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Russia and Turkey: Consequences in Counterterrorism

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Terrorism

Intelligence communities are often examined through their organizational structure. However, another approach is to examine cooperation agreements, conflicts, and the successes and failures of these relationships. This research examines cooperation agreements among different nations to combat the global security threat of terrorism. Specifically, this paper seeks to explore the successes and failures of Russia and Turkey in their attempts to combat terrorism. Terrorism fails to discriminate against any one nation, person, idea, or thought. In the words of Vladimir Putin, “terrorism has no nationality or religion.” Below is a matrix outlining concepts explored in this analysis.

Turkey and Russia have been fighting the rise of the Islamic State but through different approaches. Zenon as explains the Islamic state is a fusion of a state, an insurgency, and a terrorist organization, a violent non-state actor that could be best described as a quasi-state” (96). The threats imposed by the Islamic State include both conventional and asymmetrical threats. Thus, by examining history we can understand how to combat the different angles and methods used by the Islamic State.

Historically, Russia has primarily faced terrorism issues from the North Caucasus region. “The struggle was begun by Chechen rebels and was apparently supported economically, morally, and militarily by radical Islamic elements in the Middle East” (Magan, 2010).Additionally, Russia continued to face challenges defending its security interests domestically and regionally. As Crosston notes, Russia contends with several aspects of domestic security to include home-grown radical Islamist movements, political and economic corruption while facing an international struggle against terrorism” (123).

In direct comparison, Turkey also experienced security concerns as it related to extremist organizations and terrorism. Throughout history, Turkey has tackled some of the most challenging movements for Islamic independence. “Turkey had established blood borders drawn up by a popular struggle for self-determination” (Akturk, 5). Turkey confronted a different kind of challenge than most western and non-western regions, which included ethic and religious separatist movements. For decades, Turkey viewed the Kurdish militancy as a threat to their security and sovereignty (Starr, 1). Turkey attempted to solve the dilemma with the Kurds through largely political means but also employed some heavy-handed military operations as well. Turkey had another problem besides the conflict with the Kurdish people: it wanted accession into the European Union.

Turkey pursued accession into the European Union to advance their strategic agenda and strengthen commercial and economic ties. However, the European Union was not confident Turkey could comply with the Copenhagen criteria “without substantial change in the role of the military” (Larrabee and Lesser, 12). Turkey understood to gain accession into the European Union it would need to undergo significant reform and change the paradigm of their geopolitical environment. Turkey began to accept change and underwent reform to continually enhance its relationship with the European Union. First, in 2001, Ankara laid out an Accession Partnership Document and parliament passed a series of reforms that eased restrictions on human rights. (Larrabee and Lesser, 53). Turkey started to make steps toward developing a successful Western-like democratic establishment, even if there was skepticism inside the European Union. Additionally, in 2002, Turkey passed a mini-reform package that “relaxed constraints on freedom of expression that had been used to jail journalists and intellectuals who published views considered to undermine the State” (Larrabee and Lesser, 53). The reforms within Turkey were well-received within the international community. However, Turkey still had a long way to go on meeting the full criteria established by the European Union.

Russia, however, has taken a different approach to terrorism by implementing ambivalent policies. As a communist country, Russia’s main authoritarian security concern was to protect its internal security (Gentry, 468). Although Russia seeks to maintain practical strategic partnerships, its Military Doctrine today is conflicting. For example, “a document from 1993 stated Russia did not recognize any country as its foe, whereas the text from 2000 suggests many actions will pose challenges and actual threats to Moscow’s security” (Bugajski, 62). Russia has a significant Muslim population and must maintain a peaceful approach toward Muslims. Therefore, Russia “chooses to present those involved as rebels against the state as criminals handled by internal security procedures” (Magen, 2010). Although Russia has experienced several contradictions within its policies, it has also found ways to cooperate with many rivals.

Similar to Turkey, Russia sought out regional cooperation for a common good. In 1992 and 2002, Russia and Kazakhstan signed an agreement to exchange information as it related to Islamic religious groups and suspected criminals/terrorists (Lefebvre and McDermott, 269). In certain cases, rivals can come to an agreement based on common interests and threats. After the attacks on the U.S. in 2001, the NATO-Russia Founding Act called upon the international community to unite against “such an inhuman act” (NATO, 2001). Beasly, Kaarbo, Hermann and Hermann explain leaders tend to set aside disagreements based on foreign threats to protect the survival of the regime (220). Strategically, Putin may have been simply reassuring Bush or Putin may have truly empathized. Either way, it reduced the alienation endured by Russia and the United States, often self-imposed.

The respect for identity has been a greater challenge for Turkey. Turkey continued to fight for accession into the European Union but a decade later the enhanced relationships and possibility of democratic reform took a fatal blow. BBC News reported, in 2016, the Turkish military established a coup d’état in which Erdogan encouraged the public to take to the streets in an all-out war against the Turkish military (Turkey’s coup attempt, 2016). The European Union was significantly unsettled by President’s Erdogan’s actions, which crumbled the possibility of Turkey’s accession into the European Union. Turkey was now at a complete disadvantage with the European Union and trying to combat terrorism in and outside the region.

The European Union-Turkey tensions remain tense due to Turkey’s domestic politics. Pierini (former EU ambassador) explains President Erdoğan’s political affiliations are now connected to anti-European parties which uphold the “one-man-rule system and will not steer the country toward European democratic standards” (2018). Although it seemed throughout the early 2000s Turkey was gaining accession support from the European Union, the crucial decisions of President Erdogan marked a monumental turning point in EU-Turkey relations that further exacerbated the growing threat of terrorism within Turkey. Turkey continues to struggle with sectarian and religious hostilities throughout the region. On May 11th 2013, “Turkey suffered the deadliest terrorist attack in modern history when 52 people were killed in twin car bombings close to the Syrian border” (Starr, 1). This marked the beginning of a long road of terrorist growth and activity within Turkey. By 2017, the “Reina nightclub massacre in Istanbul marked the involvement of the Islamic State” terrorist group publicly taking ownership of an attack within the Turkish state (Soliev, 24).

Comparable to Turkey, immediate security threats inside Russia are still a growing concern. Russia continues to develop cooperation with international and non-governmental partners to enhance and protect rights in and outside the region. Russian foreign policies focus on maintaining strong economic and foreign policy ties to the European Union (Foreign Policy, #63/64). However, Russia is also going to have to look toward non-friendly partners to stabilize situations that have a direct impact on Russian domestic and regional security. Russia realized it needed to focus on terrorism not just from a domestic standpoint, but from regional and international ones. For example, by 2009, Russia was forced to return to the security threat of an unstable Afghanistan. Russia utilized regional actors, throughout the 2000s, such as Pakistan, Central Asia, and India, to understand the position of Afghanistan (Safranchuck, 2019). This not only enhanced relationships with Pakistan (a foe to Russia) but gave Russia regional expertise to help develop new policies on regional and transnational terrorism.

Turkey also continues to advance towards developing policies that deter those organizations threatening to ‘cleanse’ Turkey’s southern regions. Similar to Russia, the Republic of Turkey explains its main security concerns include protecting territorial integrity and preserving national identity (2011). The increased tensions across Syria cause continued concern for Turkey. In an interview with BBC, Mihrae Ural (a Commander of Syrian resistance), claimed individuals in regions of southern Turkey were allied with Syria to fight on behalf of the Syrian government (Starr, 3). The integrity and security of Turkey continues to be compromised by its own artificial borders and loss of ties to Russia. As the Syrian conflict continued, Turkey understood the importance of establishing joint partnerships to prevent the disruption of the territorial sovereignty of Turkey.

Russia is continuing to seek political advancements and influence through alternative policies and relationships around the globe. One of the major successes was Russia’s ability to establish a relationship with the United States in regards to combating terrorism. It not only established relationships with the United States but also the European region. Russia is able to focus on its internal threats but also build influence in Central and Eastern European regions by establishing relatively amicable relationships with America. This has given Russia the perception that it is a major source of European power. Russia has not only assessed the need to find common ground with the United States, but understands the influence this could provide Russia in the European region.

However, this success would quickly turned into a failure to maintain cooperation with the European region. Russia began to see the European region as a threat to the ‘Russian regime’ and turned from cooperative to conflicting. After Russia had a conflict with Georgia, the European Union suspended its Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia (Foxall, 2018). Russia saw the continued expansion of NATO and increased western influence as a means to infringe upon Russian borders, thereby threatening Russian sovereignty.

Recently, in 2016, the Russian Federation released their Foreign Policy Concept. Russia focused on the “spread of extremist ideology and the activity of terrorist groups, primarily, in the Middle East and North Africa” (Foreign Policy, 2016). Russia is searching for policies that respect its territorial sovereignty while countering attempts that interfere with its domestic state of affairs. Russia has provided this in its foreign policy by understanding the need to “prevent military interventions or other outside interference” while still allowing Russia to exercise its sovereign rights (Foreign Policy, 2016). These policies not only secure the national security of Russia, but seek to strengthen cooperation with neighboring states.

Turkey and Russia must continually examine regional and international networks available to develop a comprehensive approach to mitigating terrorism domestically and regionally. Ehrhart explains the successes of Russia in the Ukraine and the U.S. in Afghanistan was the utilization of civil and military means and methods (265). Employing these different combinations of means and methods also required a vast amount of cooperation and communication. However, prior to establishing any relationship, the nation must consider any risks involved and how that partner conceptualizes different security threats (Ehrhart, 271). Any country facing the threat of terrorism, Western or non-Western, must establish cooperating partners while communicating effectively with domestic, regional, and global actors.

In conclusion, Russia and Turkey were able to establish policies intended to safeguard their internal systems. As strategic opportunities arose, both nations took advantage of developing cooperation with the European Union and the United States, respectively. However, the authoritarian tendencies of both nations ultimately led to failure in maintaining these relationships. Although Russia failed to maintain a strong relationship with NATO and the US, it was able to successfully and strategically place itself around the Afghan region to gain influence and expertise there. Whereas Turkey was not able to gain accession into the European Union, it also failed to resolve ethnic and culture dilemmas internally and regionally. Therefore, Russia has established better strategic and tactical means to deter the internal and regional influence of terrorism across its general sphere of geographical impact.

Larissa Beavers was born and raised in Ashley, PA and joined the United States Air Force in 2004. She has been an enlisted member of the United States Air Force for the last 14 years as an intelligence analyst. Larissa is currently a student of American Public University System under the Doctorate of Strategic Intelligence Program. She completed her Bachelors in Criminal Intelligence and Masters of Intelligence Studies at American Public University.

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Terrorism

Da’esh, affiliates remain ‘global and evolving’ threat

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In a joint briefing to the Security Council on Tuesday, UN counterterrorism officials confirmed that the threat posed by Da’esh terrorist fighters and their affiliates remains “global and evolving”.

“Da’esh and its affiliates continue to exploit conflict dynamics, governance fragilities and inequality to incite, plan and organize terrorist attacks,” said UN counter-terrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov, presenting the Secretary-General’s fifteenth report

They also exploit pandemic restrictions, misuse digital spaces to recruit sympathizers and have “significantly” increased the use of unmanned aerial systems, as reported in northern Iraq.

Decentralized structure, methods

In charting the of the expansion of Da’esh expansion across Iraq, Syria and through areas of Africa that until recently had been largely spared from attacks, Mr. Voronkov attributed their success in part to a decentralized structure focused around a “general directorate of provinces” and associated “offices”.

These operate in both Iraq and Syria, as well as outside the core conflict zone – notably in Afghanistan, Somalia and the Lake Chad Basin. 

Better understanding and monitoring, including through global and regional cooperation, are vital to counter the threat.

Vulnerabilities across the world

Providing an overview, Mr. Voronkov said that the border between Iraq and Syria remains highly vulnerable, with an estimated 10,000 fighters operating in the area. 

In April, the group launched a global campaign to avenge senior leaders killed in counter-terrorism operations.

While the number of attacks claimed or attributed to the local Da’esh affiliate has decreased in Afghanistan, since the Taliban assumed control last year, its presence has expanded into the north-east and east of the country.

In Europe, Da’esh has called on sympathizers to carry out attacks by exploiting the easing of pandemic restrictions and the conflict in Ukraine.

Africa in crosshairs

In Africa, meanwhile, the senior UN official described the expansion of Da’esh across the Central, Southern and Western reaches of the continent. 

From Uganda, one affiliate widened its operations into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while another – after being knocked out by military action in 2021 – intensified small-scale attacks in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province. 

The expansion has even affected littoral countries in the Gulf of Guinea, which had previously been spared from violence.

Managing millions

In terms of financing, Mr. Voronkov said Da’esh leaders manage between $25 to $50 million in assets, significantly less than estimates three years ago.

However, the diversity of both licit and illicit sources underscores the importance of sustained efforts to cut terrorism funding. 

While he welcomed recent repatriations by Iraq, Tajikistan and France, he expressed concern that the limited progress achieved so far in repatriating foreign terrorist fighters and their family members is “far overshadowed by the number of individuals still facing a precarious and deteriorating situation”.

Calls to repatriate foreign fighters

Tens of thousands of individuals – including more than 27,000 children – from Iraq and some 60 other countries remain subject to enormous security challenges and humanitarian hardship. 

The counter-terrorism chief reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for Member States to further their efforts in facilitating the safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation of all individuals who remain stuck in camps and other facilities. 

“Terrorism does not exist in a vacuum,” said Weixiong Chen, Acting Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, which was established in 2001 following the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States.

Describing gains, he said that the Executive Directorate, which is a special political mission, was able to resume its on-site assessment visits after two years of virtual and hybrid formats brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Among other efforts, his team issued a report synthesizing its extensive consultations with African civil society groups on trends related to ISIL in Africa, as well as a study on the links between counter-terrorism frameworks and international humanitarian law.

In closing, he called for a comprehensive, coordinated “All of UN” approach tailored by age and gender, and human rights compliant as the only way to push back against a global terrorist threat like Da’esh.

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War Victim Becomes Hope For Pakistan’s Tribal Districts

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A 10-Year-old boy Irfan Ullah Jan would walk down the streets of Sadda, Kurram district heading to his school with one simple fantasy: one day he would become something. He aspired to return something back to his loved ones. Sadly, Jan’s fantasy didn’t remain simple as it seemed to be after a deadly bomb blast. But today, he is giving back a lot more to the once war-torn Tribal districts.  

An IED blast ripping through the Awami Bazar, Sadda in Kurram District killed three people on spot, leaving several injured back in July 2011. Among them was Jan, whose legs had to be amputated to rescue his life. It took almost 10 years for him to formulate an organization in the once war-torn Tribal districts of Pakistan called as “FATA Disable Welfare Organization”. Till date, he has enrolled thousands of poor disabled students in private schools.

Furthermore, he rendered social services for disables by forming an organization “Kurram Union of Special Persons”. This union facilitated disabled children to get their early education without any cost. The union after years of hard work has been matured into FDWO – FATA Disable Welfare Organization. The now chairman of FDWO, Irfan Ullah Jan has successfully assisted hundreds of war victims in getting free access to education. FDWO has rehabilitated more than one thousand disabled persons by providing them with artificial limbs. Philanthropist Mr Jan has reintegrated the disabled persons by arranging community activities like Sports galas. Speaking to us on the support he has been receiving, Irfan Ullah Jan says “FDWO receives charity money from public at large. Pakistan Army has been pivotal in facilitating me to inaugurate rehabilitation center for Special Persons along with an imperative support in educating disabled children of the area. I received “President’s Pride of Performance Award” this year for the services FDWO has been providing in the region.”

He expresses thatthe tribal region has seen worst militancy in the past which includes deaths, economic losses and instability. Apart from these challenges, rehabilitating war victims was the biggest challenge for the government of Pakistan and this was the aim behind the foundation of his organization to rehabilitate and bring normalcy in the region.”

The long wave of militancy which effected people economically and socially especially in the tribal districts has now transformed into a wave of rehabilitation. Youth like Irfan Ullah Jan are returning a lot more to the once war-torn Tribal districts.

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With Al Qaeda down but not out, killing Zawahiri is symbolic

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President Joe Biden was not wrong when he declared that “justice has been served” with the killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri in a US drone strike.

The problem is that’s only half of the truth; the other half is that Mr. Zawahiri was more a has-been than a power to be reckoned with on the jihadist totem pole. In death, he may have scored his most significant achievement since becoming head of Al Qaeda as the symbol of the failure of decades of war in Afghanistan.

Mr. Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul in a house owned by Sirajuddin Haqqani, Afghanistan’s de  facto deputy head of state, will be touted as evidence that Afghanistan has reverted to being a base for terrorist groups. Mr. Haqqani’s son and son-in-law are believed to have also died in the drone strike.

In addition, the killing will likely become a partisan issue in domestic US politics, with Republicans pointing to Mr. Biden’s bungled withdrawal a year ago of US troops from Afghanistan.

In anticipation of the criticism, Mr. Biden said the killing demonstrated the United States’ post-withdrawal ability to protect Americans without “thousands of boots on the ground.”

Even so, the withdrawal resulted from a war that the United States and its allies could not win and a fundamentally flawed US-Taliban agreement negotiated by the administration of former President Donald J. Trump that helped the Taliban regain power.

Since succeeding Osama bin Laden after the United States killed him in 2011, Mr. Zawahiri, the man who helped shape Al Qaeda from day one, could not garner the stature of the group’s former leader. Nor was he able to impose his will on Al Qaeda franchises in Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere in Africa.

Researcher Nelly Lahoud argues in a recently published book based on computer files confiscated in the US raid that killed Mr. Bin Laden that Al Qaeda had lost much of its operational capability in the immediate years after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

The Islamic State, the foremost jihadist organization locked into a bitter fight with the Taliban, increasingly overshadowed Al Qaeda, showcasing Mr. Zawahiri’s inability to fill Mr. Bin Laden’s shoes.

In fact, the Islamic State today poses a greater threat to the United States than Al Qaeda. Equally importantly, the Islamic State also constitutes a more significant threat to Central Asian states like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as well as Russia and China.

If Mr. Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul raises questions about the Taliban’s willingness and determination to prevent militant groups from operating from its territory, repeated Islamic State attacks on domestic Afghan targets, and the firing of rockets into Tajikistan and Uzbekistan call into question the group’s ability to do so.

To be sure, granting Al Qaeda leaders shelter does not by definition amount to Taliban acquiescence of the group launching attacks from Afghan soil.

The questions are particularly acute given that Mr. Zawahiri was killed days after the Taliban engaged with representatives of 30 countries at a conference in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent in a bid to unfreeze some US$7 billion in Afghan foreign currency reserves.

Days later, Tashkent hosted foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Council (SCO), who had Afghanistan high on their agenda. The SCO groups India, Russia, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

The Taliban regime has yet to be officially recognized by any country. Countries across geopolitical divides have insisted that the Taliban first demonstrate their willingness and ability to control all of Afghanistan and curtail militant groups.

The international community also required the Taliban to form an inclusive government and ensure women’s rights. The Taliban have yet to deliver on any of its promises.

Reporting to the United Nations Security Council in January, UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons noted that “the existence of numerous terrorist groups in Afghanistan remains a broad international and especially regional concern. The desire of the de facto authorities to take on this threat across the board remains to be convincingly demonstrated.”

Ms. Lyons’ remarks have seemingly gone unheeded in Kabul. In response to the Islamic State attacks on Tajikistan, home to Russia’s largest foreign military base, the Taliban are building a watchtower on the two countries’ border with the help of a Tajik group bent on changing the regime in Dushanbe.

Adding insult to injury, graffiti near the tower celebrates Muhammad Sharipov, aka M. Arsalon or Mahdi Arsalon, a Tajik national wanted by authorities for the past eight years on terrorism charges.

During talks last month, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon cautioned his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, against a possible recognition by Moscow of the Taliban regime. Mr. Putin insisted that he would consider Tajik concerns about ethnic minority rights in Afghanistan.

While ethnic minority rights may be a Tajik concern, the opposite may be true for China. China fears that the militant Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), also known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), hardened by the war in Syria, may want to use Afghanistan as a launching pad for attacks in retaliation for China’s brutal crackdown on the Uyghur Turkic Muslim minority in the northwestern province of Xinjiang.

A United Nations Security Council report said last month that the  group had built strongholds in Badakhshan near the Chinese border in northeast Afghanistan, where it had “expanded its area of operations and covertly purchased weapons, with the aim of improving its capabilities for terrorist activities.”

The Taliban suggested that they had moved the estimated 1,000 Uyghur fighters away from the Chinese border to other parts of Afghanistan last October. China has long pressed the Taliban to curtail the group’s activity.

Creating distance between Uyghur militants and the Chinese border may not be good enough. The Islamic State sought to make that clear when it employed an Uyghur as a suicide bomber in an attack last October on a Shiite Muslim mosque in the Afghan city of Kunduz.

The message was: Uyghur militants have alternatives. The Taliban may not be their best bet.

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