WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has agreed to provide Russian security forces with counter-terrorism technology to confront the mounting threat of attack by Islamic militants on the Winter Olympic Games next month.
The offer comes as the Pentagon has deployed air assets in Europe and two U.S. warships to the Black Sea near Sochi in the event that U.S. citizens would need to be evacuated.
The Games begin Feb. 7 in Sochi, Russia, just 60 miles from the nearest border of the North Caucasus provinces where Moscow has been battling Islamic insurgents seeking autonomy.
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey assured his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, who is chief of Russia’s General Staff, that the U.S. would consider requests for technology to counter improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, as long as the technology is compatible with Russian systems.
In a meeting Tuesday at the Russian Embassy in Brussels to discuss bilateral military relations, Dempsey and Gerasimov agreed to a work plan on some 67 activities in which the two nations’ militaries could cooperate.
One of the technologies was U.S. equipment capable of disrupting cell-phone or radio signals that militants use to detonate IEDs.
The U.S. technology was developed from experiences of U.S. forces with IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Islamic groups have used them with deadly results against American troops.
Dempsey said Gerasimov has “a hand-picked, highly trained task force that’s been in place for some time” to ensure safety at the Sochi Games.
“He believes they have in place the intelligence apparatus, as well as the response apparatus, to deal with the threats as they know them this year in Sochi,” Dempsey said.
The promise of technical assistance is in response to threats from North Caucasus jihadists threatening the Olympics who seek to establish a Caucasus Emirate separate from Russia.
They are in the predominantly Muslim neighboring North Caucasus Russian provinces of Ingushetia, Dagestan, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia.
Adding to the concern is the prospect that battle-hardened Chechens and other North Caucasus Islamic militants who have gained fighting experience in Syria will descend on Russia to launch attacks.
Dokku Umarov, leader of the militant Caucasus Emirates, has indicated attacks would be launched in major Russian cities in an effort to draw security forces from the Olympics area, which then could be targeted.
The Olympics are to be a showcase of Russia’s security capabilities. However, the concentration of security could leave surrounding regions such as the North Caucasus and major Russian cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
Over the past weekend, a jihadist group in Dagestan released a video showing two young men who later carried out two “martyrdom” attacks in Volgograd some 400 miles from Sochi, accompanied with the statement that the Olympics will not be safe.
It was released by the Subversive Group of Ansar al-Sunah, a branch of the Caucasus Emirate Mujahideen based in Dagestan, and was first published on the official website of the Mujahideen of the Province of Dagestan.
“Each region, each city, street, neighborhood – we fill your homes with blood!” said a voice-over on the video attributed to the Caucasus Emirate leader Dokku Umarov. “You started this war back in Chechnya during the 1980s and then Putin promised you victory, but what has he done?
“By the grace of Allah, this war became the cause for the spread of jihad throughout the Caucasus. And now we will spread it over the entire Russian territory!”
There already are indications that at least three Chechen “black widow” suicide bombers have penetrated the security ring around Sochi.
The “black widows” are women whose husbands, brothers or fathers have been killed in previous terrorist attacks.
Dempsey said international terrorists would seek to disrupt the Olympics regardless of where the games were held. But holding global event near Chechnya and Dagestan brings its own set of threats, he added.
In addition to the Sochi games, the two military generals also discussed U.S. missile defense systems that Moscow opposes as well as Afghanistan, where the U.S. and Russia have considerable interest once American forces leave at the end of 2014.
“We agree that a stable Afghanistan and an Afghanistan that is not a sanctuary for terrorism is in our common interests,” Dempsey said.