday he will prolong the 14-year-old U.S. military engagement there, effectively handing off the task of pulling out troops to his successor. Calling it a "modest but meaningful" adjustment to winding down the American presence in Afghanistan, Obama said Afghan forces were not yet as strong as they needed to be given a "very fragile" security situation and the United States will maintain a force of 9,800 through most of 2016. Obama had previously aimed to withdraw all but a small U.S.-embassy based force in the capital, Kabul, before he leaves office in January 2017. Under the new plan, troops will be drawn down to 5,500 starting sometime in 2017 and will be based at four locations - Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar.

It comes as no real surprise that Obama won't keep his promise to end the war in Afghanistan. First of all, Obama is not known for keeping his word, and second, it has long been painfully obvious that the Afghan security forces are unable to cope with the deteriorating security situation. U.S.-backed President Ashraf Ghani and the American military, which had been lobbying for slowing the withdrawal, immediately welcomed Obama's decision but the announcement also engendered criticism. The Taliban reacted as expected, emphasizing that this "means they aren't sincere about a peaceful solution to the Afghan crisis." Russia's Foreign Ministry joined in the criticism as well and stressed that "this forced step is another graphical evidence of the full blunder of the 14-year Washington military campaign and its allies in Afghanistan." And nothing illustrates this better than Kabul's latest idea:

Afghan Plan to Expand Militia Raises Abuse Concerns With the Afghan security forces gravely challenged by Taliban offensives, the government is moving to rapidly expand the troubled Afghan Local Police program by thousands of members, Afghan and Western officials say. The move to expand the police militias, prompted by the disastrous loss of the northern city of Kunduz to the Taliban almost three weeks ago, is being described by officials speaking privately as an attempt to head off panic in Afghan cities threatened by the insurgents. But the expansion also amounts to an open admission that the United States’ main legacy in Afghanistan — the creation of nationalized police and army forces numbering more than 350,000 members — is failing under pressure even before any final American military withdrawal. On Thursday, President Obama called off that pullout, originally due at year’s end, leaving 9,800 American troops in the country for at least another year.

The Afghan Local Police (ALP) is part of the U.S. legacy in Afghanistan. U.S. planners created the ALP in 2010 to support the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP). General David Petraeus modeled the program after the 'Sons of Iraq' initiative. Many ALP members are former Taliban who are now on the payroll of the United States. It is not difficult to imagine what will happen when the money dries up. But the biggest problem are the serious human rights abuses at the hands of ALP units, which are nothing more than village militias with AK-47s. Contrary to what the name suggests, Afghan Local Police members don't have police powers and don't care about the law. Although ALP forces have repeatedly been accused of all kinds of heinous crimes, including torture, rape and murder, Kabul is now planning to expand the program. This shows that the Afghan authorities are becoming increasingly desperate in the face of Taliban advances across the country:

Another Afghan district falls to the Taliban Reports from the northwestern province of Faryab indicate that the Taliban has overrun yet another district in Afghanistan. Ghormach, a district that borders Turkmenistan, is now effectively under Taliban control, according to the jihadist group and the Afghan press. The fall of Ghormach took place just 10 Days after the Taliban seized the districts of Garziwan and Pashtun Kot in Faryab; the Afghan government later claimed to have liberated Garziwan. On week prior, the Taliban attempted to seize control of Maimana, the provincial capital of Faryab. The two districts are on the outskirts of Maimana, and control access from the east.

Turkmenistan to CIS: Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here!

Ghormach's seizure by the Taliban is not only noteworthy because the district borders Turkmenistan but also because warlord-turned-vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum and his family are still being celebrated for the successful government offensive in Faryab province. As previously discussed, the success in Faryab was short-lived. The insurgents picked up where they had left off as soon as Dostum returned to Kabul. Faryab has long been one of the most contested provinces in Afghanistan and it looks as if this won't change anytime soon. To make matters worse, the situation on the Tajik border isn't much better either. In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk about Russia's possible return to the Tajik-Afghan border. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov fueled the speculations in the run-up to last week's Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) meeting, which focused on the issue:

Russia, ex-Soviet states to jointly defend borders in crisis The leaders of ex-Soviet states, led by Russian President Vladimir Putin, responded to growing instability in Afghanistan on Friday by agreeing to create a joint task force to defend their bloc's external borders if a crisis arises. The move could mean that Russian troops, as part of collective forces, will be deployed to Afghanistan's borders as the U.S.-led coalition gradually withdraws from the country, leaving behind a power vacuum. They agreed on the creation of what is described in a summit document as a "grouping of border (forces) and other institutions from CIS member states designed to resolve crisis situations on the external borders".

Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to convince his CIS colleagues that closer military cooperation is necessary because the situation in Afghanistan is "close to critical". However, it remains to be seen how much this agreement is actually worth. Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, for his part, remarked after the meeting that the CIS is pretty much useless and that the issues discussed "are detached from reality." Disagreements between CIS members have often rendered the organization useless. So Karimov might have a point. At any rate, Russian President Putin and Kazakh President Nazarbayev used the latest CIS meeting in Kazakhstan to draw attention to the alarming situation in Afghanistan and to call for closer cooperation in dealing with the problem. Whereas Tajikistan welcomed the initiative, Turkmenistan preferred to deny that there is any problem and to attack anyone who suggests otherwise:

Turkmenistan Strongly Denies ‘Incidents’ at Afghan Border Turkmenistan has registered no incidents at its border with Afghanistan, the Central Asian state's government said on Friday, denouncing as untrue a remark by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The strongly worded statement came ahead of a meeting of ex-Soviet nations to discuss the security of Afghan borders, among other issues, and followed comments by Nazarbayev who said he was aware of "incidents" that had happened at the Afghan-Turkmen border, but did not elaborate. "The Turkmen side expresses its extreme concern and incomprehension with regards to such a statement by the president of Kazakhstan about the situation on Turkmenistan's state border, which is untrue," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Turkmenistan's strongly worded statement indicates that Nazarbayev struck a nerve by bringing up the situation on the Afghan border. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry was not impressed by the harsh words coming from Ashgabat and defended Nazarbayev's remarks. After all, it is absolutely ludicrous to deny that there has been unrest on the Turkmen-Afghan border. Last year, Turkmen forces even crossed the border in order to drive the insurgents back and there have been several "incidents" ever since. According to the foreign-based website Alternative News of Turkmenistan, the Turkmen military has stationed up to 70 percent of its combat-ready military equipment along the Afghan border. The Turkmen government is obviously aware of the alarming situation in northern Afghanistan, but for some reason Ashgabat is now trying to play down the issue. Perhaps this has something to do with Turkmenistan's efforts to push the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, regardless of whether or not that makes any sense:

Hunt on for leader to lay $10 billion TAPI gas pipeline The four-nation consortium has revived the search for a leader to help lay the $10-billion TAPI gas pipeline, laying bare the lack of confidence among the countries to go ahead on their own and threatening to delay the project further. Just two months back, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India had agreed to co-own the project with TurkmenGaz, the state-owned firm of Turkmenistan, expected to make the majority investment in laying the 1800-km pipeline that would begin the construction work in December. Now again the timeline looks shaky. "The key challenge is to select a consortium leader or a partner. We are still looking for one," said BC Tripathi, chairman of GAIL, the state-run firm that represents India in the consortium. The top executives of GAILBSE 1.97 % and other state companies representing three other nations have been negotiating the terms between themselves and figuring out the nuances of the project for the last two months since the oil ministers of the four countries agreed in Ashgabat to go on their own without waiting for a firm with experience in laying and operating pipeline to lead the consortium.

United National Movement Protests Georgia's Talks with Gazprom

Although a TAPI consortium leader is nowhere to be found and the Taliban are making themselves at home on the Turkmen-Afghan border, Turkmenistan is already starting with the construction of the ambitious pipeline project in an attempt to diversify its gas exports. In order to lessen the increasing dependence on China, the Turkmen authorities are also turning to Japan and still promoting the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. Russia's launch of cruise missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea should serve as a warning to supporters of the Trans-Caspian project but Ashgabat and Baku refuse to give up on the pipe dream. Azerbaijan's efforts to strengthen its position in the energy market suffered recently an unexpected setback when close ally Georgia announced its plans to buy more gas from Russia and Iran. The words of Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze caused a great stir and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili had to travel to Baku to calm the waves:

Georgian PM Reaffirms ‘Friendly, Strategic’ Relations with Azerbaijan PM Irakli Garibashvili said on October 12 that Tbilisi’s relations with Baku will remain “friendly and strategic” and dismissed talk of “diversification, replacement of Azerbaijani gas” supplies as “utterly absurd”. 

Georgian Energy Ministry said late last week that Tbilisi was open for talks with Gazprom on possible gas supplies for private entities in Georgia in order to, as Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze and his deputy put it, “diversify” energy supplies for the country. Kaladze, who met Gazprom chief executive in Brussels in late September, reiterated on October 12 that private entities might be interested in purchasing Russian gas if the price is acceptable. After the Georgian Energy Minister spoke about possible gas supplies from Gazprom last week, PM Garibashvili made a brief and unannounced visit to Baku on October 10, where he met Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, triggering speculation in Tbilisi that the surprise visit aimed at mending ties after potential fallout caused by Tbilisi’s suggestions over Gazprom gas supplies.

Georgian opposition parties tried to exploit the situation and some people went as far as alleging that the government plans to revise the country's relations with Azerbaijan. Garibashvili vehemently denied this and assured everyone that things will stay as they are. The Georgian Prime Minister stressed that talks with Gazprom are just about a possible increase of transit of natural gas to Armenia. Neither President Giorgi Margvelashvili nor the Georgian opposition were entirely convinced by Garibashvili's words. Last Friday, Tbilisi police detained Tamar Chergoleishvili, the head of pro-Saakashvili TV channel Tabula TV, one of her producers and another activist when they were hanging up posters mocking former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and Gazprom. One day later, a few hundred protesters gathered in front of the central government building to protest against the negotiations with Russia's energy behemoth:

Tbilisi Protests Russia’s Gazprom On Saturday, at the State Chancellery, the protest ‘No to Gazprom’ rallied against Gazprom’s possible entrance into the Georgian energy market. Energy giant Russia is believed to attempt to re-enter Georgia and is said by some to be a non-trivial tool for the Russian government to manage political processes on the ground. The concerns arose after the government initiated talks with Russian energy company Gazprom. The rally involved politicians, public activists and members of the National Movement, as well as concerned citizens from all over Georgia. Tabula, a political magazine, organized the protest action against Gazprom’s possible entrance into the Georgian energy market.

Tamar Chergoleishvili is not only the head of Tabula TV but also the editor-in-chief of the Tbilisi-based Tabula magazine. Tabula is known for its pro-United National Movement (UNM) views, which is hardly surprising considering that Chergoleishvili is the wife of senior UNM leader Giga Bokeria. As mentioned last week, the opposition party is currently trying to prevent the government from taking control of another important pro-UNM media outlet. According to the latest polls, neither the Georgian Dream ruling coalition nor the UNM have benefited from the endless fighting. Although many voters are disappointed by the government, the UNM isn't gaining any support as more and more Georgians don't know which party they should vote for. But more worrying for the West are the rising pro-Russian sentiment and the declining support for joining the European Union and NATO:

NDI Poll on Foreign Policy Issues

Number of Georgian respondents who support “government’s stated goal to join the EU” has dropped by 17 percentage points over the past year to 61%, according to a public opinion survey, commissioned by the NDI and fielded by CRRC in August. Asked whether they support or not Georgia joining Russia-led Eurasian Union, 31% responded positively, same as in April 2015, and 46% negatively, up by five percentage points from four months earlier. When the respondents were offered a choice between two answers – “Georgia will benefit more from joining EU and NATO”, and “Georgia will benefit more from abandoning Euro-Atlantic integration in favor of better relations with Russia” – 45% chose the former and 30% the latter.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

The New Great Game Round-Up: September 29, 2015

Tajikistan's Attempt to Prove IRPT-Nazarzoda Plot Backfires, Taliban Seize Kunduz as U.S. Mulls Drawdown Options & More

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

With the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine dominating the headlines, the latest escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has gone largely unnoticed. It all started on September 24, when Azerbaijani forces shelled Armenian villages in the northeastern Tavush region close to the border. Mortar and gunfire killed three civilian women, aged 41, 83 and 94, and wounded four other residents. It was the highest number of civilians killed in one day for quite some time. Moreover, targeting villages with mortar fire is not a common tactic and has only rarely been seen since the end of the war in 1994. As Armenia called on the international community to get involved and prevent a further escalation of the conflict, Azerbaijan tried to play the innocent by using Israel's tried and tested 'human shields' rhetoric. But it quickly became clear which side is provoking an escalation:

Four Armenian Servicemen Killed by Azerbaijani Fire Four Armenian servicemen were killed today in an offensive operation launched by Azerbaijan on Sept. 25. Norayr Khachatryan (b. 1995), Robert Mkrtchyan (b. 1995), Harout Hakobyan (b. 1997), and Karen Shahinyan (b. 1997) of the Artsakh Armed Forces were killed in the Azerbaijani attack, announced the Nagorno Karabagh Republic (NKR) Ministry of Defense. According to the Ministry, Azerbaijani forces used Turkish-made TR-107 rocket launchers in the attack. Intensive shelling reportedly took place on Sept. 24 and 25. A day earlier, 83-year-old Parakavar resident Baydzar Aghajanyan and Berdavan residents Shushan Asatryan, 94, and Sona Revezyan , 41, were killed by Azerbaijani artillery fire targeting Armenian border villages in Armenia’s Tavush province. Four other residents were also wounded in the attack.

Azerbaijan Kills Armenian Grannies, Blames Armenia

True to form, after killing seven Armenians in two days, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of escalating the conflict in an attempt to derail negotiations between the countries' Foreign Ministers and the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group in New York. Ironically, that is exactly the strategy that Azerbaijan has been using time and again in the run-up to important meetings and negotiations. The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs were not swayed by Baku's antics and urged the warring parties to accept an OSCE mechanism to investigate ceasefire violations. Armenia has already agreed to discuss the details of the mechanism and Azerbaijan is now under pressure to follow suit. The month of September has taken a turn for the worse for Baku. Two weeks ago, Azerbaijani officials were chuffed to bits, thinking that they have a golden opportunity to claim the moral high ground in the conflict with Armenia:

Armenian 'Activist' Defects To Azerbaijan An Armenian man has defected to archrival Azerbaijan in a case that is sure to rankle in Yerevan. Vahan Martirosian, who says he is the head of an NGO called Internal National Liberation Movement, told reporters in Baku on September 18 that he had requested political asylum in Azerbaijan. There is no NGO by that name in the official registry. Martirosian slammed the policies of Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, calling them anti-Armenian, and said Azerbaijani media are the only source offering "truthful information" about the current situation in Armenia.

Azerbaijani media is not exactly known for offering "truthful information" about anything but Martirosian went even further in his efforts to please his new hosts. The Armenian "activist" vowed to draw the international community's attention to the "criminal regime" of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and claimed that most people living in Nagorno-Karabakh would vote to join Azerbaijan if they were allowed to hold a referendum. Martirosian's strange Baku press conference perplexed not only the Armenian authorities but also the country's opposition and civil activists because they couldn't recall ever meeting him during protests in Armenia. Ruzanna Marguni, the woman who accused Martirosian of stealing $3,800 from her apartment before he left the country, described him as "a skillful fraudster." This being the case, Martirosian's defection is not the propaganda coup the Aliyev regime had been hoping for and it won't help to deflect attention from Azerbaijan's crackdown on journalists and human rights activists, which is once again causing tensions between Baku and the West:

Aliyev Goes On The Attack Against EU Values Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has thrown down the gauntlet in the face of criticism from the European Union, accusing the bloc of being "anti-Azerbaijani" and mocking European values amid the ongoing refugee crisis. During a joint press conference with visiting Czech President Milos Zeman in Baku on September 15, Aliyev blasted a recent European Parliament resolution that condemned his country's human rights situation and called for the release of all political prisoners and imprisoned journalists. Speaking earlier on September 15 at the opening ceremonies of a new school in Baku, Aliyev called on the country's youth to stay away from "foreign influence and the so-called Western values that our people do not share."​

Aliyev and Co. were furious about the latest "anti-Azerbaijani" European Parliament resolution. Baku responded by canceling the planned visit by a European Commission delegation and by suspending its participation in the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, an inter-parliamentary forum of the EU and its eastern neighbors which was established as part of the EU's Eastern Partnership initiative. Some Azerbaijani lawmakers have even called for rethinking Azerbaijan's participation in the Eastern Partnership. As usual, Baku's anger about "anti-Azerbaijani" activities is not only directed at Brussels but also at "some circles" in the United States. After cracking down on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) at the end of last year, the Aliyev regime is now going after Voice of America and other foreign media outlets. And last but not least, Azerbaijan continues its half-hearted campaign against the U.S.-backed Gülen movement, much to the joy of Turkish President Erdogan:

Azerbaijan deports Turkish citizens for Nur movement propaganda Turkish citizens, suspected of promoting the Nur movement in Azerbaijan, were deported from the country.   The Yasamal district court fined Turkish citizens Sunkur Nurulla and Senol Miktat AZN 2000 under article #300.04 (violation of the law on religious freedom) of the Code of Administrative Offences.   Under the court decision, they were deported from Azerbaijan. In addition, 5 Azerbaijani citizens faced fine AZN 1500.

Tajikistan's Attempt to Prove IRPT-Nazarzoda Plot Backfires

If Aliyev eventually wants to get rid of the Gülen movement altogether, he can ask his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon for advice. Rahmon is currently demonstrating how to rid oneself of pesky opposition groups. Government forces had a hard time catching former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda but the Tajik regime is now making the best of the situation by using Nazarzoda's rebellion to crush the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) once and for all. To this end, they have come up with an elaborate plot linking Nazarzoda and the IRPT, putting even the most ludicrous conspiracy theories to shame. On September 17, Tajikistan's Prosecutor General's office set the stage with an official statement saying that IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri had ordered Nazarzoda to establish 20 small criminal groups. Charitable foundations of foreign countries allegedly provided the funding. This story is becoming more convoluted and more implausible day by day:

Tajikistan State Media Rants Undermine Uprising Account In providing updates to its would-be insurgency and smears of the opposition almost daily, Tajikistan’s government has succeeded mostly in undermining its own credibility.

A dispatch circulated by Khovar state news agency on September 26 reaches new heights of implausibility. The story contends that the alleged renegade deputy defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda had plotted his uprising since 2010 in collusion with the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT). Allegations that plotting should have been happening for so long at the highest level is at best an astonishing admission of incompetence by Tajikistan’s security structures. Alternatively, Dushanbe is spinning a yarn in full confidence that nobody within the country, including all the diplomatic stations based there, will dare to question its narrative.

International extremist organizations, Human Rights Watch, the U.S. and the EU have all featured in recent Tajik state media ramblings about the alleged Kabiri-Nazarzoda plot. Ironically, Washington has been remarkably silent on Tajikistan's crackdown and just showcased its support of the Rahmon regime by donating tactical equipment worth $260,000 to the country's OMON unit, which made headlines a few months ago when its commander defected to ISIS. Khovar lashed out at the U.S. nevertheless. Even Russian analysts, who are usually quick to blame unrest in Central Asia on the West and/or extremists, had to take flak because they dared to cast doubt on the government's narrative. Dushanbe's main problem is that the narrative doesn't stand up to scrutiny, as the Tajik authorities learned when they confronted IRPT deputy leader Mahmadali Hayit with a member of Nazarzoda's group:

IRP deputy leader confronted with member of Abduhalim Nazarzoda’s group His defense lawyer, Jamshed Yorov, says Hayit was confronted with one of members of mutinous general’s armed group on September 22. “The men said that Mahmadali Hayit and IRP leader Muhiddin Kabiri allegedly met with General Abduhalim Nazarzoda on March 6 and drew the plan of attacks on the government institutions and distributed public positions among them,” they lawyer said. “Hayit, however, managed to prove that there was no such a meeting. At that time, Hayit was at IRP’s head office to hold a post-election meeting. All accusations were rebutted,” Yorov noted.

Predictably, the Tajik authorities couldn't take the embarrassment. Jamshed Yorov's colleague Buzurgmehr Yorov, who is also defending the Islamic Renaissance Party, was pressured to abandon his clients and later detained after he refused to play along. Buzurgmehr's detention came shortly after the Prosecutor General's office formally charged the 13 arrested IRPT members with creating a criminal organization. They face between 15 and 20 years in jail if they are found guilty. As Buzurgmehr told RFE/RL's Tajik service before his arrest, the IRPT members deny having anything to do with Nazarzoda's rebellion and the creation of criminal groups. It appears that this won't stop the Tajik regime from prosecuting them. However, instead of putting all their efforts into destroying the IRPT, the Tajik authorities would be well advised to pay more attention to the alarming situation on the Afghan border:

Islamic Jihad Union claims to control areas along Afghan-Tajik border

The Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), an al Qaeda and Taliban-linked group that operates in Afghanistan, has claimed it controls large areas of the northern border with Tajikistan. While the IJU’s claim cannot be independently confirmed, the jihadist group released several photos of a small team of fighters purportedly crossing the Amu Darya River in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz. It is unclear exactly where the crossing took place, but it likely occurred in the district of Qala-i-Zal, the only district in Kunduz that borders the Amu Darya River. The northern Kunduz districts of Imam Sahib and Dasht-i-Archi, which also border Tajikistan and the Panj River, are considered to be contested or controlled by the Taliban. The IJU is an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which joined the Islamic State this past summer. The IJU swore allegiance to the Taliban’s new emir, and has been active in the Taliban’s “Azm” spring offensive.

Taliban Seize Kunduz as U.S. Mulls Drawdown Options 

As if the IJU's announcement was not worrying enough, the Taliban have been making significant progress in Kunduz province in the last few days. The provincial capital has been under siege for months and was already on the verge of falling to the Taliban earlier this year. After keeping the insurgents at bay during the summer, government troops eventually lost the fight for Kunduz on September 28, when the Taliban managed to take over the city. One of their first actions was to release 700 prisoners - most of whom were Taliban - from Kunduz city prison. New Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor lost no time in commenting on his first major victory and urged residents to cooperate with the city's new masters. As the world reacted with shock to the news, the Afghan government tried to play down the devastating defeat and vowed to retake the city but that is easier said than done:

Afghan Forces Seek to Regain Kunduz, Major Northern City, From Taliban A day after the Taliban took their first major city in 14 years, a counterattack was underway Tuesday, but ground forces sent from other provinces to recapture the northern city, Kunduz, were delayed by ambushes and roadside bombs, officials said. American forces carried out an airstrike outside the city Tuesday morning, said Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for the United States forces in Afghanistan. He did not specify the target, but said the strike was carried out to eliminate a threat to coalition and Afghan forces. Ghulam Rabbani, a member of the Kunduz provincial council, said ground forces from Kabul and the northern province of Balkh had been repeatedly ambushed by the Taliban on their way to Kunduz. Some of the reinforcements were waiting in nearby Baghlan to meet with the forces from Kabul, said Col. Abdul Qahar, an Afghan Army spokesman in the north.

In addition to offensives in Kunduz and Helmand province, Taliban fighters have also been consolidating their grip on areas in eastern Afghanistan, where they just overran a U.S.-built military outpost on the Pakistani border. As discussed last week, warlord-turned-vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum succeeded in driving back the insurgents in Faryab province but his victory was short-lived. All in all, the security situation in Afghanistan is alarming, to the say least. To make matters worse, the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State recently launched its first attack on Afghan security forces. Up until then, ISIS had largely focused on fighting the Taliban. The rise of ISIS in Afghanistan has not gone unnoticed and even the U.S. is now acknowledging the threat after initially playing down the issue. In light of the Taliban's largest victory in years and the rise of ISIS, the timing of General John Campbell's testimony before Congress about the U.S. "withdrawal" could hardly be any better:

U.S., Allied Military Review New Options for Afghan Pullback U.S. and allied defense officials, increasingly wary of White House plans to scale back the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, are reviewing new drawdown options that include keeping thousands of American troops in the country beyond the end of 2016, American and allied officials said. The top international commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Gen. John Campbell, has sent five different recommendations to the Pentagon and to North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials in Brussels, each with its own risk assessment, officials said. Some officials worry that too large a cut could cause the Afghan government to come under increased pressure from the Taliban and other militants, officials said. Others believe a smaller force of several thousand Americans still could be effective at backing the Afghan government.

The options range from keeping the current U.S. presence of about 10,000 toops in Afghanistan beyond 2016 to continuing with the planned drawdown to a force of several hundred troops by the end of 2016. Taliban leader Mansoor has already announced his preferred option, the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan. Washington is probably not going to consider this option and the continued presence of thousands of U.S. contractors is a non-negotiable matter, anyway. The only ones leaving Afghanistan currently in record numbers are Afghans, much to the dismay of the Afghan government. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that he wants to tackle the problem by introducing a "combination of security and economic measures." He didn't specify which sort of measures he was alluding to but Kabul's social media campaign is definitely not going to stem the tide:

Afghanistan Tries To Stem Tide Of Migration 'Brain Drain' "Don't go. Stay with me. There might be no return!" That's the message Kabul is sending to Afghans thinking of abandoning their home country for a new life in the West. The Refugees and Repatriations Ministry has launched a slick social-media campaign to get its message out, and doesn't pull any punches in its effort to dissuade Afghans from making the jump to Europe. Graphics being circulated on Facebook and Twitter show that the ministry is using a healthy dose of stark images and guilt to urge Afghans to fulfill their patriotic duty and stay on to help rebuild their war-torn nation.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

The New Great Game Round-Up: September 22, 2015

Tajikistan Exploits General's Rebellion to Crush IRPT Once & for All, Kadyrov Takes Unique Approach in Dealing with ISIS Recruitment & More

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

At the beginning of last week, the leaders of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan gathered in the Tajik capital Dushanbe for a summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The summit came at an inconvenient time for host Emomali Rahmon, who was struggling to quell a small rebellion led by former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda. Rahmon had sacked Nazarzoda immediately after identifying him as the mastermind of the attacks that rocked the country on September 4. The renegade general subsequently fled with his supporters toward Romit Gorge, about 45 kilometers east of Dushanbe, and kept the Tajik authorities on their toes for several days. Nazarzoda's rebellion overshadowed Tajikistan's 24th independence anniversary as well as the CSTO summit and left dozens of people dead until the general was eventually eliminated on September 16:

Tajik Mutineer And Special Forces Commander Killed In Battle Tajikistan's authorities say they have killed the fugitive general who mutinied two weeks ago. In the fight, however, the commander of the most elite special forces unit in the country, the Alfas, was killed as well. The former general, Abduhalim Nazarzoda, was killed on September 16 at 14:00 local time after a day-and-a-half-long battle in the Romit Gorge at an altitude of 3,700 meters above sea level, Tajikistan's Interior Ministry and State Committee on National Security said in a joint statement. During the fighting, the chief of the Alfas, Colonel Rustam Khamakiyev, and three other officers of the Alfas and OMON (a special forces unit of the Interior Ministry) were killed, the statement added.

Tajikistan Exploits General's Rebellion to Crush IRPT Once and for All 

The motive for Nazarzoda's mutiny remains unclear and there are many different theories about what caused the violence, ranging from a coup attempt to the always popular Islamist angle. However, the most likely explanation seems to be that the former Deputy Defense Minister went rogue after being warned about an impending prosecution against him. Nazarzoda was a field commander of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) during the Tajikistani civil war and joined the Defense Ministry in 1997 after the government signed a power-sharing deal with the UTO. Despite the power-sharing deal, the Tajik regime has tried to neutralize a number of former UTO commanders over the years. The crackdown on political opponents is now again picking up pace. At the end of last month, the Tajik Justice Ministry banned Central Asia's only officially registered Islamic party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), and Nazarzoda's rebellion offers a perfect opportunity to crush the IRPT once and for all:

Tajikistan Pins Recent Violence on Islamic Party Slowly, over months and years, the government of Tajikistan has been eroding the peace accord that ended the civil war. On September 4, a pair of attacks in and near Dushanbe set off a chain of accusations that have seemingly ended with the final closure of the country’s most prominent opposition party*. If the state is to be believed, a constellation of bogeymen connived to overthrow the government right under the defense ministry’s nose. The Tajik Prosecutor-General’s office released an official statement today linking the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), its exiled leader Muhiddin Kabiri, and (until the day of the attacks) Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda. The statement says that Nazarzoda, on behalf of Kabiri and the IRPT, established 20 “small criminal groups” in recent years. The two attacks in early September–in Vahdat and Dushanbe–were preceded by an influx of “so-called charitable funds of foreign countries.”

Nazarzoda in the past had links to the IRPT when both were part of the United Tajik Opposition fighting against the government but even then his connections to the party were tenuous at best. Dushanbe's claims that Nazarzoda was a member of the IRPT don't hold water. Nevertheless, the government lost no time in blaming the Islamic Renaissance Party for the outbreak of violence. IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri rejected the accusations and argued that Nazarzoda's motives rather lie in the government's "erroneous" policies. Kabiri has been living in self-imposed exile since March because he had seen it coming. While the manhunt for Nazarzoda was still underway, the Tajik authorities launched an all-out attack on the IRPT. Police seized the party's property and began arresting the remaining IRPT leaders in Tajikistan. As for Muhiddin Kabiri, he hasn't been forgotten by the Tajik regime as well:

Tajikistan reportedly turns to Interpol over IRP leader The Interior Ministry of Tajikistan is reportedly preparing documents to turn to Interpol over the Islamic Revival Party (IRP) leader Muhiddin Kabiri. An official source at the Interior Ministry says the documents for detention and extradition of Kabiri will be sent to the country where he is probably living now. “Criminal proceedings have not yet been instituted against Muhiddin Kabiri, but the Prosecutor-general’s Office is going to institute criminal proceedings against him one of these days,” the source added.

The latest crackdown may very spell the end of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan. Warnings that the party's closure will cause its members to go underground and join extremist groups have apparently fallen on deaf ears in Dushanbe. In the eyes of Tajik President Rahmon, most opponents are terrorists anyway. That is also a popular view among Rahmon's CSTO colleagues. As usual, threats of terrorism and extremism were high on the agenda during the CSTO summit in Tajikistan and the deteriorating situation in northern Afghanistan was of course discussed as well. Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev raised a few eyebrows when he went as far as to link Tajikistan's border worries with the Nazarzoda rebellion. However, the most noteworthy statement regarding the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border came from a Kommersant source close to the CSTO Secretariat:

Russia may deploy soldiers on Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan: CSTO The Russian forces may return on Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan amid fears the deteriorating security situation may affect the security of Central Asian countries, it has been reported. A source close to the Secretary General of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) has said the return of Russian forces on Afghanistan-Tajikistan border is not unlikely. According to the Russian newspaper – kommersant, the Russian forces may return once they receive a request from the government of Tajikistan.

Dostum Urged to Fight ISIS after Short-Lived Success in Faryab

Up until now, Dushanbe has only requested technical assistance from the CSTO and another source pointed out that the current situation does not require the continued presence of Russian forces or CSTO contingents on the Tajik-Afghan border. In the meantime, Russia is encouraging the Afghan government to deal with this problem on its own by offering more military hardware in exchange for Afghanistan's provision of security along the Tajik border. It is doubtful that this will be enough to secure the border considering the bad shape of the Afghan security forces despite years of training by the United States and its allies. Moscow is not impressed with the results of NATO's mission in Afghanistan as President Putin emphasized once again during the CSTO summit. In addition to the escalating violence, the Kremlin is worried about the rising opium production. Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, raised this issue recently at the UN Security Council:

ISIL Gains Control Of Several Drug Trafficking Routes From Afghanistan The Islamic State (ISIL) extremist group has taken control of a number of drug trafficking routes from Afghanistan, Russian envoy to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said Thursday. The envoy urged the UN Security Council to closely monitor and respond quickly to developments in the drug situation in Afghanistan, as international terrorist groups use drug trafficking to fund their activities. "There is information that a group of militants from ISIS [IS] already control a part of the routes of illegal drug supply from the Badakhshan Province [in northeastern Afghanistan]," Churkin said.

Taliban fighters are constantly causing trouble in Badakhshan but Churkin's assertion that ISIS controls a part of the drug supply routes from the province comes as a surprise. It is not the first time that Russian officials have highlighted the connection between ISIS and the Afghan drug trade. Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, claimed last year that ISIS "obtains fabulous profits by providing half of the total heroin supply to Europe via destabilized Iraq and some African countries." After suffering a few setbacks in Afghanistan, ISIS has gained a foothold in the war-torn country and is now vying with the Taliban for influence. As the fighting between the two groups escalates, some people are pinning their hopes on First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum to destroy ISIS' stronghold in Nangarhar province and repeat the success of his Faryab campaign. They seem to have missed that Dostum's success in Faryab didn't last very long:

Troops Battle Insurgents in Faryab After Short-Lived Clearance Despite weeks of military clearing operations in Faryab, to rid the area of insurgents, the militants immediately returned to their old battle field following Vice President Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum's return to Kabul. In August, Dostum donned his military uniform and joined troops on the Faryab frontline. After only a few weeks they cleared the area. However, peace was short-lived and insurgents have once again overrun the area.

Two months ago, Dostum and the powerful governor of Balkh province, Atta Mohammad Noor agreed to join forces with government troops in order to subdue the insurgents in northern Afghanistan. Noor has recently followed Dostum's example in leading military operations in the north but as Dostum's short-lived success in Faryab shows, defeating the insurgency won't be easy. While the government is stepping up its efforts, the Taliban are trying to settle differences that emerged after the confirmation of Mullah Omar's death. Mullah Omar's family and several other leading Taliban figures didn't approve of new supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Instead they preferred Mullah Omar's son Yaqoob. After weeks of infighting and intense negotiations, Yaqoob and his family eventually agreed to a power-sharing deal and pledged allegiance to Mansoor, much to the dismay of the remaining Mansoor critics:

Afghan Taliban divided as talks between two factions fail The Afghan Taliban may split into two factions, said a spokesman for one group on Saturday, because they cannot agree who should be leader following the death of their founder.  

On Saturday, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, a spokesman for the anti-Mansour faction, said talks between Mansour and the dissatisfied commanders had failed. Niazi's comments come after Omar's son Yaqoob and brother Manan swore allegiance to Mansour this week. Omar's family had initially opposed Mansour but agreed to support him after he agreed to a list of their demands. Niazi said Mansour had threatened to cut Taliban funds that Manan had been receiving if he did not support Mansour's leadership.

Kadyrov Takes Unique Approach in Dealing with ISIS Recruitment

A split of the Taliban into two factions would complicate the messy situation in Afghanistan even further and drive more Taliban fighters into the arms of ISIS. The much-hyped terrorist group has managed to establish new branches in several countries by wooing jihadists away from other groups. The Islamic State's "Wilayat Qawqaz" in the North Caucasus is a prime example of this highly successful franchise model. ISIS' Caucasus branch made headlines at the beginning of this month when it claimed responsibility for its first official attack in Russia, which allegedly targeted barracks of the Russian army in southern Dagestan. Unfortunately, security forces and local residents were quick to deny that an attack took place and pointed out that the supposed target doesn't even exist. To make matters worse for "Wilayat Qawqaz," ISIS recruiters in Chechnya are facing unexpected problems:

Chechen Leader Takes Unique Approach in Dissuading Youths From Joining ISIL Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov has taken a blunt approach to flushing out pro-ISIL extremist sentiment in his republic, holding direct face-to-face talks with youths suspected of supporting the terror group, Chechen television channel Grozny has reported. At the event, conducted earlier this week, Kadyrov faced down several young men, who he shamed for voicing their sympathies for the terror group on social media. The talk was attended by local Imams, the heads of municipalities, and the youths' parents; it was then broadcast on Chechen television. Speaking at the event, parents noted that they had tried to raise their children to become pillars of support for their families, devout Muslims and worthy members of their communities and their country. They emphasized that they did not need sons "who betrayed family, relatives, friends, Islam and the Chechen people."

Kadyrov made it quite clear to the humiliated ISIS supporters that "there's no place in Chechnya for anyone who even glances in the direction of ISIS." The Chechen leader is well known for his unorthodox measures and never shies away from causing a scandal. Lately, Kadyrov picked a fight with the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk city court over a ruling that labeled a booklet containing quotes and commentary on verses from the Quran as "extremist." He vowed to appeal the court ruling and branded the responsible judge and prosecutor "national traitors and shaitans [devils]" - a term that is usually reserved for terrorists. Kadyrov also didn't mince his words when he added his two cents to the debate on the alleged participation of Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in the First Chechen War. While it seems highly unlikely that Yatsenyuk fought in the North Caucasus, other Ukrainians definitely supported the "Chechen rebels" and two of them just went on trial in Chechnya:

Russia puts Ukrainians on trial for Chechnya killings Two Ukrainians went on trial in Russia on Tuesday accused of murdering dozens of Russian soldiers in Chechnya in the 1990s while fighting with separatists in a nationalist hit squad. The powerful Investigative Committee said that the supreme court of Chechnya in Grozny began hearing the case of Stanislav Klykh and Mykola Karpyuk, both of whom are charged with murder and belonging to a militant organisation. The men have been held in pre-trial detention for over a year after being arrested separately when they came to Russia last year.

Klykh and Karpyuk are accused of being members of the infamous Ukrainian ultranationalist group Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian People's Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO), which bears all the hallmarks of NATO's 'Gladio' operations. Since its inception in late 1990, UNA-UNSO participated in several conflicts against Russia or Russian-backed forces, ranging from the War in Abkhazia to the First Chechen War. Last year, the group caught again Russian authorities' attention when its members featured prominently in the Euromaidan movement. Chechnya's supreme court will probably use this opportunity to make an example of the two Ukrainian defendants after Ukrainian nationalists repeatedly voiced support for their "Chechen brothers" and even celebrated the terrorist attack in Grozny last December. Although the situation in the North Caucasus has been relatively quiet in recent months, the local authorities have to keep their guard up all the time:

Another Imam Shot Dead In Russia's North Caucasus An imam in Russia's Daghestan region in the North Caucasus has been killed. The Investigative Committee of Russia says two masked men shot dead Magomed Khidirov early in the morning of September 9 while he was on his way to a mosque in Novy Kurush. The killing of Khidirov, 34, came three weeks after another Islamic cleric, Zamirbek Makhmutov, 32, was shot dead in Russia's Stavropol region neighboring Daghestan.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

The New Great Game Round-Up: August 12, 2015

Russian Soldiers Cause a Stir in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan Refuses to Give Up on Pipe Dreams & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

The recent confirmation of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar has aggravated the alarming situation in Afghanistan. New Taliban supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansoor is struggling to stop the factionalism that has been fueled by Omar's death and the Afghan peace talks have been put on hold for the time being. Many of Mansoor's critics oppose the talks with Kabul and favor Mullah Omar's son Yaqoob as Taliban leader. A few days ago, Afghan parliament member Abdul Zahir Qadir created a stir when he claimed that Yaqoob was assassinated in the Pakistani city of Quetta on behalf of Mansoor and Pakistani intelligence agencies. The Taliban immediately denied the claims but Yaqoob's whereabouts are still shrouded in mystery. As more and more leading Taliban figures come out in opposition to Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, senior members of the movement are meeting in Pakistan to resolve the dispute:

Taliban Hold Open Meetings in Pakistan to Discuss Leadership

Senior members of the Taliban are reportedly holding open meetings in Pakistan to discuss the disputed appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour as the group's new chief in the wake Mullah Omar's death. Several top Taliban leaders have expressed strong opposition to Mansour's leadership, calling him a puppet of Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). Sources within the Afghan government told TOLOnews on condition of anonymity on Thursday that scores of Taliban members - including both those who agree and disagree with Mansour's appointment - met with clerics in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan on Wednesday to resolve the dispute over Omar's successor.

Taliban Strain Pak-Afghan Ties with New Wave of Terror

As many as 300 clerics or ulema reportedly met in Pakistan to mediate between the rival groups. Influential Pakistani cleric Sami ul-Haq, the "Father of the Taliban," was chosen by both sides to lead the reconciliation efforts. Haq has endorsed new Taliban leader Mansoor and he tried to convince Mullah Omar's family of doing the same by telling them that people would never forgive them if they "wasted sacrifices of thousands of Afghan Mujahideen by creating divisions within the Taliban movement." Mullah Omar's only surviving brother Abdul Manan Niazi, who is the anti-Mansoor faction's spokesman, said that they are willing to accept any decision taken by the ulema. The religious scholars are expected to announce their decision within the next few days. Predictably, the huge Taliban meetings didn't go unnoticed in neighboring Afghanistan. Many Afghans were furious about the fact that the Taliban were allowed to meet openly in Pakistan while unleashing a new wave of terror in Afghanistan:

Attacks on army, police and U.S. special forces kill 50 in Kabul A wave of attacks on the Afghan army and police and U.S. special forces in Kabul have killed at least 50 people and wounded hundreds, dimming hopes that the Taliban might be weakened by a leadership struggle after their longtime leader's death. The bloodshed began on Friday with a truck bomb that exploded in a heavily populated district of the capital and ended with an hours-long battle at a base used by U.S. special forces. It became the deadliest day in Kabul for years. The Islamist insurgents claimed responsibility for both the police academy attack and the battle at the U.S. special forces base, though not for the truck bomb.

Friday's attacks ended a period of relative calm in Kabul and heralded the start of a terror campaign shaking Afghanistan. One day after the attacks in the Afghan capital, up to 29 people were killed in the northern province of Kunduz when a Taliban suicide bomber targeted members of an irregular anti-Taliban militia and on Monday another Taliban suicide bombing struck Kabul, killing five people and injuring a least 16. Former Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh was quick to point out that new Taliban leader Mansoor is trying to show his critics that he remains committed to fighting the Afghan government. Considering that one of Mansoor's first actions was to distance himself from the peace talks, Saleh may have a point. Furthermore, Saleh emphasized Pakistan's role in enabling such Taliban attacks and this issue has also been highlighted by many other Afghans, including President Ashraf Ghani:

Afghan President Points Finger at Pakistan After Bombings in Kabul Under pressure after a wave of deadly bombings in the Afghan capital, President Ashraf Ghani on Monday accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to mass gatherings of Taliban fighters in its territory, where such attacks are planned. Mr. Ghani’s words, a sharp break from the conciliatory tone he had taken toward Pakistan for much of his first year in office, came just hours after a suicide car-bomb struck a crowded entrance of the international airport in Kabul, leaving at least five people dead and 16 wounded. Attacks in the Afghan capital over the last four days have left nearly 70 people dead and hundreds wounded. After the news of Mullah Omar’s death, Mr. Ghani told his ministers that Pakistan had promised him that no new Amir ul-Momineen, as the Taliban call their leader, would be selected on its soil and that no large gatherings of the Taliban would take place to give him legitimacy. But within days, not only had Mullah Mansour replaced Mullah Omar and been endorsed in large ceremonies in Quetta, but also he had announced that his new deputy would come from the Haqqani network, an aggressive organizer of terrorist attacks that has strong links to the Pakistani military intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence.

A senior Afghan official recently suggested that Sirajuddin Haqqani's was mainly promoted to Mansoor's deputy because of his networks in urban areas. It appears that he already used these networks. The attacks in Kabul bore many of the hallmarks of the Haqqani network, reinforcing Ghani's argument that "war is declared against us from Pakistani territory." Ghani essentially buried the peace process on Monday by saying that he no longer wanted Islamabad to bring the Taliban to the table. Instead he urged the Pakistani authorities to destroy the group's sanctuaries in Pakistan. As usual, the Pakistanis have other ideas. However, the overt influence over the Taliban also entails all kinds of problems. Mansoor's critics are trying to exploit this issue for their own political ends and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) cited the same point as a key reason for pledging allegiance to ISIS. Mullah Omar's death has been a gift from heaven for ISIS in Afghanistan and the group spares neither trouble nor expense to woo more fighters away from the Taliban:

ISIS release horrific execution video, claiming to be filmed in Afghanistan The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group has released a new execution video claiming to be filmed in eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. A group of ten men is shown being blown up after forcing them sit on Improvised Explosive Device (IED) planted beneath them in the ground. They have been accused of apostasy and supporting the Taliban militants in their fight against the ISIS affiliates and being the supporter of ISI.

Turkmenistan Refuses to Give Up on Pipe Dreams  

As ISIS and the Taliban are trying to outdo each other in terms of barbaric crimes, the violence is escalating all over the country. Women and children are dying in record numbers and the Afghan security forces have been suffering casualties at an "unsutainable rate" for quite some time. To make matters worse, Kabul is losing even more fighters due to desertions. That is why local militias are playing an increasingly important role, especially in northern Afghan provinces such as Faryab. Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum is now personally leading the fight in Faryab to take the pressure of the local pro-government forces, which were unable to cope with the Taliban on their own. He would have preferred to bring his own 9,000-strong militia to the frontline but President Ghani didn't allow this for various reasons. Nevertheless, Dostum didn't travel to Faryab without support. He took his two sons along to show his determination. Not only Afghanistan is counting on the Dostum family to win the fight on the Turkmen border. Turkmenistan is already pushing ahead with ambitious plans:

Consortium Leader Picked for Trans-Afghan Pipeline The pipeline intended to forge a new export route through Afghanistan for Turkmenistan’s natural gas riches has made a fresh stride with the naming a consortium leader for construction. Turkmenistan’s state news agency reported on August 6 that state-owned Turkmengaz will be in charge of bringing TAPI — named for the initials of the four countries it crosses — into existence. Backers of the project, which include the United States and the European Union, appear to be unfazed by occasional and loosely sourced reports of unrest along the Turkmen-Afghan border that would stand to disrupt any major construction work. Security issues do not typically feature in official statements on TAPI, which suggests either that anxieties are overblown or that the parties to the project are simply hoping for the best.

French energy giant Total and several other foreign majors initially evinced interest in leading the consortium, but only on condition of getting a stake in the Turkmen gas field that will feed the pipeline. Turkmenistan refused to accept this condition, prompting one company after another to back out of the project. Even as Turkmenistan was coming under increasing pressure to diversify its gas exports, the Turkmen authorities didn't budge an inch. However, they didn't want to give up on the pipeline either. In a last-ditch attempt to implement the project, Ashgabat proposed to put Turkmengaz in charge of constructing the pipeline. The three other TAPI countries were apparently every bit as desperate as Turkmenistan and endorsed the idea despite Turkmengaz's lack of capacity and experience. Although the construction is scheduled to begin in December, TAPI's actual implementation remains highly doubtful and the same is true of Turkmenistan's other pipe dream:

NATO: We'll Help Protect Trans-Caspian Pipeline

NATO could get involved in protecting a potential trans-Caspian gas pipeline, which Russia strongly opposes, an alliance official has said. The idea of building a pipeline across the Caspian Sea to carry natural gas from Turkmenistan's massive reserves to Azerbaijan and then further on to Europe has been on the drawing board for a long time, but has been held back for a number of reasons, not least Russia's strong opposition. But now a NATO official has said that the alliance would play a part in protecting it. In an interview with Azerbaijani news website AzVision, NATO's South Caucasus Liaison Officer William Lahue weighed in on the pipeline and made some surprisingly bold endorsements of it...

Lahue pointed out that the construction of the Trans-Capsian gas pipeline is technically possible and suggested that NATO's "protection" could remove political obstacles. Given that Washington and Brussels are the driving forces behind the Trans-Caspian project, Lahue's bold statement comes as no real surprise. Russia and Iran, the project's opponents, have seen it coming. That is why they convinced the other Caspian states of rejecting a foreign military presence (i.e. NATO) in the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan desperately wants to diversify its gas exports, and even more so after the recent dispute with Gazprom over unpaid deliveries, but Ashgabat will think twice about asking NATO for "protection." Currently, Turkmenistan's only viable pipeline project is the fourth branch line of the Central Asia-China gas pipeline, which could yield at least a small-scale expansion into Kyrgyzstan's energy market:

Kyrgyz, Turkmen leaders discuss energy and transport issues Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan have agreed to move forward in building a railroad and a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China via Kyrgyzstan during Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's official visit to Bishkek on August 5. It is Berdymukhammedov's first official visit to Kyrgyzstan. "The construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China via Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan will be implemented in the very near future," Berdymukhammedov said after his talks with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev.

Russian Soldiers Cause a Stir in Tajikistan

Tajikistan will host the longest section of the new 1,000-kilometer Line D and is already looking forward to getting millions of dollars in transit fees every year. The poor Central Asian country needs the money more than ever after remittances from labor migrants in Russia, which account for almost half of the country's GDP, declined sharply in recent months due to Russia's economic problems. One could argue that Tajikistan is suffering from Western sanctions as much as Russia. But Tajikistan's close ties with Russia are also creating other problems. The never-ending debate about Russian military presence in the country was recently reignited after a group of drunken Russian soldiers in their underwear got into a brawl with local Tajik men who confronted them about their rude behavior. And just as the Tajik government was trying to assure its people that Russian soldiers don't enjoy "judicial impunity," Tajiks were reminded of another controversial incident last year:

Tajik Murder Trial Starts For Russian Soldiers Two Russian soldiers suspected in the killing of a Tajik taxi driver last year have gone on trial in the capital, Dushanbe. Russian army's deputy platoon commander Fyodor Basimov and former military unit commander Ildar Sakhapov were arrested in August last year after taxi driver Rahimjon Teshaboev, 36, was found dead near Dushanbe. An autopsy revealed that Teshaboev, a father of three, was severely beaten before his throat was slashed.

http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/081115_GGR4.pngAccording to the Tajik service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Ildar Sakhapov admitted to killing the taxi driver. The judge said that Basimov had just assisted Sakhapov who had planned the murder. Two correspondents from RFE/RL's Tajik Service attended the trial and filmed a few minutes. The presiding Russian judge had granted them permission to do so but the present Russian officers were apparently not big fans of "anti-Russian U.S. propaganda tool" RFE/RL. As RFE/RL and others like to point out, hosting Russian military bases entails a few problems but that applies to foreign military presence in general. Moreover, the escalating violence in northern Afghanistan has reinforced Dushanbe's decision to let the Russians stay in the country for the foreseeable future. Instead of kicking out Russian soldiers, the Tajik authorities are going after Western-backed schools:

Tajikistan greenlights take over of Gulen-run schools Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has authorized the take over and renaming of a network of schools run by the U.S.-based preacher, Fethullah Gulen, in the country, according to Tajikistan's national news agency NIAT Hovar. In accordance with the decision signed by Rahmon, seven schools run by the Selale Educational Institution are going to be turned into public schools, and renamed as "schools for gifted children", the agency said. The decision to shut down the Gulen-run schools, and reopen them as state-run schools with different names was announced in May.

Gülen's schools in Tajikistan have been under high scrutiny for months, and with good reason. The Tajik regime sees the potential radicalization of the population as a major threat to its rule. This has led to some questionable decisions. The defection of Tajikistan's OMON commander to ISIS served as a warning that Dushanbe's war on Islam does more to fuel radicalization than to stop it but Rahmon & Co. didn't learn their lesson. Although experts are warning that the closure of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) will cause its members to go underground and join extremist groups, the regime is doing its best to destroy the IRPT. In doing so, the Tajik authorities risk boosting the terrorist recruitment that they are trying to stop. Tajikistan recently requested Interpol to put 16 Tajik ISIS fighters on the wanted list and announced that the list could be expanded significantly:

Tajikistan puts 16 people fighting for Islamic State on wanted list through Interpol

Interpol has put on the wanted list 16 Tajik citizens who are accused of involvement with the Islamic State terrorist group at the request of Tajikistan, a spokesman for Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security (SCNS) told TASS on Friday. He noted that "the list of wanted Islamic State supporters could grow to 600 and more people." "More than 600 our fellow countrymen are fighting in the ranks of Islamic State, their names and presumable locations in Syria, Iraq and partially in Afghanistan, are known to the country’s law enforcement agencies. Criminal cases against them have been opened under the "mercenary activities" article," the spokesman said. "Explanatory work is conducted among relatives of Islamic State supporters, other methods are used, which made it possible to return several young people to their home country."

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

         

The New Great Game Round-Up: June 23, 2015

Latest ISIS Defection Spells the End for Caucasus Emirate, Taliban Gaining Ground in Afghanistan & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Every few days, Afghanistan is making headlines due to the deteriorating security situation in the country, the most recent example being the Taliban attack on the Afghan parliament on Monday. As Afghan lawmakers were trying to confirm a defense minister, a large explosion rocked the parliament building in Kabul. The attack by a suicide bomber was the signal for fellow Taliban fighters, who had taken positions in a nearby building, to open fire. After an intense firefight, security forces managed to kill all six gunmen but the latest Taliban attack, which left two civilians dead and 40 injured, raises again questions over the government's ability to maintain security. Statements by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid suggest that the purpose of the attack was to embarrass the "puppet administration" in Kabul "at a time which they were casting confidence vote for the minister of defense." It is safe to say that the Taliban achieved their goal. The Kabul government is looking increasingly shaky:

Taliban and Afghan Government Dispute Status of Kunduz After Taliban insurgents said Sunday that they were on the verge of taking their first city, Kunduz in the far north of Afghanistan, officials there expressed alarm as residents began to flee the area. But the central government in Kabul said there was no cause for concern. The Afghan government also announced Sunday that it had retaken the administrative center of Yamgan District, in northern Badakhshan Province, from the Taliban. But that only deepened the government’s credibility problem because just a week earlier officials in Kabul had claimed that they had already retaken Yamgan.

For months now, several districts in both Kunduz and Badakhshan Provinces in the north have gone back and forth between government and Taliban control, as the insurgents have intensified their fighting in parts of northern Afghanistan where they traditionally had been weak.

Taliban Gain Ground in Afghanistan, Call For Jihad Under One Flag

While the central government tried to downplay the situation in Kunduz province, local officials confirmed that Taliban and Central Asian fighters are advancing on the provincial capital after capturing Char Dara District. A few hours later, Kabul's statement looked even more absurd when it became clear that the insurgents had seized another district bordering the city of Kunduz. Afghanistan's fifth largest city is on the verge of falling to the Taliban and Mohammad Omar Safi, the governor of Kunduz, doesn't want to take any chances. Kunduz province is already facing a humanitarian crisis and if the Taliban conquer the capital, it won't get any better. The Afghan government is now under increasing pressure to act. One of the few good news coming from northern Afghanistan in recent weeks was Kabul's recapture of Badakhshan's Yamgan District but if the government forces don't manage to repeat this success in Kunduz, Tajikistan's fears of an Afghan spillover might come true:

About 1,500 militants mass in Afghan areas near the border with Tajikistan Commander of Tajik Border Troops Rajabali Rahmonali has warned of about 1,500 militants, including members of the Islamic State (IS) group, concentrating in the Dahsti Archi and Imam Sahib districts of Afghan Kunduz province along the Tajik border.  In a statement released at the 73rd meeting of the Council of Border Troops Commanders of the CIS member nations in Dushanbe, Rahmonali noted on June 18 that that there members of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Ansarullah among the militants concentrating along the Tajik border in northern Afghanistan.  “They are fighting against the Afghan government forces in the immediate vicinity of the border with Tajikistan,” Rahmonali noted. He expressed concern about a tense situation in the Afghan provinces of Takhar, Kunduz and Badakhshan, which directly border Tajikistan.

The possibility of a spillover of violence from Afghanistan was high on the agenda during the CIS meeting in Dushanbe. Sherali Khairulloyev, national security advisor to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, complained that many CIS members states had not lived up to their promise to support Tajikistan in strengthening its border defense and he called on the other border services "to actively cooperate with Tajik border troops in strengthening the CIS southern border." Khairulloyev emphasized that one of the main tasks of the Commonwealth of Independent States is to prevent the region from becoming a center of geopolitical confrontation between the major world powers, pointing out that "if the countries and secret services that have keen interest in the Islamic Caliphate project try and implement it through Afghanistan, the zone of political instability will then protrude to the CIS and China." While the U.S. doesn't seem to be worried about ISIS's expansion into Afghanistan, countries in the region and the Taliban would prefer al-Baghdadi & Co. to stay out of Afghanistan:

Taliban Warns IS Leader To Stay Out Of Afghanistan The Taliban has warned the leader of the Islamic State (IS) group against waging a parallel insurgency in Afghanistan, following several defections and reported clashes with militants loyal to IS. In a June 16 letter addressed to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Taliban insisted that "jihad (holy war) against the Americans and their allies must be conducted under one flag and one leadership." "The Islamic Emirate (Taliban) does not consider the multiplicity of jihadi ranks beneficial either for jihad or for Muslims," said the letter signed by the Taliban deputy leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor.

Mansoor argues that the Taliban movement is the only rightful representative of jihadist activities in Afghanistan, noting that the group has been endorsed by great jihadist leaders such as Osama bin Laden. Moreover, he criticizes the Islamic State's actions in other countries and warns ISIS against dividing jihadists in other Muslim nations into two camps. Considering that al-Baghdadi doesn't respect Taliban leader Mullah Omar and doesn't care much for other terrorist groups, Mansoor's words will probably fall on deaf ears. The Taliban are now waiting for al-Baghdadi's response before they will "chalk out a strategy on how to deal with those who are using the name of the Islamic State to create disunity among the Mujahideen." This spells more trouble. Clashes between the Taliban and ISIS have been escalating in recent weeks, with the eastern province of Nangarhar turning into the epicenter of the conflict. Hundreds of families have already been displaced due to the fighting and recent developments suggest that the two groups won't settle their differences anytime soon:

Islamic State’s Khorasan province beheads former shura member who defected back to the Taliban The Islamic State’s Khorasan province is said to have brutally executed one of its former shura members, purportedly for defecting back to the Taliban last month. The execution, as well as the assassination of the Taliban’s shadow governor for Nangarhar province, likely by the Islamic State, preceded a warning by the Taliban’s deputy emir to the leader of the Islamic State to end discord between the jihadist groups in Afghanistan. The Islamic State released a video purpoting to showing the execution of Sa’ad Emarati, a senior commander as well as a member of the “Khorasan Shura,” the province’s executive council. Emarati’s head was placed on his back after it was removed.

Latest ISIS Defection Spells the End for Caucasus Emirate

Former Taliban fighters will now think twice before defecting back to the Taliban. Al-Baghdadi & Co. have shown time and again that they know how to deal with traitors and nasty rivals. The Taliban will have to be on their guard if they don't want to suffer the same fate as other prominent terrorist groups which have been sidelined by ISIS. One of the latest victims is the Caucasus Emirate (IK), formerly the most powerful terrorist organization in Russia. Ever since Russian security forces eliminated Emirate leader Doku Umarov and then a few months later his successor Aliaskhab Kebekov, the continued existence of the Imarat Kavkaz has been in question. Many Chechen and Daghestani commanders had already retracted their oath of obedience to IK leader Kebekov and defected to ISIS. This trend continued after Kebekov's killing and the latest defection may very well spell the end for the Caucasus Emirate:

ISIS opens a new front on Europe's doorstep: Chechan jihadi group with 'up to 15,000' fighters pledge allegiance to terror horde ISIS has spread its tentacles further around Europe after a major terrorist group which commands 'as many as 15,000' in the Caucuses region of southern Russia pledged its allegiance to it. The leader of the Caucuses Emirate, which has carried out over 900 terrorist attacks on Russian soil since its formation in 2007, personally declared his loyalty to ISIS commander-in-chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. 'We need to hurry up and unite so we can cut off the heads of the infidels,' Aslan Byutukayev says in a new propaganda video allegedly filmed inside the predominantly Muslim republic of Chechnya.

Although the Caucasus Emirate doesn't command 15,000 fighters and is not headed by Aslan Byutukayev, the Daily Mail was right to highlight Byutukayev's bay'ah to wannabe Caliph al-Baghdadi. Byutukayev is the leader of the Caucasus Emirate's Chechen wing and one of the most powerful insurgent commanders in the North Caucasus. As Chechen analyst Mairbek Vatchagaev noted, his defection to ISIS "buried the Caucasus Emirate once and for all." ISIS has accepted the bay'ah and lost no time in claiming a "Wilayat Qawqaz," which includes Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and "Kabika." Russian officials have been hyping the ISIS threat at home and abroad for quite some time, most recently at a meeting of the CIS Anti-Terrorism Center. Now they have finally a good reason to do so, which means that Russia's imams can look forward to more lessons on fighting ISIS recruiters:

Moscow's Muslim Leaders Get Lessons on Fighting ISIL Recruiters More than 300 imams from across Russia are taking part in an educational program to counter the influence of recruiters to militant Islamic organizations such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Russian imams are taking courses to help them counter the influence of recruiters to radical Islam, with classes covering topics such as methods to communicate with young people, aspects of Islamic history, Islamic theology and secular subjects like politics and geography.

"In the course of the program we touch on difficult topics, which cause people to be attracted to radical movements," deputy head of the Moscow Islamic Institute, Rais Izmailov, told the Izvestiya newspaper.

After the recent scandal surrounding a 19-year-old Russian student who tried to join ISIS, Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the government's Investigative Committee, downplayed the issue of ISIS recruitment in Russia, saying that there have been only few cases. Many experts share this assessment and Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolkoltsev emphasized that the law enforcement agencies are in control of the situation. In the end, the rise of ISIS in the North Caucasus comes down to a few defections from the Caucasus Emirate and doesn't pose a real threat but the Russian authorities will nevertheless use this opportunity to clamp down on terrorist recruitment and introduce harsher anti-terrorism measures. One wonders what Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov will say when he hears of ISIS's new "Wilayat Qawqaz." Kadyrov is usually quick to comment on these things but lately he has been busy trying to steer the Nemtsov murder investigation "in the right direction":

Kadyrov: One should look for Nemtsov murder trail in Ukraine and U.S. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov believes that Ukrainian special services could stand behind the murder of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. "In my opinion, one ought to look for the trail of this crime not in Chechnya, but in Ukraine, SBU (Ukrainian Security Service) and subsequently in the U.S.," Kadyrov told Interfax on June 18. When asked whether or not he knows the whereabouts of Ruslan Geremeyev, whom the media call a possible organizer of Nemtsov's murder, Kadyrov said: "I know Ruslan Geremeyev very well. We fought against terrorists together. I know him as a patriot of Russia, and, in my opinion, it is a mistake to accuse him of these actions."

Not Everyone Escapes Georgia's Lax Criminal Prosecution

Kadyrov pretended that he had nothing to do with Geremeyev's escape via Chechnya and tried to pin the Nemtsov assassination on Chechen terrorist Adam Osmayev, who became famous for trying to kill Russian President Putin and is now fighting for the Kiev regime in eastern Ukraine. But in contrast to Kadyrov's close associate Geremeyev, Osmayev is not a prime suspect in the Nemtsov murder. Aside from the fact that he is hardly capable of organizing any assassinaton, Osmayev hailed Nemtsov as a "true hero" for condemning Russia's second war in Chechnya and "Russian aggression" in Ukraine. The new leader of the Dudayev battalion should be prosecuted for a number of crimes but the killing of Boris Nemtsov isn't one of them. If it were not for the coup d'état in Kiev, Osmayev would still be sitting in jail. Fortunately, the "new Ukraine" offers endless opportunities for every criminal who hates Russia:

New head of Odessa Police escapes prosecution in Georgia Georgia does not continue criminal proceedings against Giya Lortkipanidze, who on June 16 was appointed the head of the Odessa Police. This was stated by experts interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot". The Georgian Prosecutor's Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) have no claims against Giya Lortkipanidze, the "United National Movement" (UNM) Party reports.

As previously discussed, former Georgian Deputy Interior Minister Gia Lortkipanidze has joined his old boss Mikheil Saakashvili in Odessa. While Saakashvili is clearly in his element, Lortkipanidze seems to be less convinced of his new job but at least he won't have to worry about prosecution anymore. The two former Georgian officials can now pick up where they left off in Georgia: provoking conflict with Russia. During Saakashvili's rule in Georgia, Lortkipanidze was responsible for coordinating the recruitment and training of Chechen jihadists. The current government claims to have ended these terror operations but the increasing number of Georgian jihadists traveling to Syria has put pressure on Tbilisi. Critics were not impressed with the government's attempt to solve the problem by making a few adjustments to the anti-terrorism legislation and the recent special operation in Georgia's notorious Pankisi Gorge was not much better either:

Cousin of ISIS leader released from detention in Georgia The Georgian police have released four of the five Kistis (Georgian Chechens) who were earlier detained in the Pankisi Gorge (Kakhetia region, Eastern Georgia). According to Georgian media reports, among the released people is Merab Tsatiashvili, a cousin of Tarkhan Batirashvili, one of the leaders of the terrorist organization Islamic State (ISIS). The only person the police did not release is Ayuf Borchashvilia, imam of the village of Jokolo.

Borchashvili denied any involvement in terrorist recruitment in Pankisi. The special operation led to some tensions in the valley region. Borchashvili's family and friends staged a protest against his arrest but some Pankisi residents welcomed the operation, saying that the raid "was long overdue." Moreover, Georgian police also arrested three young men at Tbilisi airport as they tried to leave the country for Syria. The prosecution claims that the three were heading to Syria to join ISIS after they had been recruited by Borchashvili. This all begs the question of why it took the Georgian authorities so long to take some action against terrorist recruitment in the country. Perhaps they didn't want to ruin Georgia's chances of hosting a training camp for "moderate Syrian rebels" or they were just too busy buying weapons from NATO allies in order to demonstrate their commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration:

Georgia Finalizes Controversial Air Defense Deal With France Georgia and France have finalized a blockbuster air defense deal that was the source of a major political crisis in Tbilisi last year, though many of the details of the deal and the crisis remain shrouded in mystery. Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli on June 15 signed an agreement with the company ThalesRaytheonSystems in Paris on the purchase of “advanced” air defense systems that will “guarantee country’s air defense,” Khidasheli said, according to Georgian news website Civil.ge.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

The New Great Game Round-Up: June 16, 2015

Poroshenko-Saakashvili Open Another Front in Ukrainian, Iran Backs Taliban to Counter U.S.-ISIS in Afghanistan

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Ukrainian oligarch-turned-President Petro Poroshenko is not very popular among his people but at least his equally criminal friends continue to support him and that is what really matters. Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was so thrilled about Poroshenko's first year in power that he wrote an op-ed for Newsweek lauding Poroshenko's reform program, better known as the "4-Ds"- de-regulation, de-bureaucratization, de-centralization and de-oligarchization(!). According to Saakashvili, his buddy Poroshenko "has succeeded in nation-building, at a rapid pace." Never mind that most Ukrainians think that Poroshenko and the current regime are to blame for Ukraine's economic problems and that they are not doing enough to stop the war in the country. One wonders what they will say when they realize that Poroshenko and Saakashvili are trying to open another front in this war:

Saakashvili announces plans to reinforce border with Transdniestria Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region Mikhail Saakashvili said on Tuesday he plans to reinforce Ukraine’s border with the unrecognized republic of Transdniestria. "We have two major tasks - to reinforce the border and curb corruption. Drug and weapons trafficking across this border mean nothing good," he told a news conference in Odessa.

Engineering works aiming to block movement of military hardware and contraband started at the Transdniestrian section of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border.

Poroshenko & Saakashvili Open Another Front in Ukrainian Conflict

As discussed two weeks ago, there is some evidence to suggest that the United States and its client regime in Ukraine want to provoke a conflict with Russia by squeezing Transnistria. Saakashvili is clearly not telling the whole story when he talks about reinforcing the border and curbing corruption. Transnistria's Foreign Minister Nina Shtanski recently pointed out that Ukrainian toops are massing at the border, causing panic in the pro-Russian breakaway state. A coalition of Transnistrian activist groups immediately sent an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking him to protect the people in Transnistria and recognize the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic. Moscow's worst fears appear to be coming true. One ominous development cited by the Transnistrian activists was the deployment of S-300 air defense missile systems on the border, which would raise the stakes significantly:

Ukraine to place S-300 antiaircraft missiles on border with Transdniestria

Ukrainian authorities will deploy S-300 antiaircraft missile complexes on the border with Transdniestria - a mostly Slavic-populated breakaway region of Moldova that has existed as an unrecognized Dniester Republic since the early 1990. A report published by Odessa-based Taimer newspaper quoted the Ukrainian Defence Ministry officials as saying the missile complexes will be deployed in the Bolgrad district of the Odessa region. "Officials at the war ministry said the S-300 missiles will ensure defence of the country in the south of the Odessa region on the border with the Dniester Republic," Taimer said.

Reports of Ukraine deploying S-300 systems in the Odessa region have sent shockwaves through Transnistria and Russia. It is seen as "an ultimatum upsetting the possibility of an air bridge" between Russia and the pro-Russian breakaway state in Moldova. Even the guys from Stratfor noticed the significance of this development: "Although the potential cost of interdicting Russian flights would be incredibly high and would essentially constitute a declaration of war against Russia, the deployment of these systems establishes the capability to do so." Only few people in Ukraine are crazy enough to shoot down Russian planes but it is probably worth mentioning that the new governor of Odessa is one of them. To make matters worse, Saakashvili is bringing in his old crew from Georgia. Media reports saying that former Georgian Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili will get a job in Odessa haven't been confirmed so far but former Deputy Interior Minister Gia Lortkipanidze is about to join his old boss:

The dark past of Saakashvili’s appointee in Odessa Gia Lortkipanidze served under President Mikheil Saakashvili when he was in power in Georgia. A Ukrainian media outlet now reports that Lortkipanidze will head the Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s Odessa department, the city where Saakashvili is now the governor. His appointment is controversial, as there are questions asked about his background not only by the public in Georgia, but also by UNM members. For years, he was the deputy of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili (now in jail in Tbilisi), but he never received media attention until the so-called Lapankuri special operation on August 28, 2012. He was one of the leading figures in this operation. After the police operation, relations between him and Saakashvili, and with Data Akhalaia, became strained.

Saakashvili praised Lortkipanidze as "a man of absolute honesty" when he talked about his appointment during a news conference in Odessa. Georgian media seems to have a different take on the former Deputy Interior Minister. As regular readers of the New Great Game Round-Up may recall, the Lapankuri special operation refers to a shootout between Georgian special forces and Chechen militants in the Caucasus gorge of Lopota near the Russian border. An investigation by Georgia's Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili showed that the Saakashvili government "recruited, trained and equipped Chechens living in exile in Europe to join the North Caucasus insurgency." Nanuashvili’s report names Lortkipanidze as having coordinated the recruitment and training. So he is definitely the right man for the job in Odessa. Although the current government maintains that terrorist recruitment and training in Georgia ended with Saakashvili's rule, the country is still exporting a lot of jihadists:

Police in Georgia conduct special operation in Pankisi

Georgian police on Sunday carried out a special operation in Pankisi, a valley in the northeast of the country mostly inhabited by Kists, who are ethnic Chechens. Omar Al-Shishani, or Tarkhan Batirashvili, one of the field commanders of ISIS, was born and raised in Pankisi. He left for Syria a few years ago to join the war. His father and relatives still live in Pankisi. According to the most recent information, the special operation aimed at detaining those who allegedly have helped Georgians go to Syria, also because of suspected ties to ISIS.

Iran Backs Taliban to Counter U.S., ISIS in Afghanistan

It is remarkable that Georgia is now cracking down on terrorist recruitment considering that only a few months ago, the country was making headlines with an alleged offer to host a training center for NATO's "moderate Syrian rebels." The Georgian government would do anything to join the U.S.-led military alliance but more and more people in Georgia are beginning to question their NATO ambitions. Especially the country's huge contribution to the mission in Afghanistan, which has claimed the lives of 30 Georgian soldiers, is a contentious issue. About 880 Georgian soldiers are currently serving in NATO's Operation Resolute Support, meaning that the country is making the second-largest contribution after the United States. New Georgian Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli visited the soldiers in Afghanistan on her first foreign trip late last month to boost the troops' morale but it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell the mission in Afghanistan as a success:

Taliban seize villages in Sar-i-Pul Taliban militants have seized several villages in the Sayad District of northern Sar-i-Pul province. Officials say That Taliban captured these village after a clash with security forces that also left a policeman martyred and a militant killed. A security official said that Taliban launched the attack while security forces were offering Friday prayers.

After Badakhshan, Kunduz, Faryab and Badghis, the northern province of Sar-e Pol is now also in the grip of violence. The fighting in northern Afghanistan is intensifying day by day, the Afghan security forces are a mess and the government in Kabul is nothing but a "show." Not exactly the best conditions for ending the violence. Moreover, the insurgents are also fighting among themselves. Ever since ISIS gained a foothold in the war-torn country, the group has been trying to outstrip the Taliban. Former Guantanamo inmate Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, who is now leading ISIS in Afghanistan, told BBC Persian in an interview that ISIS "found other ways to wage jihad after realizing Taliban are receiving instructions from Pakistani intelligence." Given the fact that neither ISIS's rise in the Middle East nor its rise in Afghanistan would have been possible without the support of foreign intelligence agencies, Dost and his fellow jihadists should probably avoid this topic:

ISIS rise in Afghanistan would threaten Russia and China: Karzai

The former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group in Afghanistan would not be possible without the foreign backing.

“So, if you hear ever in the coming days, or months, or years that Daesh is on the rise in Afghanistan, and is strong and expanding militarily, it will mean that it is a foreign-backed force intending to destabilize the region, particularly Central Asia, China and Russia,” he added. Karzai put the blame for the rapid expansion of IS on “foreign interference” in Iraq and Syria saying that it was all “the result of events” there.

It is not difficult to guess which "foreign interference" Karzai was referring to. After sidelining its competitors in Syria, ISIS is now looking to expand in Afghanistan, much to the dismay of the Taliban. At the end of last month, ISIS's Afghan chapter released a video threatening the Taliban and in particular its camera-shy leader Mullah Omar. ISIS also vowed to take revenge for the fighters who had been killed by the Taliban in Nangarhar province in the middle of May. Shortly after the video was released, the group followed up its words with actions. ISIS captured and then beheaded 10 Taliban members in Nangarhar and used this for another propaganda video. While the U.S. is "taking time" to assess ISIS's expansion in Afghanistan, Iran has apparently seen enough and decided to take action. If anonymous officials and the Wall Street Journal are to be believed, Iran has begun to support the Taliban with cash and weapons in order to counter U.S. influence in the region and stop the rise of ISIS:

Iran Backs Taliban With Cash and Arms

When Abdullah, a Taliban commander in central Afghanistan, needs more rifles and ammunition, he turns to the same people who pay his $580-a-month salary: his Iranian sponsors. “Iran supplies us with whatever we need,” he said. Afghan and Western officials say Tehran has quietly increased its supply of weapons, ammunition and funding to the Taliban, and is now recruiting and training their fighters, posing a new threat to Afghanistan’s fragile security. Iran’s strategy in backing the Taliban is twofold, these officials say: countering U.S. influence in the region and providing a counterweight to Islamic State’s move into the Taliban’s territory in Afghanistan.

New Pipeline Projects Leave "Land Of Fire" Out in the Cold

Betting on the re-emergence of the Taliban is probably not the worst idea but the Israel lobby in the U.S. will certainly use this information to torpedo the Iran nuclear talks, which have "virtually stalled." A diplomatic source told Russian news agency TASS that the June 30 deadline may have to be postponed again. Europe is desperate for Iranian gas but as long as the sanctions remain in place, European countries will have to make do with gas from neighboring Azerbaijan. This has led some people in Baku to believe that Azerbaijan has major leverage over Europe and can pressure European leaders into endorsing the European Games in Baku. The absence of European leaders at the lavish opening ceremony of the Games didn't go down well in the energy-rich country and Trend News Agency's Aynur Gasimova lost no time in warning the Europeans that they might regret this:

Europe, it is time to stop playing with the Land of Fire. You can get burned Azerbaijan is known worldwide as the Land of Fire, and today Europe is playing with that fire. The result of playing with fire is for Europe itself to decide. But all the recent actions taken by the European countries’ leaders suggest that they aren’t complying with the “don’t play with fire!” rule. The entire world’s attention was focused on the opening of the European Games in Baku. But at the same time, this same place witnessed another important event. The heads of states, which today decide the fate of Europe’s security, gathered in Baku, however, Europe itself, because of its own stupidity, was not represented.

As Gasimova points out, the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Turkmenistan used the opportunity to discuss major energy projects in Baku but the notion that Europen leaders missed out on important deals and are "sacrificing their citizens' energy security" is absurd. Most energy projects discussed in Baku are spearheaded by Brussels and are aimed at bringing gas from the Caspain Sea to Europe, bypassing Russia, except for Russia's Turkish Stream pipeline. After Russian President Putin let his Turkish counterpart Erdogan wait for a couple of minutes, as usual, the two leaders held "constructive" talks on the Turkish Stream project behind closed doors in Baku. Gazprom has sent the coordinates of the onshore section of the pipeline to Turkey and is doing its best to start the construction as soon as possible. Turkish Stream's progress has not gone unnoticed in Austria, where OMV is now looking for a new project after recovering from the loss of Nabucco and South Stream:

Die Presse: OMV May Be Planning 'Russian Nabucco' Gas Pipeline The future head of Austria’s OMV Rainer Seele appears to be planning a new route for Russian gas to Europe bypassing Ukraine jointly with Gazprom, according to Austrian newspaper Die Presse. According to the Austrian newspaper, the new route appears to resurrecting the closed gas pipeline project Nabucco – with one major difference: instead of carrying Caspian gas to Europe it will transport Russian and possibly Iranian natural gas via Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to Austria.

The original Nabucco pipeline project, officially buried in 2013, was designed to bring Caspian gas via Turkey and the Balkans to a central European hub in Baumgarten near Vienna in order to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. Two years later there are signs that OMV is considering a 'Russian Nabucco pipeline', according to Die Presse.

Some people in Washington and Brussels will probably fall off their chairs when they hear of OMV's plans. The pipeline which was supposed to bypass Russia and Iran could celebrate an unlikely comeback by bringing Russian and Iranian gas to Europe. Reinhard Mitschek, the former managing director of the Nabucco consortium, will promote the new project. Mitschek had already tried to win Russia and Iran as suppliers for the old Nabucco project despite strong opposition from the United States. So he knows what he is getting himself into. Although Washington and Brussels spared no effort to build Nabucco, they had to settle for the smaller and less expensive Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which will eventually bring gas from Azerbaijan to customers in the EU. One wonders what the "Land of Fire" thinks of OMV's new Nabucco plans considering that Azerbaijan hasn't been mentioned as a gas supplier but the Aliyev regime is apparently too busy "promoting" the European Games:

Azeri government behind foreign media ban, say European Games officials A decision to ban some foreign media from attending the inaugural European Games in Azerbaijan this month rested with the government and was not taken by the event’s organisers, officials said on Saturday. Journalists, including the Guardian’s chief sports correspondent Owen Gibson, have been refused entry visas but organisers of the event in Baku said it was the government who was clearing individuals to enter the country based on their own set of criteria. Apart from media, several representatives from international human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also been blocked from entering the country, ruled by the Aliyev family since 1993.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

                                                       

The New Great Game Round-Up: April 28, 2015

Putin Sheds Light On U.S. Terror Operations in the N. Caucasus, All-Weather Friends China-Pakistan Elevate Relations to New Level & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov has been making headlines on a daily basis in recent weeks, in large part due to the assassination of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov and the ensuing turf war between Kadyrov and elements in Russia's security apparatus. The investigation into the Nemtsov murder has turned the spotlight on Kadyrov's near limitless powers in Chechnya. This has long been a thorn in the side of some people in Moscow. Chechnya lives by different rules from the rest of Russia and investigators realized this lately when they tried to get access to suspect Ruslan Geremeev and his father, Federation Council member Sulieman Geremeev. But some people apparently didn't get the memo. On April 19, a suspected criminal was killed in Grozny during a special operation, which was carried out by members of the Stavropol police and Chechnya-based forces under the command of the federal government. Nobody deemed it necessary to inform the Chechen authorities of the operation and this didn't go down well with Kadyrov:

‘Shoot to kill’: Chechen leader’s row with Interior Ministry heats up Tensions continue to rise between the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and the Russian Interior Ministry. It follows the killing of a Chechen native by police from another Russian region during arrest. Grozny has accused the ministry of distorting facts. Kadyrov was outraged upon learning of the operation, as he said it was performed without the Chechen authorities being notified. “I officially state that if [armed people] turn up on your territory without you knowing about this – be they Muscovites or Stavropol natives – shoot to kill. We should be reckoned with,” Kadyrov said during a meeting with Chechen security officials.

Putin Sheds Light On U.S. Terror Operations in the North Caucasus

Russia's Interior Ministry responded by saying that Kadyrov's words are "inadmissible." Although the head of the Chechen Republic continues to insist that there is no conflict between him and federal law enforcers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the tensions. After the Chechen Interior Ministry launched an investigation into the "abuse of power" by Stavropol police, Federal Investigative Committee Chairman Aleksandr Bastrykin intervened and took over the investigation, which prompted Kadyrov to demand an explanation from Bastrykin. The antics of the Chechen leader are causing Russian officials quite a headache and rumor has it that Kadyrov has now been offered to take a job in the federal government. That way the Kremlin could limit Kadyrov's influence without causing too much trouble in Chechnya. And trouble in Chechnya is always a good thing to avoid, especially when the U.S. deep state plans to start another Chechen war. It is an open secret that the United States and NATO are pulling the strings behind the insurgency in Russia's North Caucasus but it is rarely mentioned in the media by Russian officials, which makes Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent interview all the more interesting:

Putin accuses US of supporting separatists in Russia In a new documentary, Russian President Vladimir Putin says intercepted calls showed that the U.S. helped separatists in Russia's North Caucasus in the 2000s, underscoring his suspicions of the West. The documentary showed Putin interviewed at the Kremlin in the dimly-lit St. Alexander's Hall. In excerpts released shortly before the film's broadcast, Putin said Russian intelligence agencies had intercepted calls between the separatists and U.S. intelligence based in Azerbaijan during the early 2000s, proving that Washington was helping the insurgents. Putin said he raised the issue with then-U.S. President George W. Bush, who promised Putin to "kick the ass" of the intelligence officers in question. But in the end, Putin said the Russian intelligence agency FSB received a letter from their "American counterparts" who asserted their right to "support all opposition forces in Russia," including the Islamic separatists in the Caucasus.

Azerbaijan has long played a key role in U.S.-NATO terror operations in the region. In this regard, the U.S. embassy in Baku hosted quite noteworthy meetings between 1997 and 2001, where U.S. military and intelligence officials met with the likes of al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and terrorism financier Yasin al-Qadi. Close U.S. ally Azerbaijan and NATO member Turkey served as main conduits for the 'Gladio B' operations and there is some evidence to suggest that things haven't changed much over the years. Last Friday, Turkish "charity" IMKANDER held a rally in Istanbul to mourn the loss of Caucasus Emirate leader Aliaskhab Kebekov, aka Ali Abu Muhammad al Dagestani, who was killed by Russian security forces in Dagestan a few days earlier. Kebekov's predecessor Doku Umarov had been honored with a similar rally last year. When IMKANDER is not organizing rallies for slain terrorists, the organization is attracting negative attention for recruiting "Syrian rebels":

'People In Pankisi Know Who's Recruiting Their Kids To IS' While the answers to these questions remain unknown, it is worth noting one important connection between Pankisi Kists fighting in Syria and a foreign group. Seyfullakh al-Shishani (Ruslan Machaliashvili) who pledged allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra before his death in February 2014, had close ties to a Turkish NGO named Imkander, which helps refugees from the North Caucasus living in Turkey. Machaliashvili had become involved with Imkander when he lived in Istanbul before going to fight in Syria. Imkander, which is reportedly also involved with helping provide medical treatment for Chechens fighting in Syria, openly praised Machaliashvili in a funeral in absentia it held for him in Istanbul in February 2014.

As discussed last week, the terrorist recruitment in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge seems to getting out of hand, which has caused a storm of protest from parents and locals. Given IMKANDER's history, it comes as no real surprise that the Turkish "charity" is not only providing food to Pankisi residents but also recruiting new fighters for NATO's war in Syria. Russia has tried to put IMKANDER on the Al-Qaida Sanctions List, to no avail. The U.S. and Azerbaijan opposed sanctions against IMKANDER and the UK, France and Luxembourg blocked the Russian request in the UN Security Council. That explains perhaps Putin's suspicions of the West. After the U.S. and its allies recently refused to add ISIS to the Al-Qaida Sanctions List as a separate group, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out that both ISIS and al-Qaeda have emerged as a result of Washington's actions, which is a diplomatic way of saying what Putin hinted at in his interview. Lavrov said that he sees ISIS as Russia's main enemy now and there is certainly some truth to this:

Umar Shishani’s Right-Hand Man Calls On North Caucasian Jihadis To Join IS In Dagestan & Chechnya In a recent video address, Abu Jihad, a close confidante of Islamic State’s commander in Syria Umar Shishani, has called on jihadis in the North Caucasus to join those local groups who have pledged allegiance to IS Emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and not the Caucasus Emirate (CE). Abu Jihad is the nom de guerre of Islam Seit-Umarovich Atabiyev, an ethnic Karachay from the North Caucasian republic of Karachay-Cherkessia. While Abu Jihad does not appear to have taken part in any military action on behalf of IS, in 2013 and 2014 he was frequently seen alongside Umar Shishani and has since become a prominent ideologue within IS’s North Caucasian contingent. More recently, he has begun reaching out to jihadis in Syria and the Russian Federation via regular Russian-language audio lectures on the Zello platform.

Taliban Trying to Match ISIS Brutality as Both Groups Clash

With the continued existence of the Caucasus Emirate in question, ISIS could become Russia's main enemy in the North Caucasus. The much-hyped terrorist group is expanding into several countries. Lately, ISIS's expansion into Afghanistan has been the main topic of conversation in the region. Russian and Central Asian officials lose no opportunity to hype the threat and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani even went as far as telling his friends in Washington during a recent visit that ISIS poses a "terrible threat" to Western and Central Asia. That is of course absurd but it is hard to deny that more and more jihadists in Afghanistan pledge allegiance to ISIS, much to the dismay of the Taliban. When a suicide blast rocked Afghanistan's eastern city of Jalalabad last week, killing at least 35 people and injuring more than 100, suspicions quickly focused on ISIS but Afghan and NATO officials expressed doubts about ISIS's responsibility for the bombing and the group denied any involvement:

ISIS Now Says It Didn’t Bomb Afghanistan ISIS loyalists may have claimed credit for Saturday bombing that killed at least 35 people in eastern Afghanistan. But U.S. officials now believe that Taliban fighters—not the Middle East-based extremist group—carried out the strike. Had ISIS been responsible, it would have been among the deadliest attacks by the group outside the Middle East. What’s more, a spokesman for ISIS in Afghanistan denied that his group was responsible for the attack, which sparked outrage among Afghans. “ISIS was not behind the deadly blast in Jalalabad, and we condemn such an attack,” Sheikh Muslim Dost told The Daily Beast. “This is an act of the Pakistani agencies to damage reputation of the ISIS.”

If the "Pakistani agencies" would go to the trouble of staging a massive suicide bombing in order to damage the reputation of ISIS, is doubtful to say the least. The statement of Sheikh Muslim Dost should be taken with a grain of salt but it is possible that the Taliban were behind the attack. There are some indications that they are trying to match the brutality of ISIS. A recent wave of kidnappings and subsequent beheadings of members of Afghanistan's Hazara ethnic group was also first blamed on ISIS but turned out to be the work of the Taliban. Shahgul Rezaye, a Hazara member of Parliament, explained it as follows: "They’re trying to show they are as bad as ISIS." As previously mentioned, publishing a biography of Mullah Omar won't be enough to stop jihadists in Afghanistan from abandoning the Taliban in favor of ISIS. The rivalry between the two groups has now reached a new peak:

ISIS, Taliban announced Jihad against each other Mashaal Radio has published a report stating that Daesh and Taliban group have announced Jihad against each other. Nabi Jan Mullahkhil, police chief of southern Helmand province has told Mashaal Radio during an interview that he has received documents in which both the terrorist groups have announced Jihad against each other. Mashaal Radio which is related to Azadi Radio quotes Mullahkhil as saying when the matter of peace talks between government and Taliban comes into discussion some intelligence agencies make new groups to keep the war ongoing in Afghanistan.

It appears that the war in Afghanistan won't end anytime soon. Washington's decision to slow the "withdrawal" has undermined the Afghan peace talks before they got started and due to the rise of ISIS, the Taliban are now even less inclined to make compromises. On April 24, the group launched its annual spring offensive "under the inspirational name of 'Azm' (determination)." While Ghani is still pretending that the NATO-trained Afghan security forces are able to defend the country, Afghanistan's elite is already fleeing to Europe amid increasing violence. Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors are keeping a wary eye on the situation. The Taliban are doing what they want on the Turkmen-Afghan border and northern Afghan provinces bordering Tajikistan have also seen heavy fighting in recent weeks. A few days ago, Ghani and Interior Minister Ulumi visited Badakhshan province to check the security situation after the Taliban had launched a major attack in Badakhshan:

Taliban admit to beheading Afghan soliders ‘in revenge’ The Taliban admitted that its fighters beheaded seven Afghan soldiers during clashes last week in the northeastern province of Badakhshan. The Taliban acknowledged that the beheadings are “contradictory to rules of engagement,” but then justified the gruesome acts as revenge for Afghan soldiers mutilating Taliban fighters. In a statement released today on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official media outlet, the jihadist group said it “launched its usual investigation” of the reports of the beheadings “as part of its Islamic and humanitarian responsibility.” The Taliban killed, captured, or wounded 33 troops after more than 250 Taliban fighters assaulted the district of Jurm in Badakhshan last week, according to news reports. Afghan forces claimed that 20 Taliban fighters were killed in the fighting.

All-Weather Friends China & Pakistan Elevate Relations to New Level

Since Badakhshan borders not only Tajikistan but also China and Pakistan, Beijing and Islamabad are also going to keep a close eye on the situation. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Pakistan last week to unveil energy and infrastructure investments totaling $46 billion in an effort to expedite the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The economic corridor aims to connect Pakistan's Chinese-managed Gwadar port to China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which is now the core of China's growth and security concerns. It is a risky project because it depends on stability in Xinjiang and Balochistan, two regions struggling with foreign-backed separatist movements. A spillover of violence from Badakhshan is the last thing that Beijing and Islamabad want to see. In exchange for putting up the money, the Chinese authorities expect their Pakistani counterparts to maintain stability in the country and provide security for Chinese workers:

Pakistan to Create Security Force to Protect Chinese Workers Pakistan’s military will assemble a 12,000-strong special security force to protect the Chinese workers and engineers expected to flood into Pakistan as part of a flagship $46-billion infrastructure program, Pakistani officials said. 

The size of the new security force reflects the ambitious scale of the Chinese construction plan, which would see work begin on dozens of projects starting this year. It also addresses Beijing’s long-running concerns with the safety of its workers abroad, particularly in conflict zones. Pakistan plans to devote nine army battalions and six wings of the civilian security forces to the new security unit, said Pakistan’s military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asif Bajwa, in a statement late Tuesday.

Beijing has learned from negative experiences in Afghanistan and doesn't want to take any risks as the "all-weather friends" China and Pakistan proceed with the implementation of the mega project. Chinese media hailed Xi's visit to Pakistan, saying that both countries "upgraded their relations to all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation, eyeing perpetual friendship from generation to generation." This is not necessarily an exaggeration. China has just been granted operation rights for 40 years at Gwadar, which is expected to be fully operational by the end of this year, and the CPEC cements ties between the two neighbors even further. Pakistani planning minister Ahsan Iqbal described the project as a "game-changer for Pakistan" but it is actually a game-changer for the whole region. After Beijing recently offered Islamabad its help in constructing the Pakistani side of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, Iran lost no time in expressing its willingness to supply gas to China:

Iran backs pipeline to China under 'One Belt, One Road' initiative: ambassador Iran is seeking to extend its energy delivery network to China under Beijing's massive "One Belt, One Road" push to boost regional connectivity, Tehran's envoy has said. Ali Asghar Khaji, Iran's ambassador to China, said Iran would expand its railways, roads, ports, telecoms sector and energy security under a five-year development plan. "Setting up an extended network of energy pipelines would help regional security and development," he told the South China Morning Post. Iran says it has already built a natural gas pipeline to its border with Pakistan, which previously balked at constructing a link on its side amid threats of sanctions from Washington. But Islamabad was now seeking Chinese funding to build its portion, The Wall Street Journal reported this month. The deal comes amid a push to build an economic corridor between Pakistan's port city of Gwadar and western China's Xinjiang region.

As China redraws Eurasia's geopoliticial map, the U.S. sees its hopes dashed. Washington has long tried to sabotage the construction of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. Strong U.S. pressure forced India to withdraw from the pipeline in 2009 and Pakistan was later also bullied into abandoning the project. Thanks to Beijing's efforts, the completion of the Peace Pipeline is now within reach and even an expansion to China seems possible. Depending on how the situation in Xinjiang and Balochistan develops, these efforts might pay off. After Xi Jinping visited Islamabad to inaugurate the CPEC, it didn't take long before Baloch nationalists dismissed the project as an attempt to "colonize" Balochistan and demanded a share of the financial benefits for the province. So it remains to be seen whether China and its allies will be able to implement the mega projects or whether Baloch "rebels" will thwart Beijing's plans:

Security Fears for China-Pakistan Corridor Ethnic Baloch rebels, who oppose Gawadar’s development while the province is not independent, have in the past blown up numerous gas pipelines and trains and attacked Chinese engineers. Earlier this month the Balochistan Liberation Front claimed an attack in the province that left 20 construction workers from elsewhere in Pakistan dead, the bloodiest separatist incident since 2006. 

Siddiq Baloch, editor of the Balochistan Express newspaper, said the rebels want to scare off investors and developers who are working with the Pakistani government—such as the Chinese. “There is the thinking that by doing this, they want to disrupt the working of the economy, disrupt the administration, challenge the administration in the area,” he said.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

                                                       

The New Great Game Round-Up: January 26, 2015

Kadyrov's Nemesis Vanishes as ISIS Looks for Russian Spies, China Cracks Down on Illegal Border Crossings by Uyghurs & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Western media coverage after the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the "unrivalled parade of political hypocrisy," known as the Paris unity march, revealed once again Western double standards on freedom of speech and the fight against terrorism. Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, who has extensive experience in dealing with Western-backed terrorists, was one of the first people to point this out. As usual, Kadyrov took to Instagram to blast Europe over double standards on terrorism, asking why the world leaders "have never led marches of protest against the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans, Syrians, Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis, and Iraqis" and why they remained silent "when in December last year terrorists captured the House of Press and a school in Grozny, killing and injuring over 50 people." The Charlie Hebdo cartoons did not go down well in Chechnya either and the publication of more cartoon images of Prophet Muhammad in the wake of the attack prompted Kadyrov to organize a massive rally in Grozny against the insulting cartoons. About one million people from Chechnya and the surrounding North Caucasus republics attended the "Love to Prophet Mohammed" demo and Kadyrov used the opportunity to send another message to the West:

Chechen leader says Russia’s Muslims will not be used for destabilization goals Islam is a religion of peace and Muslims in Russia will never allow others to use them for destabilizing the situation in the country, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said at a rally in Grozny on Monday. “We declare to the whole world that the Muslims will by no means allow using themselves for rocking the situation in the country. We have always been reliable defenders of Russia! And we are able today to offer rebuff to the enemies of our Motherland!” Kadyrov said. The Chechen leader told the crowd that Islam is a religion of peace and it teaches people how to live in peace and consent with other peoples of the country of various beliefs.

Kadyrov's Nemesis Vanishes as ISIS Looks for Russian Spies

Kadyrov's message was probably meant for Brookings president Strobe Talbott and his ilk in Washington, who are dreaming of a third Chechen war. A few weeks ago, the Chechen leader had already warned the West that thousands of Chechen "volunteers" are ready to prevent any attempts to destabilize Russia. Although Chechnya saw an increase in the number of victims in the last quarter of 2014 due to two high-profile attacks, the republic is by and large stable and there is no reason to assume that this could change anytime soon, unless the U.S. and its allies try to implement the Syria playbook in the North Caucasus. Some "experts" cannot wait for the Islamic State (ISIS) to expand its activities to Russia but Kadyrov stressed that ISIS is not a threat to Russia because the Russians have "a massive intelligence network in the ranks of these terrorists." Interestingly enough, a few days after Kadyrov had made this statement, the terrorists demonstrated that they are looking for Russian spies:

Kazakh Child Soldier Executes ‘Russian Spies’ in Islamic State Video In a video released Tuesday by the Islamic State, two men described as Russian agents testify that they had attempted to spy on the militants, infiltrate their computer networks, and assassinate the group’s leaders. Then a long-haired young boy calmly shoots the men in the back of the head with a handgun. The first alleged Russian agent is identified as Jambulat Mamayev. He says that he is from Kazakhstan and that he was sent to gather information on the Islamic State and get close to a high-ranking member within the group. The second man, Sergey Ashimov, tells his captors that he previously worked for the Russian FSB, the successor to the KGB, and was sent to kill an Islamic State leader, whose name is muted in the video. The child who carries out the execution appears to be the same child featured in a November 2014 Islamic State propaganda video. In that video, which also showcased the group’s new adult recruits from Kazakhstan, the boy identifies himself as “Abdullah” and speaks predominantly in the Kazakh language.

As previously discussed, the ISIS propaganda video showing the indoctrination and training of Kazakh children caused a great stir in Kazakhstan and the same is true of the latest video, which also attracted a lot of attention in Russia for obvious reasons. Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) declined to comment but experts cast doubt on the authenticity of the video, arguing that it may have been staged. Furthermore, one of the "Russian agents" turned out be a street cleaner turned perfume salesman from Kazakhstan and the second man appears to be a Kazakhstan-born Russian convert to Islam who traveled to Syria in 2010. Kazakhstan’s security service vehemently denied that the two men are Kazakh citizens but did not rule out that they could have roots in the Central Asian country. Be that as it may, regardless of the authenticity of the video and the identity of the two men, the latest ISIS propaganda video shows that ISIS is very concerned about Russian spies in its ranks, which might explain why Kadyrov's nemesis Tarkhan Batirashvili has been keeping a low profile in recent months:

Where Has Umar Al-Shishani Gone? Although there was a flurry of media attention in October and November focusing on Umar al-Shishani, Islamic State's military commander in Syria, he has been conspicuously absent from the scene in recent weeks and months.

Media interest in Umar al-Shishani reached its peak in mid-November, when the head of Russia’s Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, caused a storm by claiming on his Instagram account that Umar Shishani -- whom he referred to as “the enemy of Islam” -- had been killed. Although Kadyrov later deleted that Instagram post, Russian and Western news outlets speculated that perhaps the Chechen leader did have information about Umar’s death.

Despite the assurances of Chechen militants fighting with Islamic State that Umar is alive and kicking in Syria, the ginger-bearded Georgian Kist has not been seen alive (or, for that matter, dead) for some months now. Umar has not appeared in any videos, for example. And while the Islamic State group has released two photographs of Umar since October, neither can be independently verified or even dated.​

If Batirashvili is still alive, he would be well advised to keep his whereabouts a secret given the fact that he is at the top of Kadyrov's hit list. Life in Syria is already dangerous enough without having to worry about Russian spies. Several of Batirashvili's fellow Georgian jihadists have been killed in recent months while fighting for ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria. Last week, this issue hit again the headlines when former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili lashed out against the Georgian government, alleging that "several hundred Georgian citizens have been sent to Syria." After Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and other Georgian officials had attacked Saakashvili for calling on Georgian soldiers to resign from the army and come to Ukraine in order to fight for the Kiev regime, the former President responded by pointing out that the Georgian government "does not say a word about the fact that Georgians, with the help of a variety of tricks, are being dragged to fight in Syria." Saakashvili was harshly criticized for his statement but shortly thereafter Tbilisi decided to take action and make long overdue legislative changes, which were first floated last year:

Bill Criminalizes Involvement with ‘Illegal Armed Groups’ Abroad A package of legislative amendments has been submitted to the Parliament this week criminalizing participation in and broad range of other activities related to illegal armed groups abroad, as well as “traveling abroad for the purpose of terrorism.” According to the bill, “joining and/or participation in an illegal formation operating on the territory of a foreign country or receiving training from such formation; recruiting or training a person with the purpose of joining, participating or otherwise promoting the activities of such illegal formation; gathering of persons and/or dissemination or use of materials and/or symbols related to membership and/or participation in illegal formation” will be punishable with imprisonment from 5 to 10 years.

Taliban Losing Fighters to ISIS in Afghanistan

Former Georgian servicemen who "are taking active part in special-task detachments of the Ukrainian army" can breathe a sigh of relief because they won't be punished. The amendments are only aimed at discouraging Georgian ISIS fighters from returning to Georgia. Like most other governments, the Georgian government is fine with its citizens joining ISIS as long as the "Islamic State" doesn't expand to Georgia. Speaking of which, the "Islamic State" appears to be gaining a foothold in another country but not in the Caucasus. General John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, stated recently that ISIS is trying to recruit fighters in Afghanistan and General Mahmood Khan, a senior commander of the Afghan National Army, confirmed that former Taliban leader Mullah Raouf Khadim is the driving force behind the recruitment for ISIS in Helmand province. And as some media outlets were quick to point out, Mullah Raouf is not an ordinary Taliban leader:

Ex-Gitmo detainee leads contingent of Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan

A former Guantanamo detainee, Mullah Raouf Khadim, is reportedly leading a contingent of Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand. Khadim's role was first reported by The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press (AP). Raouf had served as a top Taliban military leader until he and his allies lost an internal power struggle, paving the way for him to switch allegiances. "A number of tribal leaders, jihadi commanders and some ulema [religious leaders] and other people have contacted me to tell me that Mullah Raouf had contacted them and invited them to join him," the AP quoted Gen. Mahmood Khan, an Afghan military official, as saying.

As mentioned last year, insurgents in Afghanistan's Ghazni province are also sporting the ISIS flag. Some Afghans are already complaining that the government of President Ashraf Ghani is ignoring the activities and growth of ISIS in the country but the Afghan authorities prefer to downplay ISIS-related reports. Since the reports point rather to internal divisons within the Taliban than an expansion of the "Islamic State," it is probably a good idea not to fall for the ISIS fear-mongering. Besides, Ghani and his Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah are currently dealing with other problems. After it took them more than three months to agree on a cabinet, nearly half of their ministerial candidates came immediately under scrutiny for dual citizenship, alleged criminal activities, and being underage. Some have pulled out and others failed to get parliamentary confirmation. So Afghanistan is still without a real government. A few days ago, Ghani took a break from the chaos in Kabul and made a two-day official visit to neighboring Turkmenistan:

Ghani Looks to Strengthen Trade Ties With Turkmenistan Following President Ashraf Ghani's recent trip to Turkmenistan, leaders in Kabul and Ashgabat have now agreed to major projects involving trading natural gas, building a railway network and border terminals for their respective energy markets. Ghani has said the value of trade between the two countries will double in the next year. "At the moment, Afghanistan has turned into a bridge, our trade and transit can create many opportunities; energy and electricity and natural gas will be sent to Afghanistan and to other countries through Afghanistan," President Ghani said on Thursday. "The extension of our relationship is not only a victory for us but also for the countries in the region." The projects specific to Afghanistan and Turkmenistan that Ghani hammered out with leaders in Ashgabat this week join mega projects like the TAPI pipeline and electricity transit development as part of a larger effort to promote cooperation and integrated networks of trade in the South Asia and Central Asia region.

The construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline (TAPI) was expected to start this year but the Pakistani newspaper Dawn recently renewed doubts about the implementation of the project, arguing that the pipeline is unlikely to be built anytime soon for a number of reasons with the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and the problems along the Turkmen-Afghan border not even being on the list. After some Afghan villagers had already threatened to take action against Turkmenistan's "invasion" by attacking Turkmen border guards, Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has now sent humanitarian aid to Afghans living on the border, possibly to calm the situation. An Afghan security official stressed this week that there is no threat to Central Asia's borders but recent incidents suggest otherwise. If it turns out that there are indeed no camps of terrorists gathering in northern Afghanistan, the U.S. will have a hard time explaining why it is giving the Uzbek regime more than 300 armored vehicles:

Exclusive: US Gives Uzbekistan Military Equipment Boost The United States is giving Uzbekistan hundreds of military vehicles, says a top U.S. diplomat in an exclusive interview with VOA Uzbek. It is one of the largest equipment transfers by the United States to a Central Asian nation and a move likely to renew concerns over Uzbekistan's human rights record. Daniel Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia, said Uzbekistan needs the vehicles for counter-terrorism and counter-narcotic efforts. "They will all be provided to the Ministry of Defense and can only be used by the Ministry of Defense," said Rosenblum. "These are definitely defensive vehicles, they are inherently defensive. Also, we consider them to be non-lethal. They are intended to protect personnel, crews and passengers in areas that there might be explosive devices, mines, so on."

China Cracks Down on Illegal Border Crossings by Uyghurs

The transfer of the "inherently defensive" military vehicles comes at a time when Uzbekistan is gearing up for the next sham elections, which are being described as a "tragedy for 30 million people" given the fact that the country's strongman Islam Karimov is going to win yet another term as president. If the folks in the U.S. don't want to be called out on their hypocrisy by other countries in the region, they should probably refrain from the usual talk of human rights for a while. Just a few days ago, U.S. propaganda tool Human Rights Watch urged China to revise its proposed legislation on counterterrorism, which "would legitimate ongoing human rights violations." China has long complained about Western hypocrisy and double standards on terrorism, to no avail. By now, the Chinese authorities could not care less about criticism from the West. It was recently announced that the 'strike-hard' anti-terror campaign, which has led to a sharp increase in the number of arrests in Xinjiang, has been extended to the end of this year and that more troops will be deployed in the autonomous region:

PLA strengthens Xinjiang forces to foil terror attacks China is strengthening its military power in its northwestern frontier region bordering Afghanistan and Central Asia. The military reinforcement comes against a backdrop of United States troops pulling out of Afghanistan and extremists launching terrorist attacks on civilian targets. People's Liberation Army troops based in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region will vigorously enforce border controls, according to their chief.

The recent arrest of ten Turks and nine Uyghurs in Shanghai exposed not only Turkey's role in Washington's East Turkestan project but it also highlighted China's struggle against illegal border crossings. Many Uyghurs who want to leave the country are trying to do so via Southeast Asia. A few days ago, Chinese police shot dead two Uyghurs and detained another one near the border town of Pingxiang in Guanxi Province when the group tried to illegally cross into Vietnam. According to China's Global Times, the Uyghurs had resisted arrest and attacked the policemen. The state-run Global Times strongly supported the reaction of the police and emphasized that "police should get ready to shoot when dealing with knife-wielding fanatics." In an attempt to make clear that the Uyghurs were not innocent refugees, China's Public Security Ministry announced that a task force on human smuggling across China's southwestern borders had uncovered 262 cases since May and that the smuggling is "mainly organized abroad and controlled behind the scenes" by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement:

Hundreds of Chinese seeking 'jihad training' are caught on Vietnam border in one year: Beijing More than 800 people have been stopped trying to illegally cross from China into Vietnam in just one year, with the majority attempting to get to jihad training camps, Beijing revealed last night. Police said most of the cases were spurred on by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which is spreading extremist religious views and provoking people to leave the country and participate in jihad, Xinhua reported. Most of those caught trying to sneak out of the country had watched underground terror videos or had even engaged in “terrorist” activities, killing people before leaving the country, Xinhua said.

The name of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is often used by Beijing as a code word for the United States, Turkey and other countries which are pulling the strings behind the East Turkestan independence movement. While China is trying to convince the West that many Uyghur emigrants "are not innocent, helpless members of an ethnic minority fleeing 'suppression' at home in pursuit of 'freedom'" but "religious extremists headed to the forefronts of Islamic jihad," the NED-funded World Uyghur Congress (WUC) keeps insisting that China's oppression of Uyghurs is the primary reason for the the growing radicalization among the Uyghur population. Beijing will hardly be swayed by this criticism. The 'strike-hard' anti-terror campaign continues and the Chinese authorities keep a very close eye on anybody who is trying to illegally leave the country:

Police crack down on people attempting to leave China to join jihadist organizations A group of about 10 people, including children and women, approach the border between China and Myanmar late at night. They attempt to sneak across a ford into Myanmar, but are captured by Chinese police who are waiting in ambush. Southwestern China has witnessed a spike in people illegally crossing the border into Vietnam and Myanmar in the past two years. Police claim that many people who have attempted to sneak out of China have participated in underground Islamic preaching or have been involved in terrorist activities, and that they have often paid tens of thousands of yuan to get to the Middle East from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The police have said that such activities are directed by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and that the organization encourages these people to carry out attacks locally if they are unable to cross the border.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

                                            

The New Great Game Round-Up: July 27, 2014

Jihadi Mercenaries from Central Asia, Taliban Welcome China's Involvement in Afghanistan & Turkey Considers Joining Russia's Eurasian Project

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

The recent Latin America tour of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which ended with the long anticipated creation of the BRICS Development Bank, was very successful and marked another important step on the way towards a multipolar world. During his meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the Russian leader announced that the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan plans to sign a cooperation agreement with Mercosur in early 2015. Although the accession of Armenia and Kyrgyzstan is being delayed time and time again, the Kremlin is absolutely convinced of the EEU. According to First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, the economic union will even have a common currency in the next five to ten years. For now the Russian government is focused on strengthening the ties between the arms industries of the three EEU countries:

Government plans closer ties with arms industries of Belarus, Kazakhstan

The Russian arms industry has developed a plan to replace its Ukrainian suppliers, lost during the latest crisis in this country, with companies in Belarus and Kazakhstan, an influential Russian daily reports.

Deputy PM in charge of the defense sector, Dmitry Rogozin, earlier announced the Russian government would prepare a plan on import replacement in conventional weapons and present it to the President.

On Friday the mass circulation daily Izvestia reported the plan was ready and will be presented as soon as Monday.

Turkey Considers Joining Russia's Eurasian Project

Due to NATO's takeover in Ukraine, Russia not only lost its Ukrainian suppliers but also an important buffer against the U.S.-led military alliance. That leaves the Donbas, which continues to fight against the regime in Kiev, and Belarus as the only non-hostile entities along Russia's western border. Therefore, Belarus will get its S-300 surface-to-air missile systems sooner rather than later. While NATO's coup d'état in Kiev has strained relations between Russia and the West, it has also expedited closer Eurasian integration and "de-dollarization". Even close U.S. allies are considering to drop the dollar. According to Russia's Ministry of Economic Development, vital NATO member Turkey offered Russia to switch to national currencies in mutual payments. Russia is Turkey's second-largest trade partner after the European Union and since Turkey's accession to the EU is not making any progress, Ankara is now looking for closer cooperation with Russia's Customs Union: 

Turkey May Create Free Trade Zone with Eurasian Customs Union – Development Minister

Turkey has raised the question of establishing a free trade zone with the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said after talks with Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci.

The Turkish minister put forward an initiative for closer cooperation with the Eurasian Customs Union, Ulyukayev said.

"We have discussed the possible forms of cooperation, including the formation of a free trade zone between the Customs Union and Turkey. We have agreed to create a working group and to begin a more detailed discussion of these possibilities and prospects in September," Ulyukayev said on the sidelines of the meeting of G20 trade ministers in Sydney, Australia.

The Kazakh media is already analyzing how this free trade zone would benefit Kazakhstan but it remains to be seen if this idea materializes. Washington will certainly put pressure on the Turkish government and although relations between Ankara and Moscow have improved lately in the wake of the crackdown on the CIA-backed Gülen movement, some differences persist. After all, Turkey plays a decisive role in supporting jihadi mercenaries in accordance with U.S. foreign policy, regardless of whether it concerns Russia's North Caucasus or the Middle East:

MİT truck documents prove aid to al-Qaeda and ISIL, says CHP's Tezcan

Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Bülent Tezcan shared police records on Monday concerning the search of a National Intelligence Organization (MİT) truck in Adana as part of an investigation several months ago, asserting that the records prove that the Turkish government has supported radical groups in Syria and Iraq.

He said the records leave no room for doubt that the government has sent weapons and ammunition to the terrorist organizations al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria. Tezcan held a press conference on Monday on the grounds of Parliament and shared documents about arms-laden trucks, which later proved to belong to MİT, that were stopped in Adana by security forces in January of this year. He said between 25 and 30 rockets were found in each truck. He also showed that the documents that were attached to the weaponry found on the trucks were written in Cyrillic.

He claimed that the weapons were loaded onto the trucks at Ankara Esenboğa Airport, citing official testimony from a driver of one of the trucks. Tezcan said the documents clearly show that MİT transfers weapons to armed groups in the region.

As previously mentioned, these trucks were stopped and searched in an operation by the Gülen movement aimed at exposing the Erdogan-led government, which claimed that the trucks were carrying "humanitarian aid". Ankara's understanding of "humanitarian aid" is somewhat different. Turkey's MIT works hand in glove with some Turkish aid organizations to support NATO's jihadi mercenaries. Therefore, it came as no real surprise when one of these NGOs commemorated the death of Chechen terrorist leader Doku Umarov a few months ago. Umarov's death had first been reported by his nemesis Ramzan Kadyrov but given Kadyrov's track record, very few people believed him at the time. Meanwhile, the death has been confirmed and the North Caucasus insurgency has found a new poster boy. Last week, Kadyrov removed any doubt by posting a photo of Umarov's dead body. Nevertheless, terrorism continues to be a problem in Russia, especially in Dagestan:

Dagestan Police Bust Counterfeiters 'Financing Extremism'

An underground counterfeiting network suspected of having generated funds for "extremist organizations" was shut down during a massive police operation in Dagestan.

About 300 officers from the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service took part in the operation, which included 23 raids on offices, garages and apartments allegedly used to facilitate the printing of at least 1 million rubles' ($29,000) worth of counterfeit notes, according to a statement released by the Interior Ministry on Tuesday.

The statement said police also found equipment to manufacture phony $100 bills. At least 1 million rubles in fake bills had already been used throughout Russia's Southern Federal District, primarily in the North Caucasus.

Jihadi Mercenaries from Central Asia

A few days ago, police in the Dagestani capital Makhachkala carried out raids on local mosques and detained several people. After their "involvement in earlier committed crimes" had been checked, they were all released again. When it comes to the insurgency, Dagestani law enforcers take the gloves off. Police in other parts of Russia are also keeping a very close eye on suspected jihadists. Last week, a Tajik citizen was arrested in St. Petersburg for alleged membership in the Islamic Party of Turkestan aka the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). There are quite a few Tajik citizens among NATO's jihadi mercenaries. According to the Tajik authorities, 110 Tajik nationals are currently fighting in Syria but, as mentioned the last week, the actual number is probably much higher. Several families from Tajikistan's Sughd Province are suspected of joining the "Syrian rebels". Lately, one Tajik from Sughd returned disillusioned from Syria and while the search for the other residents of the province continues, local authorities are cracking down on unregistered mosques:

Sughd authorities crack down on unregistered mosques

98 “five-time” mosques have reportedly been suspended in the northern province of Sughd for failure to register.

“Some of these mosques located in the Bobojonghafourov, Jabborrasoulov and Zafarobod districts will function during the holy month of Ramadan at the request of residents of these districts but they will be suspended after Ramadan until they are registered with the Department for Religious Affairs,” the head of the Sughd Department for Religious Affairs, Suhrob Rustamov, told journalists in Khujand on July 23.

Sughd province now has 960 registered “five-time prayer mosques (mosques for daily prayers), 91 Friday prayer mosques (larger facilities built for weekly Friday prayers) and 13 central mosques, Rustamov said. 

Tajikistan boasts more mosques than schools and the medieval petro-monarchies are eager to help with the funding. This facilitates the recruitment of Tajik fighters for jihad wherever the NATO-GCC-Israel axis deems it necessary. Saudi Arabia's embassy in Dushanbe reportedly acts as the headquarters for the Tajik terrorist recruitment scheme. At the moment, these fighters are primarily sent to Syria and Iraq. Since Tajik jihadists are not the only Central Asians fighting for the Islamic State & Co., all Central Asian governments would be well advised to take a closer look at the activities of the Saudis in their respective countries:

At least 16 Kazakhs fighting together with insurgents in Iraq: report

At least 16 citizens of Kazakhstan have joined the extremist organization of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Kazakhstani TV channel
KTK reports July 21.

According to the report, the presence of the Kazakhstanis among the organization became known when the video allegedly showing the Kazakhs with weapons talking about their aims was uploaded in the web.

In the video, a man, Abu Anisa, speaks in Kazakh language of the “seriousness of their intentions” and says he fights for the creation of a new Islamic state on the border between Syria and Iraq, KTK said.

On Tuesday, a court in the Kazakh city of Zhezqazghan sentenced four men to prison terms between six and 12 years for recruiting fighters to wage jihad in Syria. Four more people had been jailed on similar charges by another Kazakh court just one day earlier. But other Central Asian states struggle a good deal more with terrorist recruitment than Kazakhstan, for example Kyrgyzstan. Despite some efforts to contain the problem, more and more Kyrgyz citizens are becoming jihadi mercenaries. With 37 percent of the Kyrgyz population living below the poverty line, it is not difficult to find young men willing to take up arms. The Kyrgyz authorities are concerned about this trend and justifiably so:

Increase in Kyrgyz militants abroad alarms authorities

The number of Kyrgyz citizens fighting in Syria continues to grow, concerned Kyrgyz authorities say.

"The impact of Salafism, especially of its radical forms, has been clearly on the rise in recent years," Ryskulbek Japarkulov, chief of the Interior Ministry (MVD)'s 10th Main Administration, told Central Asia Online. "The MVD has discovered 15 cases of terrorist groups' recruiting youth to fight as mercenaries in war zones such as Syria, Afghanistan or Pakistan. Eight of those cases have led to prosecution, and we are verifying and investigating the rest.

Taliban Welcome China's Involvement in Afghanistan

This trend will certainly raise concerns in Beijing as well. The Chinese government is trying to prevent exactly these kinds of developments by investing lots of money in Kyrgyzstan. Of course, Beijing is pursuing this strategy not only in Kyrgyzstan but across the whole region. Recently, the Chinese asked the Pakistani government to submit the details of all development projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor so that work on these projects can begin as soon as possible. China is also set to play a bigger role in neighboring Afghanistan in order to promote stability in the war-torn contry. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan welcome this decision and even the Taliban have voiced their approval [emphasis mine]:

China's interest in Afghanistan could bode well for both countries 

China’s neutral stance towards conflicts in Afghanistan means the Taliban are not bothered by its involvement in the region.

“We have no problems with China as it has never interfered in Afghanistan. The Chinese will be safe,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in reply to emails.


Mujahid adds that since China has not been militarily involved in Afghanistan and is only focused on economic and trade relations, the Taliban will not harm its projects.

The newly appointed special envoy for Afghanistan Sun Yuxi has already declared that China wants to help rebuild the country and does not seek to fill a void left by the drawdown of NATO troops. Yuxi emphasized that "preserving Afghanistan's stability is not a matter of adding troops." However, at the same time, the Chinese envoy endorsed the questionable military offensive of the Pakistani military in North Waziristan. He strongly backed Pakistan's role in "fighting terrorism" and rejected allegations that elements in the Pakistani government and security services are responsible for creating the terror problem in Afghanistan. Yuxi even stated that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) "has been effective in fighting terrorism." Understandably, the Afghan authorities have quite a different take on these matters. This week, Afghanistan's intelligence agency confirmed earlier reports about the insurgents' "escape" from North Waziristan ahead of Operation Zarb-e-Azb:

Pakistan shifted Haqqani leaders to safe places ahead of Waziristan offensive

Haseeb Sediqi, spokesman for the National Directorate of security (NDS) told reporters that the North Waziristan operation did not have any satisfactory outcome since the offensive did not harm any of the terrorist networks.

Sediqi further added that one of the most important terrorist network – Haqqani Network remained safe from the offensive as the network leaders were taken to safe locations along with several leaders from other terrorist networks.

He said NDS has received information which shows that the Haqqani Network leaders were shifted to Kurram agency, Quetta, Karachi and even Islamabad.

According to Sediqi, the Haqqani Networks leaders, members and their equipments including weapons were taken to Kurram agency two weeks before the offensive was launched.

As discussed two weeks ago, China's partners in the 'War on Terror' are of little help, quite the contrary. Beijing is apparently satisfied with Pakistan's performance and depending on the objective of the Chinese authorities, this makes perfect sense. If the Pakistani authorities really started going after the insurgents instead of supporting them, the Chinese government would have no pretext to turn the country into a full-fledged police state. Chinese citizens are now encouraged to watch out for "strange behavior" and "odd neighbors" in the country's fight against terrorrism. Furthermore, the airline anti-terror measures promoted by the U.S. after 9/11 have now reached buses in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi:

China imposes airline-like restrictions on bus passengers in Xinjiang capital

China has banned bus passengers in the capital of western Xinjiang region from carrying items ranging from cigarette lighters to yogurt, state media said on Friday, in the latest effort by authorities to prevent violent attacks.

The new rules in the capital Urumqi, similar to restrictions usually imposed by
airlines, reflect how nervous officials are about trying to contain outbreaks of violence in the region, home to the Muslim Uighur minority.

The local government in Urumqi, a city of three million, issued new rules after a transport security meeting, barring passengers from bringing on board liquids, lighters and unknown powders "to strike a severe blow on all forms of criminal activity on public buses," the state-run Legal Daily said.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

The EyeOpener Report- Failure to Withdraw: The CIA, the Taliban, and the Strategy of Tension in Afghanistan

BFP VideoThe Afghan war has provided NATO with access to control the $200+ Billion opium trade. The war has given NATO a key toe-hold in a geostrategic region, bordering perennial US target Iran as well as providing access to the key Central Asian nations- a vital area in NATO's ongoing quest to encircle China and Russia. The occupation also affords the ISAF forces direct access to Afghanistan's mineral resources, and the compliant Kabul regime is only too happy to allow multinational corporations access to those resources. Given that this mission has been such a success for NATO, one wonders how they can possibly live up to their promise to pull their forces out of the country by 2014.

That the NATO forces are going to stay in Afghanistan after 2014 is not in dispute. In order to sell this to the public, of course, the Big Lie is required. And until the Big Lie is exposed, the Afghan war will never be brought to an end.

Watch the Preview Clip Here:

Watch the Full Video Report Here (Subscribers Only):

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*The Transcript for this video is available at Corbett Report: Click Here

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Gimme a Break: The CIA Asset Turned Taliban Bodyguard Assassin?!

Spin the Spin to Get the Spun Story Un-Spun

additup I said I was not going to waste time writing about the Ahmed Wali Karzai assassination story and let the stenographers in our media spread the preapproved nonsense. I wrote my piece and provided you with my own humble two cents, and I was ready to move on:

…on the other hand, once things sour, when those liabilities begin to surpass the asset and the profits, you’ll see the media rush and begin swarming around the no-longer-a-favorite Kingpin. Then comes a short period of silence, and after that Bam: You have an assassinated, murdered, suicide-d, or disappeared Old Kingpin case. Alas; no surprise there since this is how these Kingpins ultimately meet their end- this one ‘supposedly’ by the currently fashionable enemy: the Taliban. I promise you won’t be hearing a single word about this in a few days and forever-The Langley Way.

           

The entire scenario of a Taliban-Turned confidante bodyguard didn’t sit well with me; way too Langley. When you get a chance read a bit about the assassination of Vietnam’s Diem Brothers, and then you’ll understand what I mean when I say ‘Too Langley.

Anyhow, this morning I read the following headline: Bodyguard Who Killed Karzai’s Brother Was Trusted CIA Contact : [Read more...]

Podcast Show #41

The Boiling Frogs Presents Gould-Fitzgerald

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Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald join us to talk about their recently released book, Crossing Zero: The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire. They discuss the origins of the Taliban and the array of armed groups in AfPak that are lumped together as “Taliban” by US media and politicians. Gould-Fitzgerald talk about Pakistan’s double play, the struggle for oil and gas that is the basis for the conflict, pipeline politics, the confused or even lack of strategy in the senseless costly war, the current corruption ridden puppet regime in Afghanistan, Obama administration’s drone-mania, their 8-point plan for ending the US occupation, and more!

GFPaul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, a husband and wife team, began their experience in Afghanistan when they were the first American journalists to acquire permission to enter behind Soviet lines in 1981 for CBS News and produced a documentary, Afghanistan Between Three Worlds, for PBS. In 1983 they returned to Kabul with Harvard Negotiation project director Roger Fisher for ABC Nightline and contributed to the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour. They continued to research, write and lecture about the long-term run-up that led to the US invasion of Afghanistan. They are featured in an award winning documentary by Samira Goetschel. Titled, Our own Private Bin Laden which traces the creation of the Osama bin Laden mythology in Afghanistan and how that mythology has been used to maintain the “war on terror” approach of the Bush administration. Their latest book Crossing Zero: The AFPAK War at the Turning Point of American Empire published by City Lights in March 2011 focuses on the nuances of the Obama administration's evolving military and political strategy, those who have been chosen to implement it, and the long-term consequences for the U.S. and the region.

Here are our guests Elizabeth Gould & Paul Fitzgerald unplugged!

*For the history of democracy in Afghanistan, and a detailed recounting of the US support for the Mujahiddin during the 1980′s Soviet occupation, creating some of the “blowback” seen in the current US occupation, listen to Peter B Collins’ recent interview of the Gould-Fitzgerald duo here.

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Weekly Round Up for Sunday, April17

The Devolution of the People & Government Czars, Halfhearted Congressional Gestures, Obama’s Drone Obsessions, and More!

I am going to list a few noteworthy articles and commentaries from this past week, and I am going to make it very brief. I am sure you have heard that before. Okay, it will be relatively brief; emphasis on ‘relatively.’ Those of you who have gone through selling your house, while living in it, especially with a kid or two or three …, well, you know how annoying it can be. You get a short notice, you run around trying to organize, clean, put away toys (including those hidden under the sofa, tucked behind the sink …), and then, you have to ‘evacuate’ your house for the potential buyer…Now you have the reason behind the ‘relatively brief’ round up.

I hope you enjoyed our interview with Tom Woods. We also recorded a great interview with Grant Smith on Israel and the Israel Lobby which will be posted next Friday. I don’t know why but I’ve been getting tons of good comments/responses at Facebook, and very little feedback here at BFP. Any ideas as to why? Please let us know.

Here are my noteworthy items from this week: [Read more...]