ISIS commander was trained by Blackwater: report

Internet partisans are at present avidly posting a story from conspiranoid website AntiMedia back in June noting reports that a former police commander from Tajikistan was featured in an ISIS video, where he "admitted" (boasted would be more like it) that he was trained by military contractor Blackwater under US State Department aegis. While AntiMedia says he was thusly trained "up until last year," the cited CNN report quotes him as saying the training was from 2003 to 2008. It apparently took place both in Tajikistan and at a Blackwater facility in North Carolina. (Blackwater, strictly speaking, has not existed since 2009, having twice reorganized and changed its name since then.) Gulmurod Khalimov, an ex-colonel of the Tajik Interior Ministry's OMON elite units, says in his ISIS promotional video: "Listen, you American pigs: I've been to America three times. I saw how you train soldiers to kill Muslims. You taught your soldiers how to surround and attack, in order to exterminate Islam and Muslims."

The claim was confirmed by the State Department—incuding that the training continued through last year, although preusmably no longer under Blackwater auspices. "From 2003-2014 Colonel Khalimov participated in five counterterrorism training courses in the United States and in Tajikistan, through the Department of State's Diplomatic Security/Anti-Terrorism Assistance program," spokesperson Pooja Jhunjhunwala told CNN. "The program is intended to train candidates from participating countries in the latest counterterrorism tactics, so they can fight the very kind of militants that Khalimov has now joined."

The controversy was also reported by Reuters and BBC News. But the AntiMedia account is (of course) burdened with obnoxious nyaa-nyaa-told-you-so gloating. They even throw in that "recently leaked documents prove the US predicted—even encouraged—the creation of ISIS." Yeah well, we also noted the DIA document in question, and the correct verb would be warned of. The exact opposite connotation than that conveyed by "encouraged."

In its own analysis of the Khalimov affair, Eurasianet draws rather different conclusions:

[I]t will…be interesting to see how this episode affects U.S. military policy in Central Asia. On the one hand, for those inclined to see a danger of Islamist militancy, it provides clear evidence of the threat. But on the other, if U.S. policymakers have been unmoved by their proxies committing human rights violations in remote corners of Tajikistan, a defection to ISIS makes a much more vivid statement about the risks of training repressive security forces.

So no, the defection of Col. Khalimov to ISIS is not a "coincidence," as the conspairanoids in their jaundiced way would dismiss any analysis that does not line up with their cartoonish theories. It certainly isn't a "coincidence" for anyone who has (perish the thought) been following the actual political context of Tajikistan, where a brutal regime increasingly coopted by the heroin traffic—with strongman Emomali Rahmon holding power through controlled pseudo-elections since the collapse of the USSR—is opposed by an Islamist insurgency. Is there anything at all unlikely about Col. Khalimov becoming disillusioned with his boss Rahmon and switching sides? No, there is nothing at all unlikely about it—especially given the near-complete suppression of any secular and progressive opposition in Tajikistan, leaving a vacuum to be filled by the jihadist underground.

So once again… The conspiranoids see this case, and their take-away is: "Ah-hah! Jihadism doesn't exist. It's all a creation of Blackwater and the State Department." (Which merely dodges the question of how many ISIS commanders have not been trained by Blackwater.) We view this case, and our take-away is: "Support the secular and progressive forces in the Middle East and Central Asia. Ultimately, that is the only way to defeat jihadism."