Dmitry Minin — Strategic Culture Jan 15, 2018
Surprisingly, the fate of the most zealous members of some crippled Islamic State (IS) units (an organization that is banned in Russia) is reminiscent of what happened at the end of World War II. Back then it was Nazi fugitives whom someone was helping to hide so they could be put to use sometime in the future, and today it’s IS loyalists.
No one can say where the IS bigwigs and central staffers have gone. The most experienced officers within this terrorist organization, at times entire detachments, are suddenly disappearing from Syria and Iraq, as if they’re just melting into the desert sand. Then, as if by magic, they reemerge in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, or Afghanistan, near the borders of Central Asia or Russia, or in the Chinese region of Xinjiang. Obviously, smoothly operating channels exist that allow them to move them from place to place, which is something that could only be set up by a powerful state. Given the fact that IS terrorists who are being shifted to various parts of the world are mostly coming out of the regions in eastern Syria under American control, presumably that state must be the US. And this would not be unprecedented in the history of the United States.
Operation ODESSA (Organisation der Ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen, or Organization of Former SS Members), which was designed to transport SS officers out of war-torn Germany into the Middle East, as well as South and North America, used to be quite a hot topic, back in its day. The famous Frederick Forsyth novel The Odessa File, and the 1974 film of the same name, really stirred the public’s imagination about this historical event. The Allies called those evacuation channels “ratlines,” but the SS officers themselves had a more romantic way of referring to their escape routes, for example, Übersee Süd (“Sailing Toward the Southern Seas”).
Many of the former SS officers were subsequently put to good use on the front lines of the Cold War. We’re seeing something similar happening with IS combatants.
Interestingly enough, the efforts to bring in German Nazis and settle them in the US began without the knowledge of President FDR. Those were put in motion by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (chairman – Omar Bradley), which launched Operation Paperclip with a hand from the intelligence agencies. The establishment of the Gehlen Organization, which recruited Nazi spies into what would later become the Federal Intelligence Agency of the Federal Republic of Germany, was yet another scheme. Soldiers are, as a rule, far more pragmatic than ideological. They do not see pitting one enemy against another as an immoral act, but rather as an example of great strategic acumen. It has been calculated that a total of approximately 30,000 people passed through the “ratlines,” many of whom ended up in the US.
West German intelligence chief Reinhard Gehlen. He enjoyed a long, happy life. Click to enlarge
Back in 2006, the US Justice Department drafted an in-depth 600-page report on this matter. Although not publicly released, in 2010 it was obtained by the New York Times, which posted it on its website. After reviewing the report, the newspaper concluded that after WWII, US intelligence chiefs created a “safe haven” in the United States for many Nazi war criminals and their cohorts.
The IS spy chief, Abu Omar al-Shishani (Tarkhan Batirashvili). Was he killed or did he get out through a “ratline”?
Adolf Eichmann – the most famous “Odessan.” He was captured and executed in Israel.
Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi – the leader of IS. Where is he? Click to enlarge
The Russian Ministry of Defense has repeatedly issued statements about the many oddities in the way the American advisers and their allies from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been battling IS on the eastern shore of the Euphrates. For example: the use of helicopters to pull IS commanders out of besieged areas, the unexpected release of major IS detachments from cities, and the redirection of surrendered combatants into the New Syrian Army. And here’s the big question – for the majority of the IS loyalists who have poured into this new army from the battle zones, it’s right here that their trail goes cold.
The former spokesman and third-in-command of the SDF before fleeing to Turkey in late 2017, Talal Silo, presents some remarkable evidence of the dealings between representatives of the Pentagon and IS commanders.
Talal Silo. Click to enlarge
In an interview with the Turkish Anadolu news service, he specifically pointed to some cases in which IS terrorists were relocated at the direction of agents representing US military commanders, whom he named as General Raymond Thomas, the commander of US Special Operations Command; General Joseph Votel, commander of USCENTCOM; and General Stephen Townsend, the head of Operation Inherent Resolve. And there on the scene, the biggest generator of ideas is Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk.
Brett McGurk, center, inspecting the “allies”. Click to enlarge
Talal Silo cites, for example, episodes in which – at the Americans’ insistence – 2,000 IS fighters were permitted safe passage out of Manbij, and 500 – out of Tabqa. And the most remarkable event was the clever bit of theater performed in Raqqa, quite in the spirit of the US Army’s field manual on special operations. Talal Silo claims that the Americans were calculating that Assad’s forces would reach Deir ez-Zor in six weeks. But when it turned out that the government troops were moving more quickly, US officials demanded that the SDF release terrorists from Raqqa and send them toward Abu Kamal in order to intercept the government forces. A deal was negotiated allowing an imposing group of 3,500 militants to leave the city with all they needed, including weapons. The public statement that was released claimed that only civilians were let out of the city, and that 275 IS loyalists supposedly “turned themselves in.” To prove the existence of these 275 individuals, a group of people were brought in from the Ain Issa camp to play the part of militants. Yet journalists were forbidden to travel to Raqqa, citing the risk of skirmishes with IS terrorists. But in fact not a single bullet was ever fired. Later it was revealed that some of those terrorists headed for some very different destinations. Many entered the areas liberated under Operation Euphrates Shield. In other words, with US assistance, they moved into the Turkish zone, and from there they were free to go anywhere.
Similar theatrics might also be performed during subsequent redeployments of terrorists. The question is, to what extent is the White House in the loop regarding the Pentagon’s maneuvers with IS militants? It can’t be ruled out that, just like long ago in 1945, the military is not acting with the president’s approval. If the US administration was briefed on this operation and gave it a green light, then this is yet another example of strategic myopia. Any treaty with the “black devil” is always dangerous for the one who pursues it.