The recent bombing in Manchester, England and the vicious murder of Coptic Christian children in Egypt on May 28 remind us of the enduring nature of our struggle against the scourge of Islamic terrorism. It should also remind us of the shifting nature of the struggle, and how developments in one region can directly impact security in another.
The fall of a dictator in Tripoli, the movement of Libyan jihadists to fight in Syria on behalf of ISIS, the actions of British forces to combat ISIS — all combine to create a scenario in which a British citizen of Libyan descent commits mass murder.
The real challenge in winning this war on Islamist terrorism, however, is not dissecting and understanding this process afterwards. It is not reaching conclusions about how and why people died and lives were shattered. It is predicting ahead of time what will happen and acting decisively to prevent it.
Even as we continue to focus on Syria and the Mideast we must focus elsewhere on threats emerging over the horizon. Sub-Saharan Africa is one such arena. Increasingly, Central Asia, including Afghanistan, is another.
A key country in the Central Asian region is Kazakhstan, a secular, moderate Muslim majority state, which has cooperated with the U.S. and its allies in an attempt to maintain stability in Central Asia.
There are troubling indications, however, that, if the U.S. and its allies abandon and neglect Central Asia, what has happened in so many other once stable and secure Muslim regions, may be beginning to happen to Central Asia, which borders Afghanistan. If so, the implications will be felt far beyond their borders.
Estimates are that there are some 2,000 Russian speaking fighters in Syria now.
They come from the predominately Muslim areas of the former Soviet Union. Hundreds of those come from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and other countries.
As they follow the pattern of other nationalities, like the Libyans, and return home, they will begin to destabilize the region. They will also almost certainly begin to spread terror across the globe as well.
The first signs of trouble in Kazakhstan have already been felt. Attacks occurred in multiple locations across that nation last year, and a number of Kazakhs were killed.
Authorities continue to warn about the growing menace of Islamic extremism, and the threat it poses to the stability of this key nation situated at a strategic location in Central Asia.
Other nations are also feeling the impact of terrorism. In February Kyrgyz security personnel arrested six individuals who were reported to have received training abroad and to be planning to carry out attacks in Bishkek, the capital, and Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city.
A Kyrgyz migrant is accused of setting up explosions in the metro of St. Petersburg, Russia, in April. In the fall of 2016 another team of terrorists, including an individual from Kazakhstan was apprehended before that team could strike targets in the same two cities.
Meanwhile, in Tajikistan, security forces have identified a link between Tajik Islamists in the country and Tajik militants in Syria as well. Uzbek fighters are present in Syria and Afghanistan in large numbers. Hundreds of Turkmen are fighting in Syria right now. Overall, there may be as many as 4,000 Central Asian fighters in the ranks of ISIS alone.
As the war against ISIS in Syria inevitably grinds to a close, large numbers of those fighters will come home. Many more will spread across the globe joining what is already a massive terrorist diaspora. As they do, they will spread the contagion and light fires wherever they go.
The time to move to prevent catastrophe is now, not after nations are seriously threatened and deaths begin to mount. Kazakhstan, in particular, as a moderate, secular Muslim state has the potential to be a bulwark against the destabilization of Central Asia. It can also be a productive partner in efforts to identify citizens in the region who are involved in extremist activity and take them into custody before they have the ability to spread terror worldwide.
There is already significant contact between the Department of Defense and other U.S. agencies and the government of Kazakhstan. The U.S. have trained Kazakh special operations units, provided equipment and educational opportunities and facilitated contacts between U.S. defense companies and the government of Kazakhstan. We should expand and intensify those efforts.
The best way for us to ensure stability in Central Asia is not by waiting until the situation is out of control and then surging in combat troops and building bases for operations by our forces. It is by enhancing the abilities of the Kazakhs, and partners like them, to combat this threat themselves and preventing it from even getting to the point where we must intervene directly.
The threat of Islamic extremism will be with us for many years to come, moving and shifting across the globe like a wildfire in response to the wind. To date we have largely reacted by waiting until something is on fire before stepping in. Let’s try being proactive. Let’s take action in Central Asia before the region goes up in flames.
Charles "Sam" Faddis is a Veteran, retired CIA operations officer, Assistant Attorney general (Wash.) and published author. With degrees from The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Law School, he is a Senior Contributing Editor for Homeland Security Today, contributor to sofrep.com, Newsmax, and The Hill among others. He regularly appears on many networks as a national security and counter-terrorism expert. Sam is the author of "Beyond Repair: The Decline And Fall Of The CIA" and "Willful Neglect: The Dangerous Illusion Of Homeland Security. "To read more of his reports, Click Here Now.
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