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Chechen Attacks on Russia:
A Harbinger for the United States?

by Ivan Eland
September 8, 2004

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Recently, Russia has suffered bloody attacks on airplanes, a subway and a school in response to its harsh suppression of Chechen self-determination. Israel has once again suffered bus bombings in retaliation for its occupation of Arab lands in Palestine. Could the United States be the next victim of another catastrophic strike against its homeland for the occupation of an Islamic nation?

From the horrendous September 11 attacks, one would think U.S. policymakers would have learned that radical Islamists are inflamed to commit terrorist acts by “infidel” intervention in and occupation of Moslem lands. This issue is Osama bin Laden’s main gripe against the United States, and he has not hidden it. (Even neo-conservative Newt Gingrich has recently contradicted President Bush’s assertion that the United States is attacked for “who we are” and not “what we do.”) It is also what drove Islamic jihadists from around the world to Afghanistan in the 1980s to beat back the Soviet invasion and what now drives the zealous Chechen attacks on the Russians and the vigorous Palestinian strikes against Israel.

Islam requires that all Moslems do what they can to defend Islamic lands when under attack from non-Moslems. To defeat profiling techniques by security forces, even Islamic women have become involved in jihadist attacks against the Russians and Israelis.

Thus, it should be no surprise that radical Islamists have flocked to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight the American occupation of those nations. In Iraq, U.S. forces have lost control of the Sunni cities of Falluja, Ramadi, and Samarra to the Islamists. Although for the time being, the U.S. military caused the withdrawal of Shiite radical forces from the southern cities of Najaf and Karbala, it also had to withdraw. Many of the Shiite radicals kept their weapons and lived to fight another day—perhaps in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City, which is also at risk of being lost by U.S. forces.

There is no question that the most powerful military in the world could take these cities back. If the tradition of U.S. warfare since Ulysses S. Grant were followed, the massive U.S. advantage in firepower would be used to blast those towns back into the stone age, kill their jihadist occupiers, and occupy them in total victory. Unfortunately, the Vietnam War showed that those tactics do not work in a guerrilla war in which the enemy uses the civilian population for cover and support. Retaking the towns would likely kill many civilians and turn the all-important Iraqi popular opinion decisively against the United States. The U.S. military is trying to avoid a Vietnam-like outcome in which the massive use of U.S. firepower turned the population against U.S. forces. On the other hand, allowing the Islamic insurgents to control some Iraqi towns appears to show U.S. weakness. Like Vietnam, the U.S. is “in” but doesn’t know how to win.

Since the Iraq War began, August was the worst month for the wounding of U.S. soldiers—a better indicator of the increasing ferocity of the fighting than the number killed. But the tragedy of almost 1,000 U.S. service people dead and another 7,000 wounded to date in the conflict may not be the worst outcome from the invasion and occupation of an Islamic nation.

The continued occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has inflamed radical Islamic passions all over the world—bringing in money and recruits—and could lead Islamists to further attack the U.S. homeland. Al Qaeda has been more active since September 11 than it was beforehand. Al Qaeda could very well try to inflict as much pain on the United States as the Chechens recently did on the Russians. What happened in Russia should be a warning to the United States.

In sum, although savage attacks against civilians should never be condoned, the harsh reality is that Russia, Israel, and the United States must expect further attempts by Islamist terrorists to attack their soil until the underlying cause of the terrorism is removed. That underlying cause is “infidel” meddling in and occupation of Islamic lands.

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, CA., and author of the book, Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World. For further articles and studies, see the War on Terrorism and

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