Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Regional Relations

Chechens in Afghanistan 2: How to identify a Chechen

Christian Bleuer 16 min

Researchers focusing on Chechen issues point to clear evidence that many Chechens are fighting in Syria, but roundly reject the notion of a Chechen presence in Afghanistan. In the first part of his special two-parter, Christian Bleuer looked at how Chechens became a battlefield myth for western soldiers and a tool for Afghan and US governments frame their fight as a struggle against foreign militants. In this second dispatch, he looks at the difficulties of identifying a Chechen and at how ‘Chechen’ has become a loose term that can mean different things to different people.

Chechen cadets (but not in Afghanistan): Chechen separatist government National Guard cadets on parade in Grozny, 1999. Photo: Natalia MedvedevaChechen cadets (but not in Afghanistan): Chechen separatist government National Guard cadets on parade in Grozny, 1999. Photo: Natalia Medvedeva

(Mis)identifying Chechens in Afghanistan: a few examples

Chechens (dead and alive) are reported frequently in Afghanistan, but that identification usually falls apart under scrutiny. For example, a United States officer reported the alleged capture by Afghan police of a Chechen in Paktia in summer 2007. But when the identity of the ‘Chechen’ was eventually revealed, although he did turn out to be a citizen of Russia, he was an ethnic Russian from Siberia called Andrei who had converted to Islam (see also this 2007 blog). Or, in another example from 2009, a reporter looking into the role of foreign fighters in the Afghan insurgency quoted a United States Army Major in Paktika stating confidently that Arab, Uzbek, Turkmen and Chechen fighters were entering his area of operation. A suspicious analyst personally contacted the major to confirm the report. The major said he had told the reporter that he and his team were fighting against local Afghans. “I never said the quote that he used,” he said. “I stated that there have been reports that Chechens have been in the area, but that we have no way of verifying this information.”

Documents allegedly identifying Chechens are also occasionally reported, such as a 2005 USA Today article citing a government spokesman in Zabul who stated that recently killed insurgents were positively identified as Pakistani and Chechen, as “documents found on the bodies of the three identified their nationalities.” This may be the case for the dead Pakistanis, but very unlikely for the ‘Chechens.’ If they were carrying a passport, it would be a passport of the Russian Federation; in 1997 the Russian government removed the line in the passport where the Russian citizen identified their ethnicity. Of course, a birthplace is still listed, but in the Cyrillic Russian alphabet and by city only, not by republic or province (so the word ‘Chechnya’ would not be included). As for the unknown number of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria passports issued in 1997, none have turned up in warzones, but rather in asylum applications in Europe. (1)

In January 2011, the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) wire service circulated a fantastic story: fifteen Chechen women in Dasht-e Archi district of Kunduz had married Talebs and were assisting them as experts in the use of suicide vests and roadside IEDs (improvised explosive devices), and as nurses. (2) The source of this information was the interrogation by Kunduz police chief Abdul Rahman Sayedkheli (3) of Taleban Mullah Jamaluddin – leaving open the possibility that these are the words of the police, put into the mouth of a Taleb prisoner. Furthermore, to believe this story, one must assume that fifteen Chechen women – who are also Islamist extremists, trained in suicide vest and IED construction – left Chechnya on their own and travelled all the way to Kunduz to marry Afghan Talebs. This story could be a play on the Russian ‘Black Widow’ female suicide bombers from the North Caucasus region, itself an exaggerated phenomenon. These women – also referred to as shahidka in Russian – (see here) are overwhelmingly vulnerable widows manipulated into putting on suicide vests inside Russia, rather than globe-trotting insurgent and terrorist tactic experts.

In some incidents where foreign militants certainly were to blame, the Afghan government is still quick to name Chechens as the perpetrators. A good example is the February 2015 kidnapping of dozens of Hazaras on the Kabul-Kandahar highway. The governor of Zabul province immediately blamed the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e Jangvi and Chechens. But unlike many other reports around the country that named Chechens as the guilty party, this incident generated a relatively large amount of media and public interest. The scrutiny dismantled the government’s initial claims, and it was revealed quite decisively that Uzbeks of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan were responsible. (4) But for other reports of Chechens, there is usually no such fact-checking or scrutiny.

Positive identification of Chechens: ‘racial’ stereotyping

If some Afghan mujahedin had been misidentifying dead Soviet soldiers as Cubans in the 1980s (possibly because Soviet soldiers had darkened their faces for night-time fighting; see the author’s previous dispatch), could contemporary American and Afghan soldiers be doing something similar?

Many, including Russians, think they can identify Chechens and fail badly, as noted in a widely circulated Russian article written by a Chechen titled “How to spot a Chechen.” Basically, ‘racial stereotypes’ (anthropologists prefer the word ‘phenotypes’) such as hair type, facial features, skin colour, etc are not particularly useful as the Chechen population is a diverse group of people who speak a common language. A stereotypical Chechen ‘look’ will fail as a tool of identification. If ethnic Russians have problems identifying Chechens despite sharing a country with them, what chance do Afghans have? Even so, some American soldiers trust Afghans to identify dead bodies as Chechen. One soldier who served in Khost made this claim:

…there are Chechens fighting (and dying) in Khost, Paktika and Paktya and there have been for years. […] How do i know? Because the Afghans know a Chechen dead guy from an Arab dead guy from an Afghan from a Pakistani when they see one, that’s how.

In reality, identification of insurgent bodies in Afghanistan is undertaken in the crudest fashion. The Paktia provincial police chief in May 2007 (see here), for example, needed only the disembodied head of a suicide bomber to be able to declare that “the face complexion revealed he was a Chechen.” An ISAF officer with years of experience in northern Afghanistan wrote this in 2011:

We see it here (Mazar-e Sharif) in the provincial hospital, where dead bodies of insurgent KIAs are brought to. When the bodies are not claimed by family members, they are automatically labeled Foreign Fighters and depending on their faces: Asiatic = Uzbeks; dark-skinned = Pakistani; and Caucasian = Chechens. This is done by doctors as well as police and everybody takes it at face value. (5)

Two other researchers whose works includes studies of both the North Caucasus and Afghanistan agree: corpses on the Afghan battlefield that “appeared Caucasian

[ie ‘white European’] were presumed to be Chechens.” In another similar anecdote, an Afghan-American working for US forces near Khost as a cultural advisor said that local Afghans were referring to lighter-skinned foreign fighters generically as ‘Chechens’, partially because that is what they thought the Americans wanted to hear. Add to this the existence of light-haired and light-skinned Afghans, and it is clear as to why making an identification of a dead or live fighter based on crude racial stereotypes is unreliable.

Russian language in Afghanistan: Chechens, Central Asians and others

Analysis in Jane’s Defence published in November 2001 identified Chechen units, bases and ‘civilian communities’ in Afghanistan as part of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. This provides a possible example of how ‘Chechen sightings’ may be the result of linguistic and cultural confusion. As far as language identification goes, the notion that the US military has deployed army linguists and signals intelligence operators proficient in Nokhchiyn mott (the language of Chechens) was completely rejected by a researcher who spent time with the US military in Afghanistan. Outside the US military, in 2013, the terrorism researcher, Murad Batal Al Shishani (an Arab of Chechen descent – Arabic, lacking a ‘ch’ sound, replaces it with ‘sh’ instead), rejected the notion of a Chechen presence in Afghanistan based on the total lack of evidence of the Chechen language being used by any fighters in that country. But like other sceptics, he is convinced of Chechens being in Syria – based on the type of linguistic (and other) evidence found there, that is lacking in Afghanistan.

The use of the Russian language on the battlefield as proof of the presence of Chechens is even less useful. Chechens only comprise 1.5 million people out of Russia’s over 16 million Muslims, and Russian is the dominant lingua franca between and among Central Asians and those from the North Caucasus region of Russia. Hearing Russian spoken or finding Russian language documents in Afghanistan thus does not mean that there are Chechens. However, Afghans have probably been led to assume that Central Asians speaking Russian were in fact Chechens. (6) Documents written in Russian have also been cited as a sign of Chechens in Afghanistan, but researchers familiar with Central Asian militants have instead assigned the papers to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (for example, Russian documents found in the Kabul houses of foreign militants in December 2001).

A survey of publications by researchers with an expertise on the North Caucasus and/or Central Asia (as well as personal communication with them) returns an overwhelming consensus: Afghans and foreign military forces in Afghanistan, as well as some journalists and other researchers, are regularly mistaking Russian-speaking, foreign Muslims for Chechens. In particular, numerous people are mistaking Central Asian fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan for Chechens, while others point also to non-Chechens from the North Caucasus as the source of the misidentification. (7) However, it goes beyond just the use of the Russian language. As two researchers of the Chechen conflict argue, “the ethnonym ‘Chechen’ has in fact been employed to describe almost all foreigners whose identity Afghans were unable to discover or whose language was incomprehensible (ie almost anyone but Pakistanis and Arabs).” (8) Even foreign Uzbeks who can speak local languages have been misidentified as Chechens, as the kidnapping incidents of Hazara bus passengers in Zabul demonstrated.

If ‘Chechen’ has become, for some Afghans, a generic term for unidentifiable foreign Muslims, it has followed numerous, similar, historical linguistic practices (in ethnolinguistics, the ‘incorrect’ names of ethnic groups used by outsiders are called exonyms or xenonyms). For example, the Persian word farangi is derived narrowly from ‘Frank’, the western Germanic tribes in the Rhine region (eventually, the name ‘France’ was also derived from ‘Frank’). Yet farangi and similar names were used throughout the Muslim world and as far as China and Southeast Asia to refer to anybody from western or Central Europe, or even just to European Christians in general. So, for example, a Persian in the 1800s could refer to a Swede, Portuguese, Czech or Irishman as a farangi, and be corrected by a European who would then identify them not as farangi (Frank), but by their actual nationality. However, both are correct in their own linguistic context.

Similarly, arguing with every Afghan police officer or soldier about whether someone is Chechen or not misses the point in a similar way: for Afghans, ‘Chechen’ could just mean ‘foreign Muslim of unknown ethnicity,’ and this use would be correct for them even if the person they are identifying is not Chechen. (9) However, the listener may think they are hearing a reference to ‘Chechen’, meaning native of Chechnya. Similar examples of this are the numerous reports of Afghans in isolated areas referring to American and other coalition soldiers as ‘Russian’ or ‘Soviet’ (shurawi). (10) It is obviously wrong to say that American soldiers are Russians or indeed Soviets, but if in one’s own linguistic and cultural context, shurawi refers to foreign, non-Muslim soldiers, then it is not incorrect – it is just a linguistic and cultural difference in terminology.

Real Chechens in Afghanistan

The first known (sort-of) Chechen to visit Afghanistan as a foreign volunteer was Fathi Muhammad Habib, also known as Shaykh Ali Fathi al-Shishani, in 1982. An elderly electrical engineer, he took on non-combat duties with Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf’s Ittehad party. However, despite being ‘al-Shishani’ (‘the Chechen’ in Arabic), he was not actually from Chechnya. Rather he was a Jordanian Arab descended from Chechens who had emigrated during the Ottoman period. (11) More recently, another member of the Chechen diaspora fought in Afghanistan. The online ‘martyr’ tribute to Sayfullah Shishani, an ethnic Chechen from Georgia who died in Syria, mentions that he fought for a year in Afghanistan at some point in the past. Another researcher mentioned that he had seen a tribute to another ‘Shishani’ who died in Afghanistan. (12) On the opposite side to the Islamists, there was a Chechen who fought for Dostum against the Taleban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and who apparently was in Afghanistan out of a motivation to kill ‘Wahhabis’. When asked in 2003, he said he had never seen another Chechen in Afghanistan, “despite his best efforts to locate his countrymen amongst the Talib prisoners.” (13)

These few examples of Chechen foreign fighters are rare exceptions. Comprehensive studies of foreign fighters, their biographies and their ‘martyr’ tributes turn up almost nothing. A study of ‘martyr biographies’ killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2002 to 2006 includes only five citizens of Russia, and based on their noms de guerre they were ethnic Tatars or from Dagestan, not Chechens. (14) Furthermore, a study focusing on foreign fighters in Afghanistan from 1980-2010 completely rejects the Chechen narrative. (15) When Russian citizens do show up in lists of ‘martyrs’, they are in tiny numbers and from other Russian regions – usually from Dagestan and Tatarstan – not Chechnya. (16) As for those captured alive, just as when the eight Russian citizens imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay turned out to be non-Chechens, a list compiled by AAN of detainees at Bagram turned up only a single Russian citizen: an ethnic Tatar.

The expropriation of Chechen identity on the battlefield

Najibullah Qureishi’s documentary footage with Hezb-e Islami insurgents in northern Afghanistan from 2010 included a scene where a single insurgent was pointed out by a fellow fighter who declared, “This brother’s from Chechnya.” There are very few instances of Taleban fighters saying they worked together with one or more Chechens. The most prominent is in a 2009 Newsweek article by Sami Yousafzai. Yet there is reason to believe that even someone who self-identifies as a Chechen may not actually be Chechen. The first reason is that it is often difficult for a Russian Muslim to explain their ethnic identity to Muslims and others from outside Russia. In the Russian North Caucasus region alone, there are Muslims whose ethnicity is Avar, Dargwa, Kumyk, Lezgin, Tabasaran, Karachay, Cherkess, Abazin, Kabardian, Ingush, et cetera. It is easier to just identify out of convenience with the better-known names of ‘Chechen’ or ‘Dagestani’ (which is not an ethnic identify, but rather someone of varied ethnicity from the Dagestan province of Russia).

But convenience aside, there are also insurgents and terrorists who do expropriate the Chechen identity ‘brand’ in order to better promote themselves and project an image of a fearsome and brave fighter. Chechen fighters in Syria have spoken publically of this identity theft. Joanna Paraszczuk, a researcher who focuses on Chechen fighters, reported on this phenomenon:

Meanwhile, Chechens in Syria have also complained that the West — and even other Islamist militant groups in Syria — are trying to claim the Chechen name, “Shishani” in Arabic, because they think this is associated with bravery on the battlefield. 

“The name “Shishani” has become a brand,” one Chechen militant in Latakia said via Facebook. “Lots of people want to be a Shishani, when they are not.”

A reporter asked an American Special Operation Forces officer with an academic and research background on the North Caucasus and Chechnya about the practise of people ‘stealing’ the Chechen identity. He compared these people to Americans who lie and claim to be special forces: “So just as it’s ‘cool’ here to be Special Forces, or to be a Navy SEAL, it is cool in that part of the world to be a Chechen.” The main reasons he gives for the Chechen identity having this sort of value are that Chechens legitimately are good fighters, and that in the early to mid-1990s, videos from Chechnya circulating in the worldwide militant community of Chechens killing Russian soldiers boosted their reputation (as Islamic fighters). He even cites Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters in Afghanistan lying and claiming to be Chechen in order to instil fear in their enemies.

What do Chechens have to say?

Aside from noting that other fighters are falsely claiming to be Chechen, Chechens – both pro-Russian and in the opposition – widely mock the notion that large numbers of their countrymen are in Afghanistan. One 2005 article published in the (anti-Russian) Chechen Press titled “Chechens as a Nightmare” (see here) mocked the “schizophrenic… hallucinations” that turned up Chechens on various battlefields around the world, comparing them to UFO sightings. Citing generals, police and the media, it found examples over several years of people ‘seeing’ Chechens fighting or planning terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, Israel, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Iraq, India, China, Mexico and even Arizona (eventually, the Boston Marathon Bombers would provide the first real Chechen terrorists in the US). In most cases, the Chechen sightings were accompanied by bizarre details and ludicrous claims.

A year earlier in 2004, Akhmed Zakayev, the deputy prime minister of the Chechen government in exile also denied claims that Chechens were in Afghanistan and Iraq. Other denials are far more angry, such as one in the anti-Russian website Kavkaz Center which ridicules and condemns the American soldiers and journalists who claim to be identifying Chechens in Afghanistan, stating that “the American Islam-haters speak only lies about Chechen Mujahideen.”

Finally, the (pro-Russian) Chechen president himself, Ramzan Kadyrov, when vigorously denying that Chechens were fighting in Syria, cited the previous false rumours of Chechens in Afghanistan. By 2014, he begrudgingly admitted that there were a few Chechens in Syria, but that they were Chechens who had been born or raised in the West. Of course, Chechens now – in mid-2016 – have no choice but to acknowledge a Chechen presence in Syria, as there are numerous forms of proof, including video. Similarly, there is proof of Chechens fighting on both side of the war in Ukraine (see for example here). Analysts and researchers who have argued that there were no significant numbers of Chechens in Afghanistan have demonstrated that they are perfectly able to acknowledge Chechens on foreign battlefields when presented with evidence (as in Syria). (17)

If there were actually large numbers of Chechens fighting in Afghanistan…

A common sentiment expressed by researchers, analysts, and contractors who work for the US government directly and indirectly is that, if there were truly large numbers of Chechens in Afghanistan, and if the US government and military truly believed this at the levels where the final intelligence products are produced and where funding is allocated, there would be unmistakable signs of this in US government structures and programmes. For example, Chechen would be a prominent and popular language at the Defense Language Institute and other government language schools, the study of Chechen and Chechnya would be given generous funding in various government-supported programs (academic language programmes, for example), contractors would be regularly advertising for Chechen (Nokhchin mott) linguists, and the experts and researchers with long experience studying Chechnya and Central Asia who work full or part-time for the US government and military would not be so dismissive of the idea that Chechens are in Afghanistan. Furthermore, names or at least noms de guerre would emerge from American targeted killings of Chechen terrorists and insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan (just as they do for Uzbeks, for example). As for US-Russian cooperation, there would be more signs of intelligence sharing, just as there are clear indications of that in Syria, at the moment, and in Afghanistan immediately after 9/11.

Conclusions: ‘Generic’ Chechens

Despite the very small-scale and rare visits of Chechens to Afghanistan in the 1990s, many people eventually came to believe that Chechen fighters were a common presence during that era. The Russian government, being regularly criticised by the US, European and Arab governments for its conduct in its fight against Chechen separatists, saw an opportunity to portray the entire spectrum of the Chechen independence movement to the world as extremists after the Taleban recognised Chechnya as an independent country. The ‘Northern Alliance,’ by the year 2000 heavily dependent on Russian military support, eagerly adopted the Russian view that there were significant numbers of transnational Chechen terrorists in Afghanistan – while Western governments rejected the Russian government view. But then the al-Qaeda attacks on 9/11 convinced the US government to adopt the Russian line on Chechnya in exchange for Russian cooperation in Operation Enduring Freedom (for more details see part one of this special two-parter).

From here the myth of Chechens in Afghanistan might have died, as no Chechens were captured or confirmed killed in Afghanistan. However, a renewed insurgency in Afghanistan made regular gains against the Afghan government and ISAF-NATO troops. The Afghan government and its US military backers, in an attempt to portray the insurgency as illegitimate, decided to frame the insurgency as a foreign phenomenon. Afghan and western forces fairly blamed elements of the state and society in Pakistan, but the Chechens were, without merit, added to the mix along with a long list of foreign fighters. Journalists, and even many analysts, did not question the regular statements about Chechen fighters by the Afghan government and by representatives of ISAF-NATO forces, allowing their articles and publications to uncritically disseminate what was at best a mistaken view, or at worst ‘information warfare’ intended to explain the motivations for the insurgency in a manner that absolved the Afghan government and its western backers of blame.

The Chechen myth was also enabled by smaller technical details, primarily the reputation of Chechens in the militant community owing to their successful campaign against Russia (roughly, 1994 to 2000), and the ambiguity of the use of the name ‘Chechen’ as a generic name in Afghanistan. Non-Chechen fighters expropriated the ‘Chechen’ name while Afghan and NATO-ISAF forces often assumed that competent and brave opponents must be Chechen. As for the name ‘Chechen’, it is clearly being used to describe a range of Muslim ethnic groups from the former Soviet Union – including ethnic Russian converts to Islam.

In the context of Afghanistan’s full range of problems, the accidental and intentional misidentification of Chechens is not a major issue. However, it can serve as a symbol of larger, systemic problems: poor intelligence collection and analysis by the US government and military forces and of those of other western allies, the blurring of lines between analysis and psychological operations, lazy journalism, blame-shifting and deflection by the Afghan and US governments, the manipulation of facts to serve Great Power politics (eg, between Russia and the United States) and the lack of critical inquiry by academics, analysts and the general public in the west and in Afghanistan. All of this, taken together, can distract from questions concerning the true nature of the conflict: who are the insurgents and terrorists? Why are they joining the insurgency? What needs to be done to address these problems?

The phenomenon of Chechen misidentification in Afghanistan is just one of many problems encountered when trying to understand the conflict in Afghanistan. Now, as the Afghan government and its western backers attempt to absolve themselves of blame, the alleged large number of ‘foreign fighters’ may well continue to be a tool used in an attempt to manipulate public perceptions. Stories of Chechens in Afghanistan, therefore, will likely persist.

Christian Bleuer is an independent researcher based in Central Asia. From September-December 2015 he worked in Kabul for AAN. He can be reached at [email protected].



(1) In 1997, during the period between the First and Second Chechen Wars, the de facto independent government of Chechnya did print an uncertain number of passports. See: ‘Chechen leader unveils “unofficial” passports – Russian report’, BBC News, 27 November 1997. These passports (adorned with a wolf on the front) were never accepted as official travel documents: ‘Information Concerning the Non-Exhaustive List of Known Fantasy and Camouflage Passports, as Stipulated by Article 6 of the Decision No. 1105/2011/EU (to which a visa may not be affixed)’, European Union, 18 August 2015, 5.

(2) Cited in: ‘Afghan police look for 15 female Chechen militants’, Trend, 31 January 2011; Bill Roggio, ‘Afghan police search for 15 Chechen women aiding the Taliban in Kunduz’, Threat Matrix, 31 January 2011.

(3) Two months later, the BBC posted an obituary for the police chief, noting that he had to contend with hundreds of foreign fighters: Pakistanis, Arabs and Chechens. See: Bilal Sarwary, ‘Sayedkhili: Afghan police chief who took on the Taliban’, BBC News, 14 March 2011.

(4) ‘Afghanistan kidnap video: Hostage beheaded ‘by Uzbek gunmen’, BBC News, 7 April 2015; ‘Afghanistan Hazara kidnapped passengers released’, BBC News, 11 May 2015.

(5) Personal correspondence with former ISAF officer with several years’ experience in northern Afghanistan, October 2011. For another example of ‘body inspections’, see the somewhat less clear example here: Leigh Neville, Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan, New York, Osprey Publishing 2012, 25.

(6) Brian Glyn Williams, ‘Shattering the al-Qaeda-Chechen Myth (Part II): Exploring the Links Between the Chechen Resistance and Afghanistan’, Chechnya Weekly 4 (2003).

(7) Guido Steinberg, ‘A Chechen al-Qaeda? Caucasian Groups Further Internationalise the Syrian Struggle’, SWP Comments 31 (2014), 1; Laura Miller, ‘Chechens: Legendary tough guys’, Salon, 20 April 2013; James Gordon Meek, ‘The Secret Battles Between US Forces and Chechen Terrorists’, ABC News, 19 February 2014; Mark MacKinnon Twitter post, 23 September 2013, citing comments by Lawrence Sheets at the 2013 Global Security Seminar; Brian Glyn Williams, ‘From “Secessionist Rebels” to “Al-Qaeda Shock Brigades”: Assessing Russia’s Efforts to Extend the Post-September 11th War on Terror to Chechnya’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 24 (2004); Thomas de Waal, ‘Chechens I Used to Know’, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 19 April 2011.

(8) Emil Souleimanov & Ondrej Ditrych, ‘The Internationalisation of the

Russian-Chechen Conflict: Myths and Reality’, Europe-Asia Studies 60 (2008), 1215-1216.

(9) I ran this line of argument by other researchers and they agree it is either plausible or likely, though as academics they say it is unproven without archival research and dedicated field trips to Afghanistan.

(10) Some examples: Marty Compton et al, Home from War: How Love Conquered the Horrors of a Soldier’s Afghan Nightmare, Edinburgh, Mainstream 2009, np; Ann Marlowe and Derrick Hernandez, ‘Ain’t Reporting Hell: Sebastian Junger’s Afghanistan’, World Affairs, November/December 2010; Jeff Courter, Afghan Journal: A Soldier’s Year in Afghanistan, Flossmoor, IL, CreateSpace 2008, 150; P.J. Tobia, ‘How I spent my fall vacation…in Afghanistan’, Nashville Scene, 26 March 2009; Tom Bowman, ‘For U.S. Troops, One More Big Push In Afghanistan’, NPR, 30 May 2012. There are numerous other examples of this, mostly American soldiers posting comments on online forums.

(11) Cerwyn Moore and Paul Tumelty, ‘Foreign Fighters and the Case of Chechnya: A Critical Assessment’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 31 (2008), 416.

(12) Personal correspondence in 2011 with anonymous researcher who viewed martyrs’ videos in Arabic.

(13) ‘No evidence of Chechens in Afghanistan’, Chechnya Weekly, Volume IV, Issue 33, 12 September 2003.

(14) Anne Stenersen, ‘Al Qaeda’s Foot Soldiers: A Study of the Biographies of Foreign Fighters Killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan Between 2002 and 2006’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 34 (2011), Appendix A., 187-193. The author notes that the study is Arab-centric, and the compiler of the bibliographies noted that he had not been able to collect all of the Uzbek and Uyghur biographies.

(15) Brian Glyn Williams, ‘On the Trail of the ‘Lions of Islam’: Foreign Fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 1980-2010’, Orbis 55 (2011), 216-239.

(16) For example, see the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan official list of martyrs for the Hijri year 1432 (ending in November 2011), which lists one citizen of Russia: an ethnic Tatar: ‘O’zbekiston Islomiy Harakatining 1432 hijriy yil (melodiy 2011) shahidlar’, (November 2011). Another IMU martyr tribute in video form paid tribute to a Dagestani Russian named Khattab who died in Kunduz in 2010 (source: video screenshot received via personal correspondence with anonymous researcher).

(17) As one of several examples, see: Brian Glyn Williams, Inferno in Chechnya: the Russian-Chechen wars, the Al Qaeda myth, and the Boston Marathon bombings, Lebanon, NH, ForeEdge 2015, especially chapter 7 (‘The Chechen Ghost Army of Afghanistan’).



foreign fighters


Christian Bleuer

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