2014 August 25 Monday
Chechens: The Brains And Skills Behind ISIS?

US special forces soldiers want to mix it up on the ground with ISIS. ISIS are considered to be talented fighters. Why? Chechens went to Syria and taught them how.

Where did ISIS learn such sophisticated military methods, shown clearly after the first shots were fired?

"Probably the Chechens," one of the U.S. officials said.

The whole article is interesting. Some members of US special forces want to go into battle against ISIS.

One Chechen-led group is advertising their training camp on Youtube.

A new jihadist group known as the Jamaat Ahadun Ahad, or the Group of the One and Only, has released a video of its training camp in Syria. The group is led by a Chechen commander and includes fighters from Chechnya, Europe, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and several Arab countries.

The Chechens are dangerous. They've fought the Russians hard. A couple of them killed lots of people in Boston at a marathon. But we no longer have effective cultural defenses against them at home.

I do not know how big a role the Chechens have played in raising the game of Jihadists in Syria and Iraq. But something raised their game. Chechens? Albanians? If you come across any useful insights on why a ISIS is a much more capable fighting force than assorted militias that came before them please provide a link in the comments.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2014 August 25 09:25 PM 

Nick said at August 26, 2014 3:02 AM:

This is speculation on my part, but I wouldn't be surprised if Russian-backed, Chechen "advisors" played a role in the success of ISIS in Iraq. Here's an article on suspected Chechen militias being used in eastern Ukraine: http://www.voanews.com/content/analyst-chechen-fighters-sent-to-ukraine-on-russian-orders/1924788.html

Assuming this is true, it could have a blowback effect against Russia's Syrian ally, but that may be a risk they are willing to take to fight a proxy war against US interests.

George said at August 26, 2014 10:42 AM:

Looks like Muslim fighters are finally growing up. It mirrors Israel's experience with Hezbollah and to much lesser but still noticeable extent with Hamas in Gaza. Used to be in the 80s Israel could send in a 12 man SFO team to storm a Hezbollah stronghold and wipe out 30-40 terrorists without losing a man. Those days are long gone. Western soldiers are still superior but are now facing a much more competent foe. What this means is that if we still want to fight these people we will have to accept a far larger share of casualties even if there is zero doubt we will emerge victorious. So long as it was a cake walk there was little reason NOT to fight them.

Maybe the Chechens possess the combat skill and tactics, but I doubt the ferocity, resolve, and fearlessness described in the article is an attribute of just the chechens as Afghans, Tajiks, and Uzebks have long been noted for just these same qualities.

I recently read a quote from Ariel Sharon saying that its a myth that Arab fighters will turn tail and flee at the sight of serious combat (a myth prevalent in Israel after the 1967 war) but on the contrary will fight to the death of you fight them the way they know how.

I see this is as a positive development across several fronts. For the Israelis, if the Arabs become a serious and competent foe, they will no longer be able to pussyfoot around anymore. Much of the silliness of Israeli half-measures is a result of the absence of any sense of real threat as Arabs fighters were viewed with contempt, an increasingly untenable view. For the Americans, similarly, we will have to consider more carefully who we want to fight, and perhaps avoid stupid and pointless interfering in the Middle East that was easy to justify so long as the risks to our forces were so small. And if we do fight, we won't do half-measures but go the full way against a determined and competent foe.

Finally, maybe Islamic fighters will gain a little pride after not being such abject doormats as in the past, which in my view will have the paradoxical effect of making them settle down a bit. All it took for Egypt to make peace with Israel was a few battlefield successes that redeemed their pride. The aggression of the Muslim worlds comes from a wounded ego that a few battlefield successes will do much to ameliorate.

Jim said at August 26, 2014 11:34 AM:

George - Did anyone ever tell you that you are an idiot?

Jim said at August 26, 2014 11:48 AM:

We've all noticed how chilled out the ISIS fighters are becoming now that they've had some military success. Given a few more military victories they will become as calm and laid back as Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry.

Jim said at August 26, 2014 12:24 PM:

Yes this sounds like a brilliant military strategy. We'll send some US troops in to fight ISIS in inadequate numbers say without air cover or much in the way of military equipment. Let the ISIS fighters obliterate them. With their wounded egos sufficently salved ISIS will no doubt come out for kumbaya and brotherly love with the infidels.

George said at August 26, 2014 12:51 PM:

Jim, have you ever heard that bit about the "confederacy of dunces"? Yes, people tell me I'm an idiot all the time :)

Stop thinking in extremes, Jim, and try thinking a bit outside the box. There will be no need for us to pull our punches. The competence and dedication of this new generation of Islamic fighters means we'll have our hands full even if we go full out. Oh, of course we'll win, there's little doubt of that. But they'll put up a stiff and capable fight, and they won't feel like such losers in their own eyes. The west has made Muslim fighters look so pathetic for the past few centuries that a culture that values pride and ego simply can't rest until they feel at least somewhat vindicated. They don't even have to defeat us, they just have to regain their own sense of self-respect by not being such pathetic fighters.

Egypt considers the 1973 war a glorious victory simply because they put up a stiff and capable fight and enjoyed a few early victories even though they were ultimately crushed. But they could respect themselves. Look at Hezbolla vs Israel in 2006. Hezbollah lost every ground battle against Israeli infantry despite having an overwhelming home front advantage; knowing the terrain, hiding out in extremely well prepared defensive positions built up as concrete maze-like structures with traps, deceptions, tunnels, and booby traps that Israeli soldiers going into had almost no idea of the extent or complexity. But Hezbolla fought extremely well and regained some self-respect. The result is quiet for 8 years.

You don't understand Muslims. What they need more than anything is self-respect. Muslims see themselves, and are in fact, losers, but if they manage to gain some self-respect for a few decades they'll more than likely quiet down. But until they do its an itch they just have to scratch.

Jim said at August 26, 2014 1:34 PM:

George - You're not just out of you're box you're out of you're mind.

Jim said at August 26, 2014 1:36 PM:

I meant to say - You're not just out of your box you're out of your mind.

T said at August 26, 2014 1:46 PM:

George is exactly right about the Arabic mentality and combat skills. The natural level of military competency among Arabs is very low. Aiming is not part of their culture. To them, the important thing about shooting a gun is the emotional feeling that you get from doing it. Basically they are naturally slacktavists when it comes to war, a lot of talk, a lot of bluster, very little meaningful action. However, in a protracted war against a Western army they will step up their game and learn to fight at a level much higher than they are naturally inclined to. I was in Iraq in 2006 and when we first arrived the Arabs couldn't shoot at all. By the time we left they had become halfway decent.

Anti Christ said at August 26, 2014 1:53 PM:

I understand your point about the psychology of self-respect, but the Egyptian government of Anwar Sadat that signed the peace treaty with Israel was very secular, and this was precisely why Sadat was assassinated in the end. Ultimately, a religious fundamentalist government replaced the secular Hosni Mubarak (the hand-picked successor of Sadat) in Egypt by means of elections, only to be overthrown by a military coup backed by the Saudi monarchy that was worried about being overthrown by the Brotherhood's followers. Those Muslims who follow a more classical interpretation of the religious law, usually read their texts the way their first generations did: it is illegal for them to give equality to the adherents of other faiths. It may be that you are trying to apply a very general form of psychology of ego development found in secular societies, without trying to immerse yourself in the psychology of those societies who are completely overwhelmed by religious doctrines.


Randall Parker,
The West is lacking a serious advantage that the Caliphate warriors have: while the EU and North America allow other nations to immigrate and blend in to become a fifth column ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifth_column ), most Muslim countries have the explicit policy of not allowing non-Muslim immigrants. This asymmetry makes it incredibly difficult to fight a guerrila war against a determined religious fundamentalist groups. A lot of statistics have been published about the future implications of this subject.

Anti Christ said at August 26, 2014 1:55 PM:

The correct spelling is guerrilla, which is the key word here.

Whiskey said at August 26, 2014 2:17 PM:

ISIS is opposed to the Assads, so talk of the Russians or Russian proxies helping them is dumb. Russia is BACKING ASSAD and Iran. To jack up oil prices.

More likely, ISIS has become more competent NOT because of the Chechens, but because of the Turks.

The Chechens are good at guerilla fighting -- ISIS has been fighting like a regular military. It can conduct operations on two or more fronts at the same time, can fight in retreat, uses very effectively SPEED of operations, overwhelming superior forces with mechanized units that do NOT fight on the ground, dismounted. This is a semi-modern Blitzkrieg.

Chechens have no experience with this, even less coordinating multiple front assaults and shifting resources from one front to the other. This smacks of professional, highly trained military people.

Which means to my mind, the Turkish Army. Erdogan has been purging the old Nationalist Kemalist officer corps for more than ten years. Erdogan has made no secret of his desire to restore the Caliphate with Turkey naturally as the returning Caliph. It is true that Turkey has about 49 diplomats held hostage by the ISIS people, but this may be a feature not a bug of the Erdogan strategy of arming ISIS with military advisors and in some cases, direct officers, to create an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that allows Turkey to challenge Iran as the premier Muslim power in the Middle East. In other words, Muslim rivalry between the two powers that characterizes Muslim history since the Mongol Invasions destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate ended Arab power.

To my mind, the rise of ISIS has been the ability to fight like Westerners. Being disciplined, highly mobile, using speed of operations to defeat enemies, with accurate intelligence and constant deception in offensive operations (i.e. make enemies expect an assault on one front while preparing another). Out of all the regional operators, only Turkey has a professional (enough) military force able to instill Western ways of fighting. It is notable that the fighting in Iraq and Syria is FAR FAR different than that in Libya or Algeria or Yemen. Where traditional tribes act like traditional tribes -- lacking mobility, vehicles, artillery, etc.

Consider ISIS latest advances this Summer in Iraq. They had to keep a wide variety of disparate vehicles fueled, repaired, and operational. They had to coordinate heavy artillery, which they used to good effect, with short-range mortars, armored vehicles, trucks, rocket launchers, and guys on the back of vehicles using AK-47s and heavy mounted machine guns. That's not the Chechens, that's people who know how to TRAIN mechanics, armorers, supply people (all those fighters needed food, fuel, medical supplies, ammunition).

Mechanized Armies which ISIS definitely IS, require huge logistical efforts to keep vehicles running and the large amounts of firepower fed with ammo to overwhelm in many cases numerically superior forces.

Anti Christ said at August 26, 2014 2:33 PM:

Randall Parker asked: " But something raised their game. Chechens? Albanians? If you come across any useful insights on why a ISIS is a much more capable fighting force than assorted militias that came before them please provide a link in the comments."


Your intuition is correct. To be more exact, both Chechens and Albanians have one thing in common: although the Albanians are very different from the Chechens who are a Turkic tribe, they still have some Turkic cultural influence.

Although it is well known that military thinking has always been important in the Turkic cultures, it is important to note that a relatively small number of ethnic Turks managed to control enormous territory, even after a lot of assimilation and intermarriage with other nations as in the Ottoman Empire.


Here is the map of the Ottoman Empire, where a minority of Turks managed to rule rebellious majorities for centuries:
They could not have been able to pull this off without the exceptional military prowess that they had.

Historically, after the original success of the Arabs, whenever the Islamic world became organized, this was under the leadership of the Turks.

George said at August 26, 2014 2:55 PM:

Anti-Christ, that is a good point, and the fundamentalists will likely be emboldened by any victories against the west. But I do think much of the appeal the fundamentalists have among the general population is that they put up a fight and are involved in the process of restoring Muslim self-respect. After the fundamentalists succeed in restoring a sense of Islamic pride, I suspect their appeal will wane. I don't think the Muslim world as a whole wants to take on the west in any serious way - they just don't want to feel like such losers all the time. I agree regular secular psychology doesn't apply to the fundies, and sure, things might go the other way at least in the interim and the fundies might get their desire of taking on the west with the backing of an ecstatic Muslim world. Such an initial reaction wouldn't surprise me at all. But if that happens, they'll be crushed. In the aftermath, Muslim pride will be restored because they put up a good fight and weren't pathetic losers, but the fundies goal of taking on the west will be discredited. At that point, the Muslim world might quiet down a bit.

Randall Parker said at August 26, 2014 8:45 PM:


Lay off the insults. I'll start deleting your posts if you do not desist.


I'm skeptical about your theory on the Turkish government. I'd like to learn more about Turkish elite attitudes toward the Arabs. My impression is they look down at Arabs. Do they actually try to influence military outcomes between battling Arab factions? I do not hear anything about this if they do.

The major thing I read is that Western governments want the Turks to stop Jihadists who pass thru their territory on the way to Syria. But Jihadists all flocking from Europe and the US to Syria seems like a feature to me. How about revoking their passports and then leaving them in the Middle East? The West should get rid of Jihadists by letting Jihadists go fight, especially against forces that can fight back (with the help of US air power).

Wolf-Dog said at August 26, 2014 9:31 PM:

Randall Parker,

In the Ottoman Empire and until recently, Turks have often looked down at the Arabs as you said. However, with the advent of the new Islamist movements in Turkey which have aspirations to create an Islamic Empire, a lot of Turks are beginning (or at least trying) to view the Arabs as equal Muslims. At least at the beginning, by adopting a common enemy such as the US and Israel, it might be possible to unify the Islamic world. But of course, after Turkey starts administering the Arab countries in a few decades, there will probably be some ethnic tensions and even revolts, when the honeymoon ends.

Jim said at August 27, 2014 5:41 AM:

Anti-Christ - Chechen is not a Turkic language.

Jim said at August 27, 2014 5:56 AM:

OK Randall, I apologize to George. But I still wonder, when in human history has military success ever "quieted down" anybody? Didn't weem to "quiet down" the Mongols.

Whiskey - from your description things look pretty bleak for the current government in Baghdad. It's army doesn't seem to have these capabilities. So not much chance of them reversing ISIS' gains by themselves.

As for the long-term outlook for relations between the Western world and Islam I think the one ting we can safely rule out is peace. Western Europe does not seem to have the civilizational vitality to resist Islam.

Jim said at August 27, 2014 6:05 AM:

T - So by intervening in places like Iraq which was no threat to us under Hussein we have upgraded the military skills of Islamists not to mntion giving them a lot of nifty military equipment.

Anti Christ said at August 27, 2014 3:05 PM:

Jim, Despite their linguistic differences, Chechens have been historically mixed with Turkic tribes, with both cultures and ancestors that are blended. Please read this Wikipedia article.

" ... In the Middle Ages, the lowland of Chechnya was dominated by the Khazars and then.... ..."
"were ordered by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to be ruthlessly deported en masse to the Kazakh and Kirghiz SSRs..."

In any case, they are influenced by the Turkish culture. Many Chechens live in other countries with Turkic cultures. The Albanians and Bosnians have a lot less Turkic ancestry, but they, too were influenced by the Turkish culture.

destructure said at August 27, 2014 11:43 PM:

Turks ruled the Middle East for hundreds of years. Arabs hate them for it. So I doubt Turks are helping ISIS. If you want to know why ISIS suddenly improved then you have to look at which groups ISIS evolved from, where they got the equipment to overrun Iraqi military bases to start with and who they're fighting against. ISIS evolved from Al Qaeda which was always a Saudi backed group. ISIS first military equipment was smuggled in to them from China and the Balkans by the Saudis. And they're fighting Syria's Assad and Iraq's Shia both of whom are backed by Iran, the historic enemy of the Saudis. So it should be obvious why ISIS suddenly emerged so strong. They had the backing of a bonafide state with deep pockets and a professional military i.e. the Saudis.

Jim said at August 28, 2014 6:41 AM:

"Turkic" is a linguistic term. The speakers of Turkic languages vary over a wide range both genetically and culturally. The notion of a "Turkic culture" is very ill-defined.

George said at August 28, 2014 9:54 AM:

Jim, you're thinking in black and white terms of total defeat and total victory. I'm thinking of Muslims fighters putting up a good fight in the context of an ultimate defeat. A nation or people will often continue fighting until its "proven" itself. I don't understand why this sounds so terribly far fetched.

Jim said at August 28, 2014 1:05 PM:

Success in warfare does not cause a people to become more peaceful. The Mongols or Romans for example "proved themselves" to be excellent in war early on. They did not then become more peaceful. To the extent that a group like ISIS is militarily successful it will become more likely to resort to force in the future. Alexander the Great's "proving himself" in military prowness certainly didn't cause his ambitions to wane. The pursuit of power may well be checked by external forces or difficulties but it is rarely self-limiting.

Jim said at August 28, 2014 1:24 PM:

The expansion of a group like ISIS will stop because of external resistance from the Iranians say or from the Kurds or whoever is able to stop them. It will not stop because the ISIS fighters decide that they have "proven themselves" and spontaeously "quiet down".

Anti Christ said at August 29, 2014 12:21 PM:


It is important to distinguish between the "European" Turks and the Anatolian Turks. Despite Islam, the Ottoman Empire had a very European population in the Western parts of the empire, not to mention the Balkans and beyond. The so-called European Turks, were the descendants of Europeans who converted to Islam. This was in contrast with the Central and East Anatolian Turks, and the Eastern territories, where both the culture and ancestry were far less European. This was one of the reasons the Ottoman Turks looked down on the Arabs and ruled the Arabs in a discriminatory fashion, not to mention the latent resentment due to the previous Arab conquest of Transoxiana, which temporarily subjugated the Turkic tribes in the past: ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_conquest_of_Transoxiana ), which probably had something to do with the discriminatory measures that the Ottomans took against the Arabs they were ruling.

Even after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the same European elite ruled Turkey. That being said, during the 1970s, there was an Islamist revival in Turkey, and these Islamist groups gradually gained ground, leading to the current religious government that got elected thanks to the Anatolians. The recent religious movement, rejects the "European" Turks, and favors a rapprochement with the Arab world. Recently, many Turkish Islamists have started to study Arabic and they have been marrying Arabs, as part of their new philosophy of replacing nationalism with the religious law, their idea being that the new Islamic union that they envision, would be more universal than the Ottoman system that discriminated against he Arabs. Of course, some Arabs view this with great suspicion, and they intuitively worry that they would once again be ruled with an iron fist if Turkey dominates the region. But at least temporarily, it is very likely that the tension between the Eastern and Western civilizations, will temporarily help the rapprochement between Turkey and the Arab world. Please recall that during the Crusades, even the Shiite Iranians worked with the Sunnis against the West.

Balloon Tires said at September 4, 2014 10:26 AM:

There are close ties between Russian government and military agencies, and certain Chechen militias. Muslim militias were in the forefront of the battle to annex parts of Georgia to Russia. Plausible deniability is easy when you have such nasty friends.

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