Have Chechen separatist guerrillas been fighting against the United States and its allies in places such as Iraq or Afghanistan–and if so, how many have been captured or killed? The U.S. government has been strikingly passive in seeking to learn (or, at least, in publicly disclosing) the answer to that question. Chechnya Weekly began pressing for a precise, concrete answer months ago, but we have yet to get one from the White House, Pentagon, or State Department.
An American academic recently did part of what the U.S. government should have been doing. Brian Glyn Williams, assistant professor of Islamic History at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, recently returned from a three-week visit to Afghanistan. He spent much of that time with northern warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and his troops, who helped overthrow the extremist Taliban regime in 2001 and who are now part of the shaky, U.S.-backed coalition government led by Hamid Karzai. In a September 4 telephone conversation with Chechnya Weekly, Williams described a major agenda of his research trip: “To ask everyone I met” whether they had personally encountered or seen any Chechens. His hosts even gave him extensive access to captured Taliban troops, hundreds of whom they are still holding.
From these prisoners, as from Dostum’s own troops and officers, Williams consistently received the same answer: No. Not one person with whom he spoke had ever personally encountered a Chechen fighting on the side of the Taliban. Some had heard vague rumors of such people, but there had not been one direct, face-to-face meeting.
Williams agreed with Chechnya Weekly’s suggestion that if even one Chechen had been captured among the pro-Taliban forces, the public would now know that man’s name. Dostum’s men told him that the U.S. command had made quite clear its keen interest in pro-Taliban volunteers from outside Afghanistan and Pakistan. The standard practice of the indigenous anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan was to turn over such captives so that the Americans could interrogate them directly, and possibly fly them to the special prison for terrorists at the Guantanamo Bay naval base. (It is well-established that this prison has never held any Chechens.)
In a September 4 posting to a cyberspace forum on Chechnya, Williams described the one Chechen whom he met during his recent trip. This individual turned out to be not a pro-Taliban terrorist but one of Dostum’s own bodyguards–a foreign recruit who had consistently fought not for but against the Taliban and other Wahhabi forces.
“I did not know he was Chechen,” wrote Williams, “until one morning when I spoke Turkish to him…and he responded that he only spoke Russian. As we switched to Russian he told me his story….After the…end of the first [Chechen] war he then left to serve as a naemnik (mercenary) in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan where he fought in Batken and Ferghana against Juma Namangani’s IMU raiders in 1999 and 2000. He claimed to be militantly anti-Wahhabi, but respected Emir Khattab….From Uzbekistan he made his way to Afghan Turkestan where he ended up fighting for Dostum against the Taliban whom he loathed as ‘Wahhabi fanatics.’ He ridiculed the notion of Chechens being accepted by the Taliban and al Qaeda and claimed the Taliban were Wahhabi lunatics whereas the Chechens were largely apathetic about religious matters. Having fought with Dostum against the Taliban he personally never encountered a Chechen despite his best efforts to locate his countrymen amongst the Talib prisoners. His name was Arik, had no desire to return to Chechnya, and appeared to be loyal to Dostum who obviously trusted him as he was always by his side.”
Williams concluded that this case was “just a curiosity…not sign of some secular Chechen mercenary invasion of Afghanistan!”
Chechnya Weekly continues to await a substantive response from the U.S. government.