Sunday, June 17, 2007

Don't believe the hype

Graeme Smith, the Globe and Mail correspondent who broke the story of Afghan detainee torture this Spring, appears to have lost his critical faculties. His latest dispatch from Afghanistan repeats NATO propaganda that the Taliban include a large contingent of Chechen and Arab fighters:

"The insurgents basically decided they're going to mass within that area," Lt.-Col. Walker [Canadian battle group commander] said. "There's a lot of foreign fighters, Chechens and Arabs that have decided to move into that area."
Smith cites claims that "Arab and Chechen fighters ... form the notorious hard core of the insurgency".

Similar claims about the Taliban have been made for some time. However, most experienced journalists and experts on the region are highly skeptical of such assertions - pointing out that neither the Afghan government nor the US/NATO have offered proof of such claims, such as dead bodies of Chechens. Indeed, if the "notorious hard core" of the Taliban is composed of Arabs and Chechens, surely there would be numerous foreign corpses to display as proof of these claims.

Toronto-based security consultant (and Chechnya expert) Andrew McGregor took Smith to task in a letter to the Globe (available only to subscribers). He points out that various media continue to parrot charges of Chechen fighters active in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Pakistan, and Somalia despite the fact that Russian intelligence estimates that Chechen resistance fighters number only a few hundred in Chechnya itself. He attributes these erroneous assertions to several factors, including "a tendency for local Pashtuns to confuse Uzbeks of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (who are active in the area) with 'Chechens,' and the common practice by Afghan clans to settle disputes by telling NATO of 'Chechens' or Arabs", in order to have their enemies bombed by Western forces.

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