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    March 8, 2016

    Russian colonel(ret.) from Syria - Airstrikes and armies won't solve this; citizens and government must fight terrorism together

    Fort Russ, March 8th.
    Original interview by Dmitri Puchkov here


    This interview by Vasily Pavlov, a former Russian Army colonel turned war correspondent, is extremely interesting. Not just because of the things he says about Syria, but because he explains how each country can protect itself from international terrorism (he’s talking from a Russian viewpoint, of course, but the same things largely apply to Europe or USA). 

    A military officer who spent a year and a half in Syria, learning as much as he could about the nature of international terrorism in the 21st century and the methods Syrians used to defend from it, he makes a number of important conclusions (listed below). 


    [Pavlov in Syria]



    I should also note that the interviewer, Dmitri Puchkov a.k.a. 'Goblin', is himself a former police detective, so he adds a thing or two about fighting organized crime/extremism. 

    The original interview changed topics frequently, leaving a subject and then coming back, so in order to make it more structured, I reordered everything along several overarching themes. Here they are:


    CONTENTS


    1. Regular army can not be everywhere at once; insurgents can


    2. Airstrikes are almost useless against an enemy that is dispersed and has no high-value assets

    3. You have to target the countries that recruit, train, arm and finance terrorists, not the expendable gunmen 

    4. Border security and passport control are #1 way to prevent terrorism

    5. In Syria, jihadists got in with Libyan and Iraqi refugees

    6. Either Turkey is training and arming jihadists – in which case it is the aggressor and not protected by NATO, or it needs to start attacking their bases and ask other countries for help

    7. To defeat jihadists' ideology of justice, which appeals to the impoverished masses, a state needs to offer a real alternative

    8. There are many brands of Islam – the moderates should be supported, and the extremists prosecuted; alternative institutions of Islamic theology need to be capable of matching the capabilities of wealthy extremists in Saudi Arabian universities

    9. Citizens' militia is absolutely essential to defend against the terrorist threat, but in order to be effective, it has to be supported by the federal government

    10. Information warfare is very important, and so is rationally assessing the situation: those that blindly approve of every action by their government or 'their side' are just as harmful as those who blindly disapprove of everything

    11. Extremism spreads on the Internet and should be fought there as well

    12. The people cannot fight terrorism alone, but the government can not either. Unite or perish


    SELECTED QUOTES:

    '[According to] American data, they [did 8800 airstrikes], spent $5 billion, and claim to have killed 5000 terrorists. So each terrorist cost million dollars at least. According to our Russian Ministry of Defense, in four thousand airstrikes we killed several hundred terrorists - that proportion sounds more realistic. So you understand, 4000 airstrikes, let's say it’s even a thousand terrorists... 
    The cost of killing a terrorist is a incomparable to the cost of hiring one. A terrorist recruit costs a hundred dollars, plus hundred dollars to give him a rifle. And war is an economic contest - if we spend $1,000,000 to kill a terrorist whom the enemy hire for $200, we are losing the war.'

    ===

    'You can't tell between terrorists and refugees. That's what happened in Syria - the big second wave of terrorists were mostly Iraqi or Libyan refugees. The refugees come in, you can't shoot them, right? So they’re let in. And, you know, maybe there's 5% of terrorists among them, even less - 1% is enough. That deluge is essentially what destroyed Syria.'

    ===

    'No military operation can solve this [war in Syria]. Thank God we didn't start a ground operation there - it would have been much, much worse. It's not enough to increase the numbers of Syrian army by even 100,000 with our soldiers - they will inflict some defeats, take losses, then more mercenaries will come from Saudi Arabia, Turkey etc., and this will drag on forever [like Vietnam or  Afganistan - ed.]. '

    ===

    'If you take a map of Syria and look where the terrorists have been successful, and where they have failed to take over, it is essentially the same as the map of areas where local self-defense has been organized. You could call them 'militia', or you could call it 'volunteer deputies' - those are citizens who were organized, supported and trained by the state. Trained to cooperate with security services, police and army. 
    ...
    Groups of citizen activists who want to fight terrorism, they come to these organizations and say 'we want to help with the defense if the need arises'. So they are enlisted, they are trained, they work together with the Army, they are familiarized with the army units that would be acting in their town, they get communication channels to receive information, and to report danger to correct law enforcement agencies. There are a lot of these people - and you don’t need, say, every 10th person to be in the self-defense force to be effective. If you have between 1/10th and 1/100th of the population working with the self-defense forces, terrorists can’t move in.

    And in the places where local self-defense forces were not organized by the government, regardless of how many armed citizens there were, they were all individuals. Even if they organize in groups, they become simply gangs - both in the eyes of law enforcement, and the eyes of other gangs and terrorists, competing small gangs and nothing else.

    [Interviewer - Are these gangs the 'moderates' that Americans keep referring to, but can never define or show?]

    Yes, those are the 'moderates', more or less. .. These days, they aren't really a big problem, when the Army is about to move in, most of the time they lay weapons down and surrender. … Once the extremists are cleared, they undergo a background check, they sign forms saying that they will not fight the Army, then they are let go. Most of the time they immediately enlist in the self-defense forces, get training, get weapons, etc.'

    ===

    'In the information space, people are divided into two camps - the people who always approve of everything [our] government does, regardless of whether it's good or bad, and those who disapprove of everything the government is doing. Any criticism has to be correct, but you shouldn't applaud when you see something bad. 
    .. Those who are criticizing everything, and those who support everything - they are both enemies of our country and enemies of our people, because both behaviors are destructive.

    When I was a officer in the Army, I always told my subordinates to voice their concerns, especially if they think that I am wrong. I'm still the one making the decisions, but if I don't understand that I'm wrong, then we both are going to die. ...
    So we need to learn to provide feedback to the federal government. Making them listen to it is harder, but at least informing them is our duty as citizens.'


    VIDEO WITH VOICEOVER:

    Personally, I’d advise reading the full transcript below instead of watching the video - it’s faster and easier than listening to an hour-long voiceover (if you prefer listening, I suggest saving a lot of time by increasing playback speed - as explained in this video ).





    FULL TRANSCRIPT

    1. Regular army can not be everywhere at once; insurgents can

    Hello, I’m Vasily Ivanov, until recently - a war correspondent and sometime before then - a colonel in the Russian army. 

    [Interviewer - What branch?] 

    Various... branches of service [wink]. 

    [Interviewer - Why should we help Syria?]

    I think we need to help them from a moral standpoint, they’re fighting [the good fight], but also practically, they’re fighting so that the rest of the world doesn't have to. They’re fighting international terrorism, which has in a relatively short time grown tremendously, and threatens not just Syria or countries in the Middle East, but the rest of the world.

    [Interviewer - Why can’t the Syrian army beat insurgents? Is it lack of motivation, training, or resources?]

    Overall, the problem of the Syrian army is not their motivation, or the equipment, but that an army can not win such a war by taking a specific town or [beating the enemy in a field battle]. It’s a bug hunt, and it can last forever. The Army gets worn out chasing ghosts, the morale drops, they always take causalities, however small... 
    And yes, Syria is not the Soviet Union, which could fight all of Europe for four years. Syria has a much less diverse economy, and the number of the people they can conscript is much lower. The fact that they have a weak economy is why they don't have mass conscription - because if they conscript everybody they will not have anybody working, and they don't have money to support such a large army anyway. 
    So, the reason that the Syrians aren't winning isn't some lack of motivation or bad training of soldiers. I've never seen them lacking courage, actually. The problem is that in a terrorist, guerrilla war, you can't win by just taking a town - you need to protect every town in your country at the same time, and no army can be strong in every town at once. So when the army attacks a town, they have to [redeploy] forces away from some other town, and the town they leave immediately gets taken over by terrorists. This is a new method of war, and it's a complicated question of how to fight it, because there's no [tried-and-true] recipe for it yet.



    2. Airstrikes are almost useless against an enemy that is dispersed and has no high-value assets

    You know, there's talk about destroying this mythical 'infrastructure of insurgents'. What is 'insurgent infrastructure'? It’s houses they took from civilians - we destroy the house, they just take over another! 
    Let me [take a detour] and look at the American air campaign [in Syria]. According to their claims, USA has a conducted 8800 airstrikes, spending $5 billion. 
    They [claim to have] destroyed 129 tanks - but insurgents don’t produce tanks! Those are American tanks that ISIS captured in Iraq, [probably worth only ~$4 mln per unit], and Americans now spend this much money on destroying them! 
    They destroyed 356 cars - but insurgents don't make cars, they take them from civilians, so [they’ll take more]. The bombing doesn’t do any real damage. And you know, it's not necessarily true that all those were terrorist cars. 
    600 terrorist camps, 4500 buildings - but, again, terrorists don't build buildings... 

    [Interviewer - Maybe there was someone inside]

    Yes, okay, maybe there were some terrorists inside, or maybe nobody was inside, or maybe civilians. You never know. 

    See, that's another problem with air power - for example, take the Iraq War: American pilots have claimed to have destroyed two times more tanks than Iraq ever possessed, and after the war it turned out that only about 15% of tanks were damaged and about 10% of them look to have been damaged from the air. So, you know, the difference was 20 times between what the air force reported and what actually happened on the ground. And that's not a problem with American pilots, at all. A pilot can not really judge whether he hit the target correctly, or whether it's a real target or fake. He just knows that he needs to hit specific coordinates and there must be a target there. He bombs, something explodes, he thinks the target has been destroyed. And the difference between what the pilot thinks and the real damage is, [as we can see], approximately 20 times. So using air power in such a war is like is hunting sparrows with a battleship.

    [snip]

    Honestly, I don't think that [ours and theirs air campaigns] can make that big of a difference. Also, that American operation is just for show. They claim that they’re fighting terrorists, but not only don't they really achieve much in practice, but they’re still funding some of the terrorists. 


    They’re only bombing the terrorists who do not obey them, who do not follow the party line - explaining that obedience pays, so to speak. [snip] And of course, ISIS is still funded by Qatar, Jabhat-Al-Nusra is still funded by Saudi Arabia, so the funding is still going. Therefore, even if we imagine that all those airstrikes on 'insurgent infrastructure' worked - Americans claim to have destroyed 260 oil production facilities - okay, let's imagine that all the terrorist infrastructure has been destroyed. Terrorists didn’t have these facilities before they took them over, let's say they don't have them again - so what? Terrorists would get less funding from oil, and they will be more dependent on Qatar or Saudis. Those few million dollars, or few dozen million dollars that they get from oil trade, is not so much money so that Saudis would not be able to simply give them the difference. Moreover, since the terrorist’s oil won’t go to the market, Saudis will be able to sell the same amount themselves to make up the difference, and give cash to the terrorists. So this does not solve the problem. 

    Coming back to the American data, they spent $5 billion, and claim to have killed approximately 5000 terrorists. So each terrorist cost million dollars at least. According to our Russian Ministry of Defense, in four thousand airstrikes we killed several hundred terrorists - that proportion sounds more realistic. So you understand, 4000 airstrikes, let's say it’s even a thousand terrorists - the cost of killing a terrorist is a incomparable to the cost of hiring one. A terrorist recruit costs a hundred dollars, plus hundred dollars to give him a rifle. And war is an economic contest - if we spend $1,000,000 to kill a terrorist whom the enemy hire for $200, we are losing the war. 

    Talking about our planes in Syria, you know we essentially lost them - they will fly there, they will basically run out of mileage, and they will no longer fly. We could just as easily have handed them over to Syrians, given them the bombs, and that would have been much easier. 
    Yes, of course our pilots get experience, … we get experience of fighting these modern wars, we show our political stance toward Syria, stand against terrorism, etc. In some locations, maybe, we can save the lives of a Syrian soldiers and bring tactical victories, free some towns. That's all true, but it does not solve the root of the problem - the strategic solution has to be very different. Well, let's hope that our government makes some steps towards solving the problem, maybe they are working on it already.

    [Interviewer - Did Russia really avoid collateral damage, like we hear on TV?]

    Yes, that is one positive thing, because I was very afraid that our aircraft would be used against urban areas mostly. That would have been tactically expedient, and maybe militarily correct, but that would have been a very bad choice politically. It would basically change the attitude of Syrians themselves against us. It's one thing to have Arabs fighting each other in towns, among civilians, and another thing to have 'crusaders' showing up and starting to blow up locals. Regardless of how many civilians die, it would have been a huge problem. And as far as I know, so far, it has been successfully avoided. At least, as far as I know, I haven't seen any real credible proof that our Air Force is conducting mass airstrikes in towns and cities - that would have been all over the news if it was true [although of course insurgents constantly make vague claims - ed.]. 

    You know, after all, I consider myself one of the leading Russian specialists on this war - because I spent a year and half studying it from the inside, in the field. Of course, I was a war correspondent, but first and foremost I'm a military officer, and I was interested in the tactics of terrorists, the tactics against them, how does the war progress... So, when [Russian MOD] is talking about destroying the insurgent headquarters, insurgent supply dumps - this is somewhat [detached from reality]. A simple example that everybody can understand - the insurgent headquarters can not be very far from their combat units, as their communications are shortwave, line-of-sight, and their fighters are almost exclusively in towns and cities. So saying that we conducted an airstrike against 'terrorist headquarters' hundred miles away from the nearest big city… Maybe there was somebody there, but saying that it's a key tactical headquarters… There are exceptions, of course, but it's unlikely. 


    3. You have to target the countries that recruit, train, arm and finance terrorists, not the expendable gunmen in Syria

    First and foremost, we need to publicly declare who the real enemies are. ISIS, other terrorists - they are just tools, they are not the real enemy. The real enemies are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, USA, and Turkey, or rather people within their governments who are funding and arming the terrorists. Jihadists are just a tool, a hammer. Biting or punching a hammer is completely useless. Even if you manage to break one without breaking your own bones, they would just take another - hammers are cheap. So we need to fight the problem at its source. 
    First of all, we need to close the Syrian borders. Here, air power might be useful - but there's a problem that such tactic could lead to border conflicts. So, before that, we need to declare that these countries are invading a sovereign state - yes, this is hard, but without it we can’t do anything - we can spend forever swatting at flies, but if there's something nearby that attracts them, thousands more will come. 
    This type of invasion has not really been waged before - I’m calling it an invasion and not a civil war because … the terrorists are by now mostly foreigners. … A civil war is when the majority of soldiers on both sides are locals, and if on one side the vast majority are foreigners, it's an invasion. You know, in WWII there was general Vlasov - a defector who fought for the Nazis, some Russian prisoners were fighting for the Nazis, but nobody calls WWII a Russian civil war. 


    4. Border security and passport control are #1 way to prevent terrorism

    Before we strike against the terrorists, we need to think about defending from their retaliation. Those are essentially one and the same - defending from terrorists and beating terrorists - because they are done by essentially the same methods. The main goal in the war with terrorism is to stop terrorists coming across your borders, this is the first task have to solve... You know, the Syrian army has destroyed more insurgents then there are currently fighting, but more and more keep coming, so they don't run out. 
    The coalition that I've been mentioning - those countries send terrorists, arm them, fund them and recruit them everywhere across the world - including, by the way, in Russia. So as our government has started noticing, there are plenty of our Russian citizens who are fighting in Syria.


    [Interviewer - They say two thousand?]
    - 2000 is a low estimate. There are larger numbers being mentioned, and the Syrians themselves give larger numbers. We won't get into it, but the numbers are larger. And, also, they constantly rotate - they come and go. So many came back by now, we don't know how many. Some of them have been caught, or the security services are tracking them, but some we don’t know about. So that's the truth - we need to secure the borders [both at home and in Syria], that's something we could really work towards, and be most effective. 
    You know, killing insurgents is like fighting cockroaches. They’re coming from their nests and then hiding in all the nooks and crannies - catching them one by one in those nooks and crannies is pointless, we need to hit them at the source, that's the only real option. Otherwise, we will spend time bombing, our planes will run out of mileage, and insurgents will keep coming. 

    [Interviewer - I recall, back when the Soviets were withdrawing from Afghanistan, and the heroin production started, it was coming through Iran. And Iranians basically moved out all the villagers from a 200 miles along the border to stop the smuggling. But the smugglers [figured out countermeasures] - they would feed their donkeys 'speed', and the amphetamined-up of donkeys would run across the mountains..] 

    - Of course, there are many problems but there is no other option. If we managed to even cut down the flow of terrorists seriously, that would solve a lot of problems.

    And we need to close the borders not just in Syria, but also our own borders. Because let's say we managed to defeat terrorists in Syria, score a serious victory - then those cockroaches will scatter all over the world, including back here.

    [Interviewer - I just saw an interview on TV with some guy from Dagestan, Russia. He said he took his whole family, kids and grandma, and went to live in ISIS for a while. Then he decided to move back. You know, I wouldn’t necessarily believe that every guy who comes back from such a trip wasn’t radicalized, and does not harbor any intentions...] 

    - Yes we have seen villages taken over by 'our' guys - meaning Russian citizens. They take over a village, make all the locals move out - by the way, this was by the Turkish border - so they take over and think they own it now. Some of them get tired and move back - but according to the passports, they never went anywhere. They just went on a tourist trip to Turkey or Georgia or something. They just go there, get fake passports with a different last name… We have a visa free regime with Turkey, [now there's reports that such operations are happening in Ukraine as well]. That's another reason why it’s hard to estimate how many our citizens are in Syria - even when they are killed, their ID papers are usually fakes.


    5. In Syria, jihadists got in with Libyan and Iraqi refugees

    [Interviewer - I will say even more, when those extremists flood our south and the bordering regions, the first thing we'll see are millions of refugees, and what could we do? EU is already in trouble from this and we are not that much better prepared. And insurgents will come to Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, within Russia...] 

    - Yes, and you can't tell between terrorists and refugees. That's what happened in Syria - the big second wave of terrorists were mostly Iraqi or Libyan refugees. You known, the refugees come in, you can't shoot them, right? So they’re let in. And, you know, maybe there's 5% of terrorists among them, even less - 1% is enough. That deluge is essentially what destroyed Syria.


    6. Either Turkey is training and arming jihadists – in which case it is the aggressor and not protected by NATO, or it needs to start attacking their bases and ask other countries for help

    [Interviewer - So, let’s say we accuse Turkey of sending terrorists across the border into Syria. What can we do? Turkey is a NATO member, protected by USA and EU.] 

    - Only if Turkey is not the aggressor - rule number one of NATO is that they don't support aggressors. So we don't view Turkey as a NATO member, but we tell the Turks that insurgents are coming from Turkey - and this has been proven many times, and can be easily proven as many more times as needed. If Turkey sending them, then they are the aggressor. If Turkey is not sending them, we can help Turks fight them, so we will be fighting insurgents in their training camps in Turkey. And this is much more effective, because they are far more concentrated there, and also because this would stop them from coming across the border. 

    If we close the borders then the Syrian army, in a year, would wipe out the insurgents that are already in country. ... If we tell the Saudis - 'From training camps in your territory, through Jordan, terrorists are coming into Syria' - and tell them to stop the invasion, then we could help our ally fight the invaders. And Syria is our ally even officially - we never denounced the 1980 alliance agreement with them. 

    And of course, we need to help them stop the enemy aviation flying over Syria. When Americans are conducting their campaign against 'ISIS' they are not just bombing uncontrollable terrorists, but collecting intelligence for the terrorists they control. Moreover, they collect intelligence on the Syrian air defense systems, so they could disable them in a first strike when the time is right, like in Libya. So that should be stopped as soon as possible. If we try to ally with them, to work together with them, we just help them - and they are not there for the Syrian people, not for the country of Syria. 

    [Interviewer - Syria is such a Gordian Knot, I don’t know what to do, except grab a sword like Alexander...] 

    - This would not solve anything, those cockroaches would just scatter. No mass strike, no military operation can solve this problem. Thank God we didn't start a ground operation there - it would have been much, much worse. It's not enough to increase the numbers of Syrian army by 50 or 100,000 with our soldiers - they will inflict some tactical defeats, take losses, then more mercenaries will come from Saudi Arabia, Turkey etc., so this will last forever. 

    We need to solve this at its root, however scary and hard this is, we need to stand against the real enemies, openly say who they are. [snip] We should talk about these things openly, directly, at the highest government levels - they are not our partners, they are enemies of Syria, Russia, and the developed world. Of course, there's a lot of problems associated with it, but without doing it won't be able to do anything. We will spend money, lose soldiers, and lose planes - which we don't have that many of, unfortunately, after the ruin of 'democratic reforms' in the 90s. We're trying to rebuild, but the numbers of our Air Force are much lower than they were, and most of the planes are from the Soviet era so they don’t have much mileage left. 


    7. To defeat jihadists' ideology of justice, which appeals to the impoverished masses, a state needs to offer a real alternative

    [Interviewer - But what do jihadists themselves want?] 

    - Who cares? [They’re proxies]. Their owners want them to do things. 

    [Interviewer - They take money, but they have their own needs and wants, right?] 

    Wahhabism, [extremist Sunni islam], a religion of the illiterate. Honestly, those people are, simply put, very dumb. They’re uneducated. It's no accident that all the jihadis in Syria came from remote villages, there were very few of them in the large cities [1].

    The main beef they had with Assad and with the Syrian government was that he was secular, and was making them to go to school, [that he was educating their women]. All that was complete perversion to them. 

    [Interviewer - So, they they offer a return to the roots, back to the 7-8th century - you know, the further back, the better. Back when the religion was much more pure, times were simpler. Everybody who disagrees, they will kill. 
    But at least they offer something - as you know, unlike Christianity, which offers love, Islam offers justice. So they have an ideology that they offer, and that attracts people. And what do we have to offer ideologically? What can we oppose them with? They offer justice - what do we offer our Muslims? Denouncing Stalinism is great and all - but it's not really national ideology, and it's not something can stand up against jihad.] 

    - As you know, our Constitution is against having a national ideology, so that’s criminal talk right there, hehe. Yes, right, there’s talk about changing it - because having a constitution that bans having an ideology - that's stupid, it’s destroying the country. 
    So, without an ideology, we can't offer anything now, but we had something to offer before, [in USSR]. Maybe it wasn’t well done in practice, but at least that was something - we declared equality and justice for all. At least some of it got done - and that equality and justice was far superior to the justice of Wahhabis. Their justice is very simple - rob everyone else, and eat what you take. If you're rich and I'm poor - then I will destroy you, destroy industry, destroy everything that makes people developed. Not even make themselves richer - but drag everyone down to their level. So instead of making everybody equal, instead of bringing everybody to the middle, they just want to bring everybody down to their primitive level. 
    So our idea of justice, I think that's what we can offer. I think that justice and equality is our national idea, and this is what distinguishes the Russian culture - desire for justice. … I don't think we can have any other ideology, because it would inevitably serve the interests of a small group of people, and leave the rest of to be converted by jihadists, to fight perceived injustice. So our whole nation can only be motivated by 'justice for all', so until we have an ideology like that I do not think we can successfully resist jihad. Hopefully our government catches on to that and starts doing something about it. 


    8. There are many brands of Islam – the moderates should be supported, and the extremists prosecuted; alternative institutions of Islamic theology need to be capable of matching the capabilities of wealthy extremists in Saudi Arabian universities

    [Interviewer - There’s a second level of the problem, [religious]. The first level is the lack of state ideology - nothing to oppose their desire for justice. Because we certainly don't have justice and equality here in Russia, as our opposition activists say, heh.

    But there is another important part to this. [snip] There's all the talk about Islam, of course people tell us that this isn't real Islam[2], this isn’t quite Islam… 
    Yes, everybody knows that - there are also violent sects in Christianity and Buddhism. Like in politics, there’s right and left and there's also extremist left and far right. Of course there's extremism in every ideology, [so we need to think how can we] oppose them with ideologically in the religious level. 
    Saudi Arabia is an extremist Islamic state - their official religion is Salafism. And our country does not have places where people can truly learn Islamic religion - there are some basic colleges and such, but no universities, there are no higher education institutions. So our Muslims have to go to Saudi Arabia or Qatar to learn Islam. And to truly learn, you need to spend three years learning Arabic, to truly understand Quran in its Arabic original, not to mention understand poetry. And instead, they just spent half a year learning the basics of salafism, get couple field manuals - 'Principles of Islam' and 'Building IEDs for dummies', and come back here. And spread the Saudi version of Islam.
    Yes, we're starting to build an Islamic University in Tatarstan region, so we're starting something, but we spent 25 years without it, and for 25 years our Muslims were learning Islam in Saudi Arabia. I think there's only one real politician at the federal level, [Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov], who is trying to promote correct Islam that his grandparents and parents believed in, not the bastardized radical versions disseminated from abroad. Muslims in Russia [were always moderate], but we have to have Islamic traditional realists that correctly preach Islam and correctly explain it to the young people. ... In the rest of the country, not a whole lot is being done. … The Islamic leaders should understand that it's not up to the Christians to come and help the Islamic leadership - if they need help they should ask for it, but I don't see a lot of that being done either. Of course, if in Tatarstan the extremists are taking over mosques, killing the traditional priests or forcing them to preach the more radical versions of Islam - then maybe our security services should handle this. If is such things are happening, the people who do this should not walk free, maybe they should instead spent some time in Siberia behind barbed wire. ... I think such things are dangerous, like an epidemic. If somebody is infected, then he should be quarantined, … spend 20 years or so in state housing, and think about the failings of your radical ideology.]

    - Yes, very true. Those problems are very complex and they don't have a single simple solution - it has to be done from multiple directions, including by religious leaders themselves. And its happening not just in Tatarstan, but in all the regions, even in the historically Christian regions, they’re moving in. 
    I’m talking to the traditional Muslims, and with our security services, and it's a complex issue that is not easy to solve. There needs to be a state policy on religious extremism. You have said some very correct things - there are extremist Christians as well, but nobody is trying to define, you know, 'this is a cult, but this is a religion'. [It’s about what they do.]

    [Interviewer - It doesn’t matter what brand they are, if they commit crimes or preach hate, they should be behind bars.]


    9. Citizens' militia is absolutely essential to defend against the terrorist threat, but in order to be effective, it has to be supported by the federal government

    - [snip] Those people, they will come back from Syria, so we need to take measures and we need to prepare. Right now, as much as possible. Those measures I keep talking about - we need to understand how Syria is fighting extremism today, we can't use old tactics - they no longer work. 
    In Syrian experience, what has worked out very well so far is citizens working with the state. ... If you take a map of Syria and look where the terrorists have been successful, and where they have failed to take over, it is essentially the same as the map of areas where local self-defense has been organized. You could call them 'militia', or you could call it 'volunteer deputies' - those are citizens who were organized, supported and trained by the state. Trained to cooperate with security services, police and army. 

    [Interviewer - Do they get issued weapons?]

    They get weapons if there is an anticipated threat. There is no need for them to be constantly armed, there's no reason to have volunteers constantly walking all over town with rifles. But at least they know where they can pick up their weapons, they can contact all the law enforcement agencies, they know what they need to do. … 

    When the terrorists attack, one of the main problems is that the civilians don't act correctly. … We have a lot of people here called … 'survivalists'. They think since they have guns and they know how to survive in the wild, that would save them when a bunch of insurgents come in. … They can hide in remote wilderness, maybe, if they’re lucky, but in a town that won't work. So the correct thing to do if you're armed is to realize that an armed man who is not in contact with the counterterrorism units should not show himself on the street at all! There are a lot of rules during counterterrorist operation, but that is one of the most basic ones. Any armed man is considered a terrorist, obviously... 
    Some guy told me - 'if I know if there is a counterterrorist operation, I see a tank shooting at the terrorists, I will shoot them too!' I tell him - if you start doing that, the tank will turn around and put an HE shell in your window, because tankers aren’t dumb like you. You know, I was trained as a tanker, and any tanker in such a situation would do just that, … that is his training. 
    Simply put, .. if a man doesn't understand how the counterterrorist operation works, he will die. So people need to be trained for this, there should be organization and chain of command. 

    So, if a group of citizen activists who want to fight terrorism, they come to these organizations and say 'we want to help with the defense if the need arises'. So they are enlisted, they are trained, they work together with the Army, they are familiarized with the army units that would be acting in their town, they get communication channels to receive information, and to report danger to correct law enforcement agencies. There are a lot of these people - and you don’t need, say, every 10th person to be in the self-defense force to be effective. If you have between 1/10th and 1/100th of the population working with the self-defense forces, terrorists can’t move in. ... That’s the successful practical application. 

    And in the places where local self-defense forces were not organized by the government, regardless of how many armed citizens there were, they were all individuals. Even if they organize in groups, they become simply gangs - both in the eyes of law enforcement, and the eyes of other gangs and terrorists, competing small gangs and nothing else.

    [Interviewer - Are these gangs the 'moderates' that Americans keep referring to, but can never define or show?]

    Yes, those are the 'moderates', more or less. .. These days, they aren't really a big problem, when the Army is about to move in, most of the time they lay weapons down and surrender. … Once the extremists are cleared, they undergo a background check, they sign forms saying that they will not fight the Army, then they are let go. Most of the time they immediately enlist in the self-defense forces, get training, get weapons, etc.
    ...
    I'm trying to work on [establishing a similar organization] in Russia, but unfortunately the government officials are not too hot on this. Maybe I was incorrect starting to talk about 'militia' in the beginning, and everybody started thinking about those disorganized gangs with rifles. ... I'm trying to push this through in various ways, and with various organizations. Unfortunately, the people who are willing to help are at lower levels of government. 
    Yes, from the government standpoint it's risky - but in case of terrorist attacks that's going to happen anyway, the people are going to arm themselves and organize, but either they do it with the government and act together to fight terrorism - and that that would actually cause less problems for the government - ... or people would do it by themselves, and they would die, be ineffective, and interfere with the Army operations. 
    So it needs to be done, but correctly. ... There are organizations that understand this. … The organization that did this in Syria they had something similar to USSR's DOSAAF (ROTC), so we are working with [what remains of that organization], establishing communications with the police, etc. 

    [Interviewer - As you know, I’m not a specialist [on urban warfare], but most any reasonable man these days has a hunting weapon. It seems to me that, in order to fight insurgents in your hometown, one does not need some crazy sniper rifle that shoots for a mile, even a hunting shotgun would work quite well, right?]

    That’s right. In this kind of war, it's not about the weapons, is about organization, really. So … we're communicating and hopefully will be successful and develop something broader somehow, with the Cossacks or somebody else - as you know, Cossacks are also working with our ROTC branches, police and such. There are people who come on your show - like Denis who runs that training camp, like Yury the military medic, so we are working on this and they're working with us. Currently we are working on a document, titled - avoiding the word 'militia' - 'Program for the military-patriotic education of citizens'. 

    [Interviewer - Of course, all the boys want to run around with guns, so they should get this opportunity - but be trained correctly and point their guns in the right direction] 

    Yes, this is understood at the district levels of ROTC, so they are they are interested, but it would be much better if we had understanding of the federal government level. Doing it at the lower levels is very, very hard and not really effective. Because in each of these individual organizations you have to negotiate with new officials, figure out regulations... It takes a very long time and you can't really do it on a country-wide scale. To do it everywhere it needs to be done by the federal government. 

    [snip]


    10. Information warfare is very important, and so is rationally assessing the situation: those that blindly approve of every action by their government or 'their side' are just as harmful as those who blindly disapprove of everything

    We need to pay attention to the quality of information warfare. For example, the movies that [Russian] Ministry of Defense has published - and out of 70 of these clips, maybe a few are good but the rest are quite bad. They say one thing in description of the clip, and you can see that something else happening, [i.e. it says 'airstrike on oil production facilities' and we can see it’s a sewage treatment plant]. So we need to evaluate the effectiveness of what the country, what the government is doing. 
    In the information space, people are divided into two camps - the people who always approve of everything the government does, regardless of whether it's good or bad, and those who disapprove of everything the government is doing. Any criticism has to be correct, but you shouldn't applaud when you see something bad. 
    .. Those who are criticizing everything, and those who support everything - they are both enemies of our country and enemies of our people, because both behaviors are destructive. 
    When I was a officer in the Army, I always told my subordinates to voice their concerns, especially if they think that I am wrong. I'm still the one making the decisions, but if I don't understand that I'm wrong, then we both are going to die. ...
    So we need to learn to provide feedback to the federal government. Making them listen to it is harder, but at least informing them is our duty as citizens.

    [Interviewer - So, coming back to what you said about the Americans and airstrikes, [and how their reported results were different from reality]. They have the experience of the Vietnam War, which was stopped, more or less, by journalists and photographers publishing pictures of napalm-drenched Vietnamese children and such. So the the society eventually got fed up, and the war had to be stopped. And their government has learned a lesson there. 
    In 1991, when they invaded Iraq for the first time, they have [corrected their error]. They 'filtered' the journalists and only allowed the 'correct' journalists to come, those who supported the party line. So, [the only reporters on the ground were those] who parroted the government’s point of view ... So the mass media showed a splendid picture of American superiority - destroying all of Saddam’s tanks twice over, all that… The American public was delighted. But those journalists who didn't make it into the press pool called the Iraq war 'the most lied-about war in US history'. So we see the lessons, maybe it’s time to learn them? 
    [As a former detective], when I see MoD publishing pictures of us bombing sewage treatment facilities, [without explaining why], and calling them oil derricks... I would look into who published that video clip, who is responsible for selecting it, why are they unwilling or incapable of telling what’s going on, should they be fired or maybe are prosecuted, etc. I’m not saying we should lie like the Americans, but we need to have the same quality of information warfare. ]



    11. Extremism spreads on the Internet and should be fought there as well

    [Interviewer - We need to talk about the actions of the secret services in the Internet. So, social networks - Vkontakte, Facebook, these Islamic extremists are doing a great deal of work there, unimpeded. Publishing videos saying they 'will shed the blood of the infidels' - great quality, very well-done. Who are the people making and publishing them, exactly? Shouldn’t we find the groups where they are being organized? Can we track the people joining those groups? And maybe before closing the groups - we can track who is doing what, what are they communicating about, who's connected to whom, how are they organized… Extremists shouldn't be able to operate so freely. … You know, the people publishing these videos with beheadings probably aren't very mentally stable. Maybe some good honest labor therapy somewhere in Siberia would do them good? ...
    Yes, the Prime Minister just said something about fighting extremism in the Internet, but nothing has been done specifically, so we'll see how they handle it.]


    12. The people cannot fight terrorism alone, but the government can not either. Unite or perish

    To sum things up - … we can wish our compatriots and leadership to handle all of these questions, ... to work together. .. because until we start working together - the majority of citizens and the majority of government officials - we won't be able to stand up to terrorism.

    … I know it it involves everything - ideology, religion, … foreign policy and domestic policy, but I think the main thing to understand here is that we’re all in the same boat. The leadership of the country cannot live without the citizens and the citizen cannot survive without the government. And we need to really start doing something, because I'm afraid that we don't have much time at all. 
    ...


    NOTES

    [1] Read this about the role of islamists in the early 'democracy protests' (basically, while there were non-violent protesters, jihadists were using them as human shields from the very beginning - by the third day of protests, more police officers were killed than protesters).

    [2] Russia has some 16 million Muslims (over 10% of population), but Russian Muslims historically aren’t very zealous and follow the less extreme interpretations of the Quran; this is what Russians refer to as 'traditional Islam' (as opposed to radical Islam that started entering the country in the 90s with Saudi preachers and money). 
    Chechens were briefly radicalized during their wars, but they didn’t fight the wars with Russia because they were radicals; rather, their leadership used radical islam as a convenient ideology for wartime.


    SOME FURTHER READING

    I. Yuri Yevich the military medic: ‘Psychological stability is more important for surviving any sort of crisis than food and guns.’

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=8a5_1436824723

    Highly recommended!

    II. “A Russian-Syrian volunteer talks about his experience in the “Shabiha” pro-Assad paramilitary”

    III. PBS documentary on Syria. Of course, like all mainstream coverage, it’s heavily biased against the elected government, but there are some very interesting moments. Like when the PBS journalist looks out his window and sees that “moderate opposition” has indiscriminately shelled Damascus, and there are injured civilians right next to his hotel.


    (excuse the website, but video has been purged from Youtube)
    http://x264.video/pbs-frontline-inside-assads-syria-2015_1c175084b.html



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    Item Reviewed: Russian colonel(ret.) from Syria - Airstrikes and armies won't solve this; citizens and government must fight terrorism together Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Tatzhit Mihailovich
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