Meet Abu Omar al-Shishani, or, “Omar the Chechen.”
Al-Shishani is Islamic State’s “minister of war,” and on March 4, the US tried to kill him.
Initially, reports indicated that an airstrike in the northeastern Syrian town of Shaddadi likely succeeded in “eliminating” the militant. But “on-the-ground” intelligence from London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (who else?) suggested that in fact, al-Shishani was still alive and had been transported to Raqqa where he was being treated for serious injuries.
Fast forward to Monday and we find out that even if al-Shishani isn’t technically dead, he is now “clinically dead,” which according to Rami Abdel Rahman (who runs the one-man Observatory for Human Rights) means “Shishani is not able to breathe on his own and is using machines.”
“He has been clinically dead for several days,” Rami adds.
When the US announced the strike last Tuesday, officials likened Shishani to “the ISIS equivalent of the secretary of defense,” although we have to say, he doesn’t look much like Ash Carter.
He was one of the most wanted ISIS militants and the US had a $5 million bounty on his head. And it’s easy to understand why. America trained him. And not in some "somebody allegedly saw him with John McCain in 2010" type of way. But literally.
Consider the following excerpts from a McClatchy story you might have missed in September of last year:
Abu Omar al Shishani, as he’s now known, had been born Tarkhan Batirashvili 27 years earlier in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, a tiny enclave of ethnic Chechens, known locally as Kists, whose roughly 10,000 residents represent virtually all of the Muslims in predominantly Orthodox Christian Georgia.
But analysts of extremist groups said Batirashvili’s impact has been far greater than the small numbers of Muslims in Georgia would suggest. Since he swore allegiance to the Islamic State in 2013, thousands of Muslims from the Caucasus have flocked to Syria to join the extremist cause.
“More than anything else, Batirashvili has legitimized ISIS in the Caucasus by the power of his exploits, which is amplified by slick ISIS propaganda,” said Michael Cecire, an analyst of extremism for the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute.
Batirashvili’s battlefield successes, including orchestrating the capture of Syria’s Menagh Air Base after two years of failed attempts, “helped to legitimize ISIS in militant circles, including in the North Caucasus,” Cecire said.
Batirashvili’s story also was compelling, Cecire said: “A man with a modest background, sickly and impoverished before he went to Syria,” becomes “a great battlefield commander defying the world” . . . a “seemingly emulable, rags-to-riches story.”?
Those seeking an explanation for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s insistence on sending military supplies and manpower to Syria to bolster the government of President Bashar Assad would do well to consider Batirashvili. Putin not only personally oversaw the Russian push into Georgia, but he has twice waged war against Islamist-led factions in Chechnya whose cause Batirashvili has supported since he was a teenager. Ethnic Chechens are thought to be one of the largest groups of foreign fighters in the Islamic State.
Now 30, Batirashvili is a key figure, reportedly a member of the group’s governing council, is said to be the Islamic State’s supreme military leader in northern Syria and Aleppo, and is perhaps the group’s most fearsome ground commander. His current status is an irony for a man once considered a Georgian soldier with a bright future.
“We trained him well, and we had lots of help from America,” said a former Georgian defense official who asked to not be identified because of the sensitivity of Batirashvili’s role in the Islamic State. “In fact, the only reason he didn’t go to Iraq to fight alongside America was that we needed his skills here in Georgia.”
According to Batirashvili’s ex-comrades in the Georgian military, Batirashvili was tapped immediately upon his enlistment to join Georgia’s U.S.-trained special forces.
“He was a perfect soldier from his first days, and everyone knew he was a star,” said one former comrade, who asked not to be identified because he remains on active duty and has been ordered not to give media interviews about his former colleague. “We were well trained by American special forces units, and he was the star pupil.”
Yes, a "star pupil," who in fact went on to "star" in his own videos. Like this one:
You're encouraged to read the entire McClatchy piece for first-hand accounts of Shishani's battlefield exploits, but needless to say, this is just one more example of blowback.
US commandos have trained Georgian spec ops on multiple occasions over the years, including in the early 2000s.
Revelations that Washington was providing assistance to 80 elite Georgian soldiers just months ahead of the Georgian army's ill-fated assault in South Ossetia infuriated Vladimir Putin in 2008, and although Washington claimed the men were being trained for battle in Afghanistan, all of this shows what can happen when The Pentagon and the CIA end up in far-flung "advise and assist" (mis)adventures.
In any event, we assume "clinically dead" Shishani will ultimately expire in a bombed out hospital in Raqqa.
The irony here, of course, is that Shishani - a veteran of a US advise and assist program - became the top military commander for a group that has, since 2012, served as the excuse for the US to create new, identical programs.
Einsteinian insanity and its finest. And bloodiest.