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PSC 309: Terrorism & Developing Countries | PSC 303: International Relations

Class notes on documentary films on terrorism

See also films on world politics and international relations
Compiled by Jeremy Lewis; revised 5 Aug. 2015

Beslan: Siege of School No. 1 (PBS, Wide Angle: film)
The Secret War  (PBS, Frontline: film)
Fighting for the Taliban (PBS, Frontline 2011)

Beslan: Siege of School No.1 (PBS, Wide Angle film)
PBS notes on the film [massacre, 1 Sep. 2004, Ingushetia, the Caucasus]
For detailed map, click here and use zoom (e.g. can see Beslan in Ingushetia, just up & to left of label "North Ossetia")
- What is the cause of this conflict?
- What are the stakes?
- Who tries to negotiate, and with what authority?
- What is the prospect for a negotiated solution?
- What CT response techniques go wrong or are missing?

Beslan in Ingushettia, north Caucasus, is a Russian town whose school is invaded by Islamic extremists from a Chechen terrorist group.
Chechnya has fought a bitter war for independence from the former USSR since 1991.
The school's population is swollen by a festival, and about 1400 are taken hostage.
All children, teachers and some parents are rounded up into the gym and classrooms.
The terrorists wire a number of explosive charges to themselves and the building.
After the school is partly surrounded by security forces, the terrorists rachet up the pressure by massacring some of the men, and denying water to the rest.
The band's leader turns out to be the mastermind of two previous terrorist outrages (including the infamous cinema take-over); if he is present at this one, he may be bent on suicide.

He reveals anger that mothers and children have been killed in Chechnya, and he may be motivated to massacre mothers and children in Beslan.
Children are put in stress postions, and suffering from dehydration
There is a capable political interlocutor, a former president of the local republic, who is a credible middleman to the terrorists.  He enters voluntarily and passes on demands to the Russian command -- but he lacks official authority.
The infants and small children are a nuisance to the terrorists, and will die quickly of dehydration.  Their release with any mothers who wish to leave, is negotiated.
The government releases a hostage count of 350, but there are several times that many in the buildings.
The spetnatz (special forces) are complemented by a large number of local milita and other armed men, under loose control if any.  There is not a full perimeter cordon of the school grounds, as would be a first requirement in western security tactics.
Moscow leaders, deciding by remote control, may not be attuned to the subtleties of negotiation locally.
The terrorists may well be bent on suicide and intending to destroy a large number of women and children -- thus not capable of negotiated settlement.
Given the large number of hostages, and terrorists with suicide belts and a pedal trigger , it is not clear any SWAT team rescue is at all feasible.
An explosion occurs, later thought to be an accidental blast, or possibly the result of a terrorist who was standing on the 'dead man's switch', being shot by a sniper.  Soon there is a second, deliberate blast -- perhaps an overreaction by the gang.
Local militia seem to be responsible for triggering hostilities, and the result is a bloodbath.
Fighting is confused -- it is not clear whether an organized SWAT team assault was prepared.
The village is traumatized, though with school windows being blown open by blasts, a limited number of hostages do physically escape.

Frontline: The Secret War, PBS 2011, on the Afghan covert war
Video and further notes available on PBS.org
The Secret War:
- How did the CIA protect Khost province?
- What role does Pakistan play in the tribal areas of Waziristan?
- How did President Obama change the drone war in Afghanistan and the tribal areas?
- What was the role of Afghan intelligence in the drone war?
- To what degree is the Taliban/Al Qaeda movement supported and protected by the Pakistani army and ISI (intelligence)?
- To what degree can the US be effective in using special forces and local tribesmen to attack the enemy in Waziristan, calling in rockets fired from drones?
- To what degree do drone attacks arouse hostility from local people and link the US to a perceived global war against Islam?
- What does the retirement home of OBL tell us about the role of Pakistan?
Notes by Rhett Williams, Sep. 2013
·      CIA funds Afghan rebels, to go after and fight Taliban
·      CIA known as Khost protection force
·      DPF is a militia created to deny to stop the Taliban from crossing the border
·      The US men in the ground feel that the Pakistan military favors the Taliban, allowing missiles to be fired, or allowing them to “secretly” cross borders
·      Pakistan denies the allegations and said they have done all they can do to try and stop the Taliban
·      Taliban leaders moved freely around the country
·      Taliban dependent on ‘sanctuary’ in Pakistan
·      Crossing the border at night is extremely easy
·      ISI- Pakistan’s version of the CIA that supports the Taliban
·      Taliban needed support from the ISI for their campaign
·      Pakistan has the power to arrest anyone, and often do claiming they are “Al Qaeda”
·      The amount of drone strikes began to escalate, but the number of informers had to increase so we could know locations and targets.
·      Realistic Fear- Drone strikes and other attacks may bring rise to more young militants wanting to be part of a global war
·      Bin Laden found in a 3 story house, 1000 yards from the Pakistan military academy, which is very odd, making the Pakistani military look guilty

Documentary video, "Fighting for the Taliban," PBS Frontline 2011
Video and further notes available on PBS.org

- Are the local warlord's forces actually linked to AQ more than by inspiration?
- Who supplies the local forces with living expenses, fuel, weapons and motorbikes?
- Why would local people support "Khan" instead of the national Afghan government?
- Why does Peter Bergen argue that OBL's attack on the US, while tactically clever, damaged the Taliban/AQ strategy in the Middle East over a decade?
This second documentary video shows that an Afghan reporter treks for days to join the Taliban/AQ forces of a warlord named "Khan" in the area west of Kabul.  The forces have been supplied with foreign weapons and motorbikes, and are remarkably relaxed about security. Afghans are mixed with foreign fighters whose language requires partial translation -- though they do not seem to be under any daily control by AQ.
The filming ends abruptly when the reporter witnesses the cold-blooded execution of a prisoner who is claimed to be passing information to the Afghan government or police -- and fears for his own life.
Peter Bergen afterwards commented that OBL, while inspiring many, set back the AQ and Taliban strategy for a decade with his attacks upon the US rather than upon local regimes in the middle east.