The main pressures of the various jihadist groups in Syria are now targeted to the North of the Aleppo province. If Aleppo collapses, also the non-jihadist Syria will collapse. Conversely, if the Salafists hold the city under control, no credible reconquest of Syria will be possible.
On April 13, 2016, negotiations No. 3 for “peace” in Syria have resumed in Geneva but, as Machiavelli used to say, “love peace and know how to wage war” is the first rule for the good Prince.
The goal of the US forces and, only partially, of the Turkish forces, as well as of the Coalition, is still to disrupt the Caliphate’s lines of communication between Ar-Raqqa and the Turkish-Syrian border.
Obviously, for Turkey, the aim of the war is to counter the successes of the YPG Kurds, while the United States support the People’s Protection Units (YPG) against Al Baghdadi.
Currently, however, the Kurds are also approaching and coming closer to Russia, and the YPG loyalty to the line of the Coalition, made up of 59 countries, is being called into question.
Hence it is likely that only Russia will be in a position to successfully ask President Assad for the Kurdish autonomy.
President Assad’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA) now operates from the Kuweires air base to penetrate the Caliphate’s area of the Aleppo Province, where also the Jabhat Al Nusra Front is gathering for its ultimate defence.
At strategic level, the many jihadist groups (the major ones are over 25) operating in Syria have these aims in mind: a) to make Assad’s SAA and Russian attacks diverge and make them useless; b) to act as a shield for Isis, the major group; c) to finally lay the conditions for a “Vietnamization” of the Syrian war and, hence, of the long defeat of the Russian and Iranian “invaders” and of the Western “infidel”.
Furthermore, the various jihadists directly serve the interest of their sponsors on a zone-by zone basis: Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
This is a function of the Syrian oil communication lines and of resources, the mining ones in particular, as we will see later on.
Moreover, the jihadist war fought by the various gangs is meant to delay as much as possible the reunification of the territory under the Syrian Ba’athist regime, thus forcing it in the future to a “cantonization” making it irrelevant to its Russian, Iranian and Chinese allies.
Hence Syria could become pervious to Saudi Arabia’s oil and political actions, in contrast with the Iranian and Russian designs on Assad’ Syria.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA), founded in August 2011 by a group of defected Syrian Armed forces officers hosted in Turkey, has about five open fronts: in the North (Aleppo and Idlib), in the East (Raqqa, Deir al Zour and Hassaka), in the Centre (Homs and Rastan) and finally in the South (Damascus, Deraa and Suwaida).
Supported by the now famous and invisible 59 countries of the anti-Isis Coalition, the FSA cooperates, in various areas, with the jihadists and with several subgroups, such as the Northern Storm Brigade, the Ahrar Souria Brigade, the Martyrs of Syria Brigade and Ahrar al-Sham.
All current FSA positions, however, are at the edges of the areas dominated by Assad’s SAA.
A situation of OPFOR, Opposing FORce.
The two opponents mime the same warfare techniques and the same lines of action so as to equalize their potentials with the hybrid war.
Obviously the FSA and the jihadists must force and close the Russians and the Syrians into their initial areas so as to enable the jihadist groups to cover the Isis positions.
The Islamic Front now has about 45,000 militants and results from the merger of seven jihadist groups.
As stated in its official documents, it is alien both to the Al Nusra Front and to ISIS. It operates mainly in Aleppo and its tactical line is intended to prevent Assad’ Syrian forces from entering and stabilizing in the Northern region between Latakia and Aleppo.
Harakat Ahrar Al Sham al-Islamiyya is a Salafi group established near Idlib and, before the Syrian Islamic Front dissolving in November 2013, it collaborated both with the Al-Nusra Front and the groups affiliated with the Free Syrian Army.
It is the jihadist brigade specialized mainly in cyber attacks, that also works as a network of humanitarian and social support for the peoples.
Jaysh Al Islam is a coalition of about 10,000 units resulting from the merger of 50 previous jihadist groups.
It operates mainly in the Ghouta area around Damascus.
The jihadist group Suqour Al Sham is still supposed to count about 10,000 militants and operates in the provinces of Aleppo and Damascus.
It is worth clarifying that all the data and statistics we report do not consider defections, targeted assassinations, passages from one group to another.
Liwa al Tawheed, another group counting between 8,000 and 10,000 units, is also active in the region of Aleppo and has good relations of cooperation with the Al Nusra Front, even though it theorizes a less radical Islamic government that the other Salafi movements.
Finally the Al Nusra Front is a Salafi group (representing Al Qaeda in Syria) counting approximately 7,000 units and operates, in dispersed ranks, in at least 11 of the 14 Syrian provinces.
Currently it controls especially the Northern parts of the Syrian territory.
Despite being the best known jihadist group in Syria, Isis/Daesh only counts approximately 5,000 men in arms.
It operates mainly in the North and East of Syria,
Isis is the junction point between the various Salafi souls of the Syrian jihad, and plays a role of “clearing house” between the various factions of the fundamentalist insurgency. And this is its strength.
Daesh/Isis is a sort of Komintern of the Syrian jihad, which often uses other Salafi groups as cover or bait for the Russian-Syrian actions.
When, at the beginning of hostilities, President Putin said that Russia would make no difference between the various jihadist movements, he hit the very heart of the political-military organization and activity of Daesh/Isis.
The Iranians sent the Saberin Special Forces Brigade, which in Farsi means “patients.”
Founded in 2000, the IRGC special forces brigade operates primarily as a multi-tasking group specialized in deep penetration into enemy’s territory and in sniping actions.
In February 2015, the Pasdaran and the Saberin Brigade were the largest military groups to launch an offensive against Aleppo so as to stop trade between Isis and Turkey. Currently the 2,500 Iranian military units operate mostly as “advisers” to Bashar al-Assad’ Syrian Arab Army.
Sometimes they even operate as pilots of the Sukhoi-24M aircrafts that Moscow assigned to Bashar al-Assad’s military forces.
As already mentioned, the YPG Kurds are in command of approximately 15,000 fighters.
They came to the fore when, in 2012, the Syrian army left the Kurdish areas and the two national parties (the PKK and the Democratic Union Party, namely the PYD) began to independently manage the Kurdish region in North-Western Syria.
They control various border towns between their region and the rest of Syria, as well as part of the city of Aleppo, which is clearly the strategic centre of the whole Syrian war.
The Russians now operate as instructors of Bashar el Assad’s forces and protect their bases of Tartus, Humaymin and Latakia, while there is much talk about a new Russian base under construction at the Turkish border, in Al-Qamishli, whereas the United States are supposed to be building a base in North-Eastern Syria, together with the Kurdish militants.
Russia, however, has maintained in Syria the Pantzir F and S-400 Triumph weapon systems.
The former is an advanced system of surface-to-air missiles with sensors and automatic fire direction.
The latter is also a particularly advanced anti-missile system, which is said to be even better than the traditional US-made Patriot.
Bashar el Assad’ Syrian Arab Army counts about 14,000 military men who today, after the Russian “tonic treatment” and the Iranian cooperation, have a good level of efficiency on the ground.
The SAA recent victory in Al Qaryatain is pivotal: it ensures the safety and security of pipelines in the region and enables Assad’s forces to disrupt the lines of communication between the desert of Al Badyia and al-Qalamoun, which are essential for Daesh- Isis’ supplies.
However, which is the link between the oil and gas transit and the civil war and jihad in Syria?
If we look at the map, we can see how the major currently operating pipelines have evident points of contact with the various Salafi Islamist groups: each oil or gas transport network is controlled in at least two points by the various jihadist groups.
It is precisely for this reason that the local Salafism, including Isis, never covers the whole territory of reference, but only the contours of the regions it conquered militarily, which intersect an existing pipeline in at least two points.
Nevertheless, let us better analyse the oil and gas issue, which is not Marxistically at the origin of the war in Syria, but certainly explains much of it.
In 1989, Iran and Qatar began to develop the largest natural gas deposit in the world, the South Pars-North Dome.
One third of the South Pars reserves are present in Iranian territorial waters and the rest in Qatar’s marine areas.
Nevertheless there are two competing exploitation projects, which regard the current civil war in Syria.
The former is the Qatari-Turkish pipeline: in 2009, the Emirate offered to Turkey the possibility of a pipeline passing through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria up to Turkey, so as to sell gas to European consumers and to the Turks, in particular.
There is also a second route proposed, stretching from Saudi Arabia to Kuwait up to Iraq and Turkey, but the PKK Kurds at the Iraqi border would prevent any arrival of natural gas along the Turkish coast.
This is the only project for the oil and gas transport which would make the operation of the Russian pipelines a factor of secondary importance, with geopolitical effects that can be easily imagined.
In 2001, however, Iran proposed an alternative route to the Qatari-Turkish one, namely the Iranian-Iraqi-Syrian route.
The gas would come from South Pars via Iraq, Syria and the Lebanon.
If Russia regains its hegemony over Syria, this route could overlap with the Iranian and Syrian pipelines, thus avoiding Turkey and making Russia become the natural gas global leader.
The Iranian-Iraqi-Syrian route could also compete with the TANAP-TAP network, the Southern Corridor which, however, is about to be completed.
The TANAP-TAP pipeline, also created in 2011, stretches from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey, crossing the whole of Anatolia.
Hence, if the Russian Federation is still dominant in Syria, it will be in a position to thwart both projects, by controlling only the Damascus area.
On the one hand, it is very likely for Moscow to have regarded the Qatari-Turkish pipeline as a threat to Gazprom’s plans for the European market.
But also the Iranian project of the Iraqi-Syrian pipeline could damage the market share of the Russian gas companies, which are still essential for the Russian Federation’s whole economy.
Conversely, Russia could rather sponsor the Iranian-Iraqi-Syrian route only if it reached the ports of Latakia and Tartus – the old and well-known military headquarters of the Soviet Union, at first, and of Russia, later – on the Mediterranean, outside Turkey’s control.
If this happens, the Russian Federation will be the true pivot of the Middle East geopolitics and economy. On the contrary, if tensions in Syria mount or, worse, if the territory of Damascus falls prey to the jihadists and the powers that protect them, there will be no pipeline .
The projects which will by-pass the Syrian territory will be constantly threatened by the sword jihad, that will have no hesitation in hitting also the networks of the countries which so far have supported it in Syria.
The old and new techniques of Dezinformatsjia
Disinformation – i.e. what the Soviet intelligence services called Dezinformatsjia – is at the origin of the phenomenon that we currently define – with oversimplification -fake news, spread to support or not voters’ or consumers’ specific choices, obviously both nationally and internationally. Nowadays the “political market” is globalized exactly like the market of goods and services and hence all the tools available to a country and to its political elite need to be used.
Certainly the intelligence agencies’ room for manoeuvre is currently much wider than it was at the time of the Cold War. Hence many mass manipulation techniques, which in the past were specifically political, are now also commercial, behavioral, cultural, scientific or pseudo-scientific. They are closely interwoven and currently the electoral or political manipulation operations often stem from commercial marketing techniques.
Dezinformatsjia, however, is always a “weak to strong” operation, i.e. a series of strategic and information actions that try to prevent the use of force by those who are tactically superior.
Those who have not enough missiles targeted against the enemy, or have not the maximum military efficiency, faces the opponent with psychological and propaganda techniques, which cost less and – by their very nature -do not trigger a conventional military countermove by the enemy against whom they are targeted. However they can trigger an equal and opposite disinformation by the target country.
These are all “ironic” operations, in the etymological sense of the word. Irony comes from the Greek word eironèia, i.e. “fiction, dissimulation, or to say the opposite of what you think”.
Just think of the great demonstrations against “Euromissiles” in the early 1980s -not foreseen by the Soviets, which put a strain on the huge intelligence network of the Warsaw Pact in Europe – or of the myth of the opening to dissent in the era of Khrushchev’s “thaw”. Or just think – as maintained by Anatoly Golytsin, the former KGB officer who defected to the USA – of the schisms between the USSR and Mao’s China, or of the transformation of the Komintern into Kominform, in which also Yugoslavia secretly participated, even after the famous schism between Tito and Stalin.
According to Golytsin, a senior KGB officer, all the divisions within the Communist world were a huge and very long sequence of fake news. Westerners never believed him, but the predictive power of his book, New Lies for Old, published in the USA in 1984, is still extraordinary.
He foresaw the “liberalization” of the Soviet system and even its collapse, so as to be later reborn in a new guise. All true, until today.
But what is really Dezinformatsjia, i.e. the technique that is at the origin of fake news and of all current psychopolitical operations?
For the KGB experts, disinformation is linked to the criterion of “active operations” (aktivinyyemeropriatia), i.e. the manipulation and control of mass media; the actual disinformation, both at written and oral levels; the use of Communist parties or covert organizations. In this case, just think of all the organizations “for peace” or for friendship “among peoples”, as well as of radio and TV broadcasts.
“Active measures” even include kompromat, i.e. the “compromising material”, as well as damaging and disparaging information about Western agents or politicians’ involvement in sex, illegal and drugs affairs. This information is collected and used strategically across all domains, with a view to creating negative publicity.
An active kind of measure that we have recently seen at work against President Trump. Nevertheless it has been implemented by his fellow countrymen, who, however, do not seem to be very skillful in the art of desinformatsjia.
It should be recalled, however, that currently a fundamental technique is to manipulate the opponents’ economies or to support guerrilla groups or terrorist organizations.
Manipulation of economies through statistical data or governments’ “covert” operations on stock markets, while support for terrorist groups, even those far from the State ideology, is provided through an intermediary that may be another State or a large company, or through bilateral financial transactions outside markets.
The Red Brigades, for example, initially trained in Czechoslovakia by passing through the Austrian woods at the border, owned by the Feltrinelli family.
When the publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli was found dead near an Enel trellis in Segrate, but long before the Italian police knew who had died on that trellis, the Head of the KGB center in Milan hastily went to report to the Soviet embassy in Rome.
Many friendly and enemy States, however, used right-wing and left-wing terrorism against the Italian Republic.
The goal was clear: to destroy or annihilate a dangerous economic competitor, especially in Africa and in the East.
Dezinformatsjia, however, was institutionally targeted against what the Soviets called “the primary enemy”, namely the United States.
Under Stalin’s power – who was dialectically “superseded” by Khrushchev, always in contrast with true innovators – “active measures” also included assassination.
I do not rule out at all that, in particular cases, this tradition has been recovered even after the death of the so-called “little father”.
As we can see, “active measures” -namely Dezinformatsjia – still has much to do with contemporary world.
If we only talk about fake news, we cannot understand why it is spread, while if it is interpreted in the framework of the old – but still topical – disinformation strategy, everything gets clearer.
In the Soviet regulations of the 1960s, every KGB foreign branch had to devote at least 25% of its forces to “active measures”, while each residence had an officer specifically trained at Dezinformatsjia.
It should be noted that, in 1980, CIA estimated the total cost of “active measures” at 3 billion US dollars, at least.
It was the real struggle for hegemony that the USSR was fighting, considering that the missile, nuclear and conventional balance of the two forces on the field did not permit a real military clash.
However, the result of the final clash would have been very uncertain.
Nowadays every State produces fake news, as well as ad hoc opinion movements, and spreads agents of influence in the media, in universities, businesses and governments.
Hence the globalization of disinformation, not simply fake news, is the phenomenon with which we really have to deal.
During the Cold War, the Soviet apparata spread the fake news of the CIA and FBI involvement in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, while the East German apparata often spread news about Western politicians being members of Nazi hierarchies or about the pro-Nazi sympathies of Pope Pius XI.
It should also be noted that Andropov, who was elected General Secretary of the CPSU in 1982, had been the Head of the KGB First Chief Directorate, precisely the one that coordinated and invented all “active measures”.
At the time, Western newspapers were filled with news about Andropov as a “modernizer”, a reader of the American literature classics and a jazz lover.
Was it Dezinformatsjia? Obviously so, but no one answered that question, thus raising expectations – among the NATO European Member States’ peoples – about a sure “democratization” of the Soviet Union in the future.
Andropov, however, secretly believed that the United States would unleash a nuclear war in the short term against the USSR. Hence this was the beginning of a long series of Dezinformatsjia hard operations right inside the United States.
Nevertheless, following the rules of “active measures”, they were not specifically targeted against the US military and political system, but against other targets apparently unrelated to the primary aim: the US responsibility for the (impossible) creation of the AIDS virus or – as the Soviet Dezinformatsjia always claimed – the “unclear” role played by CIA and FBI in the assassinations of J.F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King or even the death of Elvis Presley.
A specific product for each public.
Hence a fake storytelling is created – not a series of objective data – around a theme that is instead real, so as to reach the goal of a generic defamation of the primary enemy, where there is always a “bad guy” (obviously the US government and its Agencies) and a “good guy”, that is the American people that must be freed from the bad guy holding them prisoner.
According to the theories of the great Russian scholar of myths, tribal rituals, folktales and fairy storytelling, V.I. Propp, whose text “Morphology of the Folktale” was published in Leningrad in 1928, this is exactly one of the primary narrative elements of the folktale.
As in the case of KGB “active operations”, Propp’s scheme envisages some phases of construction of the myth or of the folktale: 1) the initial balance, i.e. the phase in which everything is devoid of dangers; 2) the breaking of the initial balance and hence the creation of the motive for the subsequent action; 3) the vicissitudes of the hero, who is the one who “restores order” after the natural twists and turns; 4) the restoration of balance, namely the conclusion.
Hence the mythical and fairy mechanism concerns the archetypes of the human psyche, as described by Carl Gustav Jung.
This is the reason why, despite their evident counter factuality, propaganda constructions work well and last well beyond the time for which they were thought and designed.
Active operations are modeled on the natural parameters with which the human mind works. When well done, said operations do not use abstract theories, cultural or sectoral models. They speak to everyone, because they act on the unconscious.
It is no coincidence that currently the archetypal branding – i.e. the marketing system based on the 12 Jungian archetypes – is increasingly widespread.
It was created in 2001, several years after the fall of the USSR and in the phase in which the New World Order was strengthening.
Propp’s four elements work just as an “active measure”, based on four categories: 1) mastery and stability; 2) belonging; 3) change; 4) independence.
It is easy to verify how these four categories of modern marketing (and of the archetypal tale) fully apply both to disinformation operations, which can often favor one of the four elements compared to the others, and to the actual political marketing.
Hence politics, intelligence services’ propaganda and marketing currently work on the basis of the same deep psychic mechanisms.
In the Soviet tradition, there is also a certain tendency to use Ivan Pavlov’s psychology in the field of intelligence.
Pavlov developed the theory of “conditioned reflexes”, i.e. the psychic mechanism that is produced by a conditioning stimulus.
The experiment of the dog and the bell is, in fact, well-known and needs no elaboration.
It should be noted, however, that the conditioned reflex is triggered precisely when the food announced by the sound of the bell is no longer there, while the dog shows all the typical reactions of the animal in the presence of food.
Here, the “active measures” of disinformation create a conditioned reflex by connecting a country, a leader or a political choice to something universally negative which, however, has nothing to do with the primary object.
This connection becomes instinctive, automatic, obvious and almost unconscious.
Just think of the automatism – once again artfully created – between the Italian intelligence services and the so-called “strategy of tension”.
The goal of perfect Dezinformatsjiais to create a Pavlovian conditioned reflex that works immediately and naturally as a Freudian “complex”.
Nevertheless, with a view to being successful, every fake news or message that is part of an “active measure” must have at least a grain of truth – otherwise it immediately appears as an opinion or ideology, which is soon rejected by the subject.
This means they can be discussed and maybe accepted rationally, but the “active measure” must mimic an immediate, natural and pre-rational reaction. Otherwise it becomes traditional propaganda or part of an open debate, exactly the opposite of what it has to do.
Hence the message must be processed with extreme care to reach the goal of any disinformation operation: to convey in the public “enemy” and / or in its ruling classes a message that – when well done – fits perfectly and unknowingly into the communication mechanisms of the “enemy”.
Western experts call this procedure “weaponization of information” or “fabrication of information”.
Nowadays, however, all information is distorted by the manipulation about the aims it must achieve – just think of the Italian and European debate on immigration from Africa.
Hence also the West uses the weaponization of information- but, probably, it still uses it badly.
Hence we will never witness the end of fake news – which have always existed – but simply its refinement as real natural “states of mind” or, more often, as immediate reactions, such as those connected to a conditioned reflex artfully created.
In this case, there is no longer difference between reality and imagination.
Fake news as fiction – we could say.
If this is the new battlefield of psywar, it will be good for Italy – even autonomously from the NATO center that deals with “strategic information” – to equip itself with a structure, within the intelligence agencies, developing and carrying out specific disinformation operations.
For example, with reference to the Italian companies operating abroad, to Italy’s general image in the rest of Europe and to its action in Africa or in the rest of the world.
The third way between war and diplomacy
The American presidents all asked the CIA when they arrived at the White House, “What should they do with it?” Often they underestimated the CIA’s analysis. These analyzes described a complex world and they said the process of events was ambiguous.
Evaluation, hypothesis, probability. The White House never praised such literature. The White House often preferred analyzes that were within the framework of its political intentions and intentions. On the other hand, the White House has been increasingly inclined to publicly disclose some of the information collected by the services, due to the persistent desire to attract people from their big decisions.
Instead, the presidents were heavily pushed by the secret power that the CIA possessed. The covert activities, as a “third way” between war and diplomacy, heavily attracted them. All of them have implemented programs in secret to stealthily influence the process. All of them were trying to keep their apps in use. Despite the scandals, the political and diplomatic problems caused by secret activities, none of them questioned the necessity and effectiveness of this instrument in foreign policy.
These covert measures began to expand slightly in the 1950s, at a time when the CIA’s invincible myth was formed. CIA officers, who found such actions as a source of prominence and privilege, did everything to cultivate them. This myth derives from a special cultural sign: Americans as a nation have a very positive image. America considers itself to be a nation that succeeds; it is a winner who challenges ahead of them through his will and technology. The CIA is responsible for this sweeping spirit in Washington.
The slogan of the CIA has long been: “The agency can do it.” Therefore, the opponents of power would not be taken into consideration because the United States needed shadow warriors to protect the country from the Soviet threat, without anyone having much to know about it. This era of trust ended in the process of deconstruction and after disclosure of the “internal” spy activities of the CIA. So the great age of complexity began, which brought fantasies and other conspiracy theories. The CIA takes ugly signs into a dangerous, rogue and out-of-control organization. But Robert Gates states: “The CIA is nothing more than a presidential organization. Every time this organization has faced trouble, it was due to the mission that the president ordered. »
In any case, this is the image of America in a world that has suffered the most pain and suffering from this country. The fact that the United States has an agency like the CIA is necessarily a two-tail razor.
The press and the Congress, in spite of the fundamental belief in the effectiveness of the CIA, served as two powerful guardian dogs to oversee the agency in the service of the president. The dynamics of American democracy, as well as the strong attachment to the constitution and individual freedoms, have made the CIA the “most transparent” intelligence service in the world. The contradiction is that the Americans know more about the secret activities (activities that are definitely the most secret and sensitive activities) to the total CIA performance. Perhaps even more are than the overall performance of other institutions, including the State Department or the Ministry of Health.
Sept. 11 attacks occur and shake the sense of security and invincibility that the United States has plunged into. Since then, US soil is no longer a haven, and the attack has the same effect as Pearl Harbor’s attack. The outcomes of the Iraq war are being added to the most fundamental reorganization in the US intelligence community since about sixty years ago. Information services acquire new authority, many other services are formed, and some of the old networks are weakened or even destroyed, the need to focus more on the powers of information services is felt.
These changes are so far as the United States is creating a CIA over the previous organization. The new goal is to give Americans a unique look at the services. The new organization will focus it’s analyze on the analysis. That’s why we can bet that in the future less than the CIA’s inability to anticipate important events. On the other hand, because of the new reformation of the new head of the American intelligence apparatus, and the CIA has become the agency responsible for all the secret activities, it can be assumed that the CIA will (slightly) head over the next few years will be kept.
The tension between interventionism and the previous doctrine of isolationism has led Americans to redefine the intelligence system as the “last line of defense”. In some respects, this device is the beginning and end of its power; and since the CIA has seen its strength in its mission of being as close as possible to the American enemies, that’s why today it still maintains this precious position.
The CIA actually has an almost inescapable position in the imagination as well as the American political system. The organization gives all its actors the confidence that someone, something, America is intertwined with international affairs, and its influence on the four corners of the world shines.
What is the Future of Malhama Tactical?
Perhaps no single Salafi-Jihadi groups from Central Asia deserved such close attention of Western media like an Islamist private military contractor (PMC) Malhama Tactical (MT), that founded by a jihadist from southern Kyrgyzstan and training militants in Syria.This was possible thanks to the creativity and active self-promotion of the head of this small consulting firm on the Internet, which has managed to attract the attention of many Western journalists and researchers on Islamic radicalism.
The authoritative Foreign Policy called MTthe world’s first jihadi consortium of elite, well-paid fighters from across the former Soviet Union and compared its activities with the infamous Blackwater USA (now named Academi).BBC Monitoring published a series of analytical articles entitled How Malhama Tactical became the ‘Blackwater of the Syrian jihad’ in December 2018.The Independent, CSAF,the American Partisan, The Daily Caller, MEMRI and others also described MTas a successful jihadist training organization that supposedly changed the course of the Syrian war.My colleagues in the study of Salafi Jihadism Pieter Van Ostaeyen and Neil Hauer even interviewed the MT’s commander in November 2018.
The main disadvantage of all these articles is the lack of critical thinking regarding MT.Western analysts relied on videos, interviews and statements of MT’s leaders published on the Internet as advertising.As a result, the MT’s tactical role in the Syrian war is undeservedly overestimated since the boast of its leaders is taken at face value.
About MT more detailed facts cited the Russian Telegram channel Directorate 4, which is associated with the Russian special services.But the main problem of Russian researchers is that it is difficult to determine the edges of analysis and propaganda, which in some places is accompanied by rude insults to the MT’s leader.
The mysterious name of Al-Malhamah Al-Kubra
One should recognize the creative thinking of the Uzbek young man Abu Rofiq, who gave his organization the mysterious name “Malhama Tactical”, which was immediately noticed by the sponsors of the Salafi movement in the Islamic world. According to the Hadith, the al-Malhamah Al-Kubra means the great battle, bloody fights, massacres and the conquest of Constantinople by Muslims from the Romans.
Abu Rofiq likes to create a halo of mystery around his person and his organization. Western media have created his image like the fearless Rambo and a former officer of the elite of the Russian Airborne Forces, who from the inside knows the secrets of the Russian military-training science. On Facebook Abu Rofiq at one time positioned himself as a former sniper of the Russian elite Special Forces GRU whose staff was involved in the poisoning of former Russian intelligence officer Skripal in British Salisbury and in the interference of the 2016 US elections.
But our analysis showed that some of the statements of Abu Rofiq were not true.All his biographical data, family ties and information about the military career are known to the authorities of Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The real name of Abu Rofiq is Sukhrob Baltabaev who was born in the Osh region of Kyrgyzstan on August 10, 1993.By the way, the leader of al Qaeda-linked Katibat al-Tawhid wal Jihad Abu Saloh is also from this region.
After completing school in 2010, he left as a labor migrant to Russia. The Russian authorities have documented that Sukhrob Baltabaev was called up for military service on May 14, 2012, by the Military Commissariat of Russia’s Tatarstan.He began serving in the 45th Guards Separate Special Purpose Intelligence Regiment of the Airborne Forces in the Moscow Region.However, due to the disease of an intervertebral hernia, he was discharged from the Russian army.
Hijrah to Sham not for the purpose of Jihad but for making money
According to Russian sources, after an unsuccessful military career, Sukhrob Baltabaev returned from Moscow to Kazan and worked as a computer programmer at the firm Potok.In those years that ISIS and al Qaeda began actively recruiting Central Asian migrants working in Russia to Syria and Iraq.Having fallen under the influence of the ideologists of Wahhabism, in February 2014, he left for Syria and joined the Jamaat of Chechen militants Shishani.A young wife from Osh and a son Muhammadrofiq remained at home.
At the end of 2015, he created MT with several friends from Central Asia, who began to train on a commercial basis both local and foreign militants in Syria fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.The exact number of the group’s members is unknown but it is thought to consist of 10-15 fighters, all originating from former USSR states.Knowledge of computer technology, creative advertising campaign and ability to find a common language with the leaders of jihadist jamaats helped him in developing this business.MT has become popular due to the wide use of social networks such as YouTube, Facebook, VK, Twitter and Telegram, where he began to publish examples of military training under the pseudonym Abu Rofiq and offer his services for money.
In Central Asia, there is a saying that “Uzbeks know how to make money out of thin air.” There is even a joke about when the American astronaut Neil Armstrong first landed on the moon, he met there Uzbek who trading in the Lunar Bazaar. In the genes of the peoples of Central Asia, where the Great Silk Road lay, historically there is the ability to trade. The natural flair did not fail Abu Rofiq: he found a unique opportunity to make money from the Syrian war.
The company has been working with the al Qaeda-affiliated Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Ajnad al Kavkaz, Jaysh Muhajirin wal-Ansar,and other groups, even Ahrar as-Sham .I am not a military specialist and cannot assess the quality of MT’s tactical trainees on the use of various types of weapons and fighting in urban combat. But MT’s instructors use popular Russian-made 7.62 mm machine gun, US-made modern sniper rifles, helmets with night vision goggles and the expensive military equipment that the armies of Central Asia cannot afford. The other equipment shown in the videos, like the first-aid kit, is also of high quality, used often in US army and its allies.
Malhama produces equipment for other jihadi groups, manufactures accessories for the PKM, vests and grips, widely used in Syria. This means that MT’s business is doing well and its leader has enough connections somewhere to guarantee himself a supply line of such type. The MT leader actively used the online crowdfunding urging sympathizers to donate money to continue Jihad and training the Mujahedeen. At the same time, currencies of all countries were accepted, even bitcoin, QIWI and Yandex. Money electronic transfers.
Russian hunt for the leader Malhama
With the acquisition of fame and the growth in the number of clients, the real hunt started for the MT leader from the Russian special services, the Assad regime and ISIS.The MT leader considers Moscow and Damascus enemies of Islam who destroy peaceful Muslims in Syria. Moscow has special claims to the MT leader. As shown the attempt to kill former KGB agent Skripal in the UK, Putin will pursue his military, who have betrayed the oath. Despite Moscow’s refusal, Sukhrob Baltabaev is a former military of the Russian Army.
In addition, he inflicts sensitive blows to Russia. In a recent interview, the MT’s head stated that the Mujahideen Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, who had been trained by Malhama, had made an attack in Tarabiya, Northern Hama, and killed four high-ranking Syrian officers and seven Russians on November 10, 2018.ANNA-News Agency confirmed this information.
MT has also been vocal about its opposition to ISIS. On 20 June, Abu Salman posted on his Twitter account an anti-IS message saying: “We must kill them all, ISIS is evil and we have to do something to wipe them out”.
For security reasons, the MT leader appears in the media in masks, or with a scarf tied on his face. According to BBC, the first MT leader Abu Rofiq was killed in February 2017 in a Russian air strike in Idlib. After that Abu Salman Al-Belarusi on Twitter called himself a new MT commander who is Uzbek from Belarus and served as senior sergeant of the 103 Airborne Brigade of the Belarusian Army in Vitebsk. But the Belarusian side did not confirm this information.
But according to the Russian media Abu Rofiq did not die.In order to mislead the Russian special services he spread false information about his death, and now he took the pseudonym Abu Salman Al-Belarusi. That is, Abu Rofiq and Abu Salman Al-Belarusiare one and the same person, that is, Sukhrob Baltabaev from Kyrgyzstan. After comparing the audio and video performances of Abu Rofiq and Abu Salman Al-Belarusi, we concluded that the voice belongs to the same person. The authorities of Russia and Central Asia have identified Sukhrob Baltabaev and continue to closely monitor his relatives.
Ideological views of Malhama Tactical
The ideological views of the MT leader contain the outfit’s mixture of Salafi ideology with the privatization of war because money plays an important role for him in his project. But he cannot be counted among the radical Wahhabis, who are ready to die as Shahid in the name of Allah. His various speeches showed that his level of knowledge of the Quran, Hadith, and Surah, the basics of Tawhid and Fiqh, is not very deep. Perhaps because of this, he avoids the Central Asian Salaf-Jihadi groups Katibat al-Tawhid wal Jihad, Katibat Imam al-Bukhari and Turkestan Islamic Party, who fight in Idlib. In ideological terms, he does not represent a big threat to Central Asia’s countries, because he is not able to conduct propaganda and recruiting campaigns. But he can be described as a jihadist who has close views with al Qaeda and performs his tactical tasks on technical training for jihadists.
Thus, MT was a new phenomenon in the Islamic world which has laid the foundation for the professionalization of Jihad. But without ideological doctrine, it is difficult to predict the continued “successful functioning” of the world’s first jihadi contractor. Therefore, it can be expected that the turbulent development of Jihadism and the fierce competition of terrorist groups will force MT to adopt the radical Salafi ideology and join a certain terrorist group. The history of radical Islamism has shown that the Wahhabi world will not accept those who do not have a deep ideological doctrine of Jihad.In the future, we can expect that the radical principles of Jihadism will force MT to go beyond earning money. MT is already gradually abandoning the concept of money…
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