Rex Tillerson is out of his depth

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday the United States would stay in Iraq to fight Islamic State (IS, sometimes referred to as ISIS or ISIL) whether the Iraqi government authorizes the troop presence or not.

Tillerson testified with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee amid scrutiny over the death of four U.S. soldiers in Niger earlier this month.

Sen. Tom Udall asked, “If U.S. forces are told to leave, will we depart Iraq or will we stay uninvited as our forces are doing in Syria, and under what legal authority will they remain?”

Tillerson replied, “We will remain in Iraq until ISIS is defeated and we are confident that ISIS has been defeated.”

The implication that the U.S. would keep its military in Iraq despite being unwanted is not only the definition of imperialism, but it would be the biggest foreign policy blunder since the 2003 invasion.

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PMU celebrates a victor over IS (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Iraqi militias already weary of U.S. presence

Tillerson’s position is ironic considering he called for Iranian-backed militias in Iraq to “go home” last week. “Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against Daesh and ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home. The foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control,” he said.

In Baghdad, the Iranian influence is noticeable. In the square where U.S. soldiers in 2003 famously removed a statue of Saddam Hussein, hoisted an American flag, and then quickly took it down, a billboard advertises Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) with photos of Khomeinei and Khamenei.

At the moment, the Iraqi government welcomes both U.S. and Iranian forces and has heavily depended on both to fight IS. But should the U.S. stay as a foreign occupier after being told to leave, the fight against IS would expand to include defending itself against local militias fighting what they consider an invading force.

This month a U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb identified as an explosively formed penetrator (EFP). This type of bomb is not an improvised explosive device (IED) as it requires considerable manufacturing effort to create.

EFPs were used to kill many American service members during Operation Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn and are linked to Iran. Notably, no evidence of IS use of EFPs has been recorded.

The idea that Shiite militias in Iraq would be targeting U.S. forces again is not unsound. In March, a PMU commander threatened U.S. troops should they stay after IS is gone.

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A U.S. Marine fires an M777-A2 Howitzer in Syria, June 1, 2017 (DoD photo)

U.S. unilateralism in Syria untenable 

Resistance to the U.S. presence by militias also fighting IS is not contained only to Iraq. In Syria, Free Syrian Army fighters surrounded a small detachment of U.S. special operations forces last winter and chanted “Pigs! Crusaders!”

Since then, U.S. special operations bases have been limited to Kurdish-controlled areas and their locations closely guarded secrets (until Turkey announced the location of 10 bases this year).

Depending on the protection of non-state actors while ignoring the wishes of the host nation’s government — but not actively fighting them — has become the norm in Syria, but obviously is not the ideal operating environment.

The precarious position of U.S. troops in Syria was highlighted recently. In September, U.S. troops were forced to abandon a small base in the Syrian desert and withdraw closer to the Iraqi border.

The U.S. position in Syria post-IS is currently untenable. Turkey continues to consider the YPG, a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia, a terrorist organization and existential threat. As the IS buffer diminishes, Russia and Iran-backed fighters grow bolder in opposing U.S. forces. Last month, Russia threatened to bomb U.S. troops.

Diplomat needed

That Tillerson would suggest he is comfortable with the same situation in Iraq shows how out of his depth he is in the position to which he was appointed. On the Middle East, Tillerson recently admitted that he was lost. “Maybe we leave it to the next generation to try. I don’t know. I’m not a diplomat,” he admitted.

It should go without saying that the top U.S. diplomat should probably be a diplomat. It should also go without saying that the top U.S. diplomat should not endorse imperialism as viable foreign policy.

Since President Trump was elected, a lot of things that used to go without saying need saying.

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Nobody Wants Erik Prince’s Contractors Running Afghanistan

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Blackwater employees in a firefight in Iraq

After almost 16 years of continuous war, recent redoubling efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the overall expansion of the once-named “Global War on Terror”, sometimes it feels like Americans have learned nothing in the last decade and a half.

But if there is one thing they have apparently learned, it is that they do not want Blackwater founder Erik Prince running Afghanistan.

The New York Times published an op-ed by Prince on Wednesday in which he predictably argues that contractors are the solution in Afghanistan. His plan, rejected by President Trump after asking for private business solutions in Afghanistan, involves removing all conventional troops and the contractors that support them.

Instead, Prince proposes 2,000 special operations forces and 6,000 contractors. The contractors would among other things, patrol with Afghan forces. Contractors that fight in wars are also known as mercenaries.

But it turns out it is not just Trump who is not having it from Prince. Many Twitter users mocked the piece this morning — pointing out the absurdity in the obviousness of Prince’s position:

Some created parodies of the piece:

Contractors are not inherently bad. I worked as a security contractor in Afghanistan guarding a post so some soldiers or airmen did not have to. It was not shadowy. I was not a mercenary.

But what Prince proposes would fundamentally change how the U.S. conducts war. The guy whose company was responsible for the Nisour Square massacre does not need to be at the table in the debate over the future of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

Looks like we are learning from our mistakes after all.

The Google Memo and its Implications on National Security

By now, you may have read about the anti-diversity internal memo at Google written by a disgruntled software developer. In the 10-page memo titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” circulating on Google+ and now virally, the author (a man) argues that Google’s hiring practices are unfair and anti-business.

He writes that the under-representation of women in tech at Google is not due to systemic oppression of women from birth on, but because of natural biological differences between genders that allow men to rise to the top in tech and leadership roles while women are left behind because they value work/life balance and cooperation.

You can read more about his position and the widespread criticism of it elsewhere. Despite his position — both his opinion and role in the company — the author puzzlingly shows little understanding of gender or technology careers.

Nonetheless, what I am interested in is how closely his position imitates the long and on-going debate about the effect of diversity policies on the military. As Dr. Jill S. Russell, professor at the U.S. Army War College, observed on Twitter, the discourse in the national security sphere is eerily similar.

If you are not familiar with why someone would not want women or the LGBTQ+ community serving in uniform, here are a couple of opinions from what might be considered reputable sources. But let’s face it: they are everywhere and often given unasked.

What the Google memo gets wrong, just like the argument against women serving in combat and transgender people in the military generally, is why Google exists. Google exists not to make products, not to code, but to solve problems. The technology they create does not exist for its own sake.

So even if it were true that women were not as good at coding as men (it is not), it is beside the point.  The problem solving, to be most effective, should be done by the most qualified pool possible. Discouraging women from technology by embracing the status quo severely hamstrings tech companies’ ability to do what they need to do: solve problems.

And that is where the tech word intersects with national security. Not only does the military depend on tech companies, but the military itself is misunderstood in the same way the author misunderstands Google. The military does not exist, as White House National Security Advisor Sebastian Gorka recently argued, to “kill people and break stuff.” That is a product that it offers proudly — you will see variations on that theme on many a morale t-shirt or challenge coin. The purpose of the military is to solve problems, (see Clausewitz, “a continuation of politics by other means” etc.) but it has not in a long time.

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The back of an AC-130 unit morale shirt

The problem the United States has been facing for at least the last decade and a half is how to defend itself and its strategic resources from radical groups operating from mostly failed states without spending more on protection than they are worth. In 2001, the U.S. government decided the military was the only way to solve this problem and since then other avenues of approach, like diplomacy, have been cast aside.

Yet the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not being lost by the combat arms soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen on the ground. And it is not their fault things are not going what one might consider “well” in Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and the rest of the 14 countries where military operations have been conducted under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

The locating, closing with, and destroying the enemy aspect of the military is going swimmingly. Maneuvering to the locations of high value targets, setting up perimeter security, and clearing the building room by room killing bad guys along the way is definitely a “sustain” from the Global War on whatever. They are going great not because they are being done solely by tough men with strong upper bodies, but because this aspect of the military is literally the lowest, most basic skill of soldiering.

Almost anyone can learn to do it. That is why under conscription the vast majority of people snatched right off the street are sent into the infantry. It is why the the ASVAB requirement for infantry is the lowest score you can get and still enlist.

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Living that infantry life (DoD photo)

I say this not to disparage the infantry. After all, I was an infantryman. I joined the infantry after I had served in a support role in a support branch because it just was not as fun and exciting as the infantry. I loved the job, culture, and status.

But we need to realize this status is mostly imagined by infantrymen themselves. Something must explain why they have a job that makes the same amount of money as a logistician safely in an air conditioned trailer while they exist in a meaningless world. Their time in war is spent mostly throwing rocks at each other and walking painfully with more gear than they could ever effectively fight in. The only honorable escape from the brutal monotony is a few seconds of near death experience that they have almost no control over, but can retell with proud agency for the rest of their lives.

This invented culture is then brought to the civilian world through the survivors — whether they were vindicated in combat or not — and then retold in a society where the war is just not going very well.  This hyper-masculine fantasy, of strong men doing what no other could (the inverse of the truth) becomes reality. As Dr. Russell tweeted, this ideal is elevated to the essence of “not just warfare, but War itself.”

Then the idea becomes that if anything disrupts this this violent state-run Männerbund,  the war itself is in danger. We see this time and again in foxhole hypotheticals and fireman carry catastrophizing. (“Could a woman/transgender person lift a 250 lb man with 150 lbs of body armor and ammunition and carry him out of combat?”)

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The soldier carry, the ultimate test of a warrior, apparently (DoD photo)

But it is vital to understand that the firefight is just one small instrument of warfare. If commanders had three choices to destroy a target, room clearing, airstrike, or cyber attack, the explosion would win nearly every time.

We must stop focusing on the details of whether a woman or transgender man can do everything exactly like a cisgender man in combat. Just like at Google, whether a woman can code or be just as apathetic of a co-worker’s feelings as a man is irrelevant. The military, like Google, exists to solve problems. The last thing we need — after 16 years of war with an end forecast sometime to the right of forever — is to scare off over half the pool of qualified thinkers and leaders from the profession of arms with toxic masculinity.

Any other approach is thinking tactically, not strategically. It is bad for business and bad for war.

Why Trump Supporters Think #covfefe is a Secret Message to Terrorists

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Islam does actually mean “submission” in Arabic so this meme creator imagines that covfefe is a coded anti-Muslim message.

After President Trump tweeted and then deleted a cryptic message early Wednesday morning, many took to Twitter to mock the apparent typo. With #covfefe trending, Trump supporters began defending the tweet. Evidently, if you add a space and an apostrophe, Google Translate will translate “cov fe’fe” as “I will stand up” in Arabic. I tried it myself:

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Google Translate was set to Arabic for me automatically because despite its shortcomings, it’s a lot quicker than the Hans Wehr dictionary. Google thinks “cov fe’fe” is “سوف فقف” (sawfa faqif).

“Cov fe’fe” is not Arabic. If it was Arabic, I suspect Arabic speakers would have said something about Trump’s tweet pretty quickly. Nevertheless, Google Translate thinks it is. So Trump supporters took to Twitter to educate people about a language none of them spoke:

For some reason this person thinks Afghans speak Arabic too!

Sean thinks Trump is playing twelve dimensional chess by Tweeting in Arabic after midnight.

Shannon thinks it makes perfect sense!

William thinks Trump was trolling America by tweeting in Arabic and then deleting it.

One Trump supporter did a write up explaining what his “God Emperor” meant by “I will stand up.”

Like I said, “cov fe’fe” is not Arabic. But as a former Arabic student, I was puzzled as to why it was translating “cov fe’fe” to “I will stand up.” “I will stand up” in Modern Standard Arabic is sa-aqaf or perhaps sawfa aqaf (the difference is the certainty of the future event, with sawfa indicating uncertainty).

So the translation for what Google thinks it is, sawfa faqif doesn’t make sense. But bad translations are normal for Google, it’s why it thinks fe’fe is faqif that interested me.

There is no standard transliteration (changing from one alphabet to another) from the Latin alphabet English uses to the Arabic alphabet, but Google thinking “cov fe’fe” was someone trying to write “سوف فقف” (again, sawfa faqif) seemed like quite a stretch to me.

So I did some digging into different Arabic dialects (I learned Modern Standard Arabic in school, the version of the language used officially versus colloquially).

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Most Arabs only hear Modern Standard Arabic on the news.

If you’re into languages, this is was a fun puzzle to solve. If you’re not, things are about to get really boring so you might want to skip down to the paragraph above the last graphic.

First, Google transliterated “cov” into سوف (pronounced sawfa). If you go to Google Translate and input this alone, it doesn’t work, while sawfa translates to will.

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Google does not think “cov” alone is Arabic.

But when you enter a second word, Google now thinks that “cov” is an Arabic word. For example, if you just type “cov fe” now Google will transliterate “cov” into سوف (sawfa) and fe into في (fi) which means “in” or “at” depending on context.

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Add a second word, and Google thinks cov is Arabic.

So what’s with Google’s hesitance? I don’t know exactly how it’s been programmed, but obviously Google thinks the C in “cov” is now a soft C like in the word “cent.” At first I thought maybe this was because of Francophone Arab influence but in French a C before an O makes the hard C that sounds like a K.

Regardless, “cov” to sawfa isn’t too much of a stretch now. But what about fe’fe?

First of all, I don’t know why someone added an apostrophe into “covfefe.” It wasn’t there when Trump tweeted it. But when you add that and the space, Google thinks you are trying to transliterate فقف (faqif) and translates it all as “I will stand.”

But what is more confusing to me than “cov” to sawfa is “fe’fe” to faqif. Why does Google think that?

In Arabic, the letter ق (qaf), the middle letter in فقف (faqif) in is most commonly transliterated as Q. You have already seen this in words like Iraq or al-Qaida. Sometimes it’s transliterated as K like in the word Koran.

Less often, it’s transliterated as a G, like in  the name of former Libyan president, Muammar Gaddafi.

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Nobody knew how to spell Gaddafi (DoD/Wikimedia Commons photo).

All three words and the name use the same letter in Arabic, but are represented differently in English. That’s why occasionally you will see Koran spelled Quran or Gaddafi spelled Qaddafi (there’s even more variants, but that’s because of other Arabic letters, not the one we’re focusing on).

Part of the reason for these different transliterations is because Arabic regional dialects pronounce the letters differently (think about how most Americans pronounce Rs versus how Bostonians do — Havard Yard versus Havahd Yahd).

In North Africa (like Gaddafi’s home Libya) and the Gulf, ق is often pronounced like an English G.

In Iraq and Kuwait, sometimes ق is even pronounced like an English J. This depends on your education and tribe and a lot of other neat things that influence the way we speak, but it was pretty confusing for me, who learned Modern Standard Arabic, when I was there.

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The author posing for a cliche Baghdad palace picture in 2011.

Finally, in Egypt, the ق is often not pronounced like a consonant all! Instead, it’s a glottal stop — like the sound you make between the T and the when you say “button.” Try it!

Confusingly, there already is another letter in Arabic that makes that same sound, ء (hamza). That letter is most often transliterated as an apostrophe. (There’s one of those letters in al-Qaida too, which is why it is sometimes written in English as al-Qa’ida).

So to bring this all together, Google has to figure out what Arabic dialect you are trying to speak when you write an Arabic word in the Latin alphabet into Google Translate and there are a lot of variations.

When you add the space into “covfefe” it makes it two words. When you add the apostrophe, Google thinks you are adding another letter that often makes a sound. Thus, “cov fe’fe” becomes sawfa faqif or a very bad translation of “I will stand up.” It’s not Arabic, but a well-meaning Google Translate thinks it is. 

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It gets a little confusing at the bottom because Arabic is read right to left. Also, Google transliterated V and F as the same Arabic letter.

There you have it. How one weird internet coincidence started yet another baseless conspiracy associated with the alt-right. Hopefully this one doesn’t lead to anyone to senseless violence, as they are wont to.

Umberto Eco said, “translation is the art of failure.” I’m not a fluent Arabic speaker and I haven’t traveled to all Arabic speaking countries. If you are or have and think I’ve gotten something wrong, please let me know in the comments.

Update: This post originally said Google thought “cov fe’fe’” was sawfa faqaf, but a native Arabic speaker has informed me faqaf is not an Arabic word in any dialect. The closet word would be faqif (so stand/stop) and this post has been updated to reflect that.

With Major Operations in Iraq and Syria Ongoing, Pentagon Wants to Begin a Third Urban Campaign in Yemen

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Town near Mosul, Iraq burning during the Mosul offensive in 2016 (Mstyslav Charnov/Wikimedia Commons photo)

According to Buzzfeed, the Department of Defense continued its quest to back a new campaign to take a major port city in Yemen at a meeting last Thursday.

The assault on the Houthi-controlled city of Hodeida would be led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia but supported by U.S. military logistics and intelligence — likely aerial refueling and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) — American capabilities in demand by allies.

The meeting was requested by aid agencies who had concerns over the humanitarian impact of the operation. The Pentagon official assured that the operation would be “clean” and only take weeks.

The Trump Administration has ramped up military options in Yemen since coming to power. In January, the first American service member to die under Trump’s Administration happened during a botched raid on al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants there.

The tempo has increased so much that the U.S. launched more airstrikes on AQAP targets during one week in March than it did in any single year during the Obama Administration.

But an attack on the Port of Hodeida would be targeting Houthis — Shiite rebels supported by Iran — not AQAP, significantly increasing the scope of U.S. involvement in the now two year old civil Yemeni civil war.

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Yemen territorial control map. Green = Houthis, Red = Yemeni Government, Black = al-Qaida (Yemen Conflict Maps graphic)

This escalation of military responsibility in Yemen is what is known as “mission creep” and is a sign of a lack of strategy and usually a longer than anticipated commitment.

In the civil war in Syria, what began as non-military aid turned into funding, training and intelligence, then air strikes, and now American ground troops in country.

The Trump Administration may not authorize the Hodeida operation, but it and further involvement is not out of the realm of possibility. Trump has shown an eagerness to allow the Pentagon greater freedom to wage war. Last week, Trump bragged that he had given the military “total authorization“.

One thing is certain: an American war in Yemen will not be short or “clean”. Such a fanciful idea should be seen for the foolishness it is.

Considering the decades-long-without-success American involvement in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa, we should realistically expect as much anywhere we consider increasing American military presence in the region.

If ongoing urban campaigns in Iraq and Syria are a sign of what may come, then thousands of civilian deaths, the devastation of the city, and a humanitarian disaster is a reasonable prediction.

Trump’s War in Syria: What You Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask

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A Tomahawk missile is launched from a Navy Cruiser in the Persian Gulf (U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons photo)

President Trump announced Thursday night that the United States conducted a cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government earlier this week.

The U.S. Navy launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles targeting aircraft at al-Sharyat airbase in Homs province from destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea. Russian forces are stationed on the base, but U.S. officials said they used established deconfliction channels to notify them beforehand.

Cruise missiles have a range of 1,000 miles and typically carry a 1,000 lb. warhead. A staple of U.S. military unmanned strike capability, cruise missiles have been used since the 1991 Gulf War. They were utilized by former President Bill Clinton who famously used them to strike at al-Qaida in Afghanistan in Sudan prior to the attack on September 11th, 2001.

Most recently, cruise missiles were used to attack targets in Yemen after Houthi rebels launched missiles at U.S. Navy ships supporting the Saudi-led war there.

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Aftermath of an air strike in Sana’a, Yemen (Ibrahem Qasim/Wikimedia Commons photo)

The missile strike in Syria was launched at roughly 8:40 PM Eastern time or 4:40 AM local time. It came hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced “steps are underway” to build an international coalition to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.

The announcement marked a major shift in U.S. policy in Syria, where the U.S. has spent two and a half years combatting Islamic State (IS, also know as ISIS or ISIL), but has not struck Syrian government targets (on purpose—in September Syrian troops were killed in a U.S. airstrike it deemed “unintentional”).

Is the U.S. going to war in Syria?

The U.S. has been at war in Syria since September, 2014 when it conducted its first airstrikes against IS in response to the videoed and widely-seen assassinations of Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Thursday’s missile strike represents and expansion and escalation of the war, authorized under the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Military Force to target al-Qaida.

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U.S. Special Operations Forces in Syria (AFP/Getty photo)

If Trump continues to strike Syrian government targets, he will need a new Congressional authorization. The War Powers Act of 1973 limits military force to 60 days without Congressional approval.

However, former President Barack Obama continued military operations in Libya far past the 60 day limit by claiming “operations did not involve sustained fighting.”

Will the U.S. send ground troops?

Ground troops, typically defined as non-Special Operations Forces (SOF) in country, have already been in Syria for a month. U.S. Army Rangers (highly-trained shock troops originally intended to seize airfields) and a Marine artillery unit were deployed to Northeast Syria to support continuing operations against IS near Raqqa.

These forces combined with existing SOF such as Navy SEALs and Army CAG (also known as Delta Force) total almost 1000 American military personnel currently in Syria.

The U.S. has possibly two military bases already established in Syria. One at Rmeilan airfield and another near Ain Eissa, both in Kurdish-controlled areas.

What would an American-Led Operation to Remove Assad Look Like?

It is difficult to predict what regime change might look like or if it will even happen. We can compare the last three successful government-toppling actions in the greater Middle East for context, though.

In 2001, the U.S. sent a small contingent of C.I.A. operatives, Special Operations Forces including Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs, and Army Rangers to Afghanistan to remove the Taliban government in Kabul while simultaneously hunting al-Qaida.

With the support of the Northern Alliance, local forces already fighting the Taliban, Kabul was captured in roughly a month, but al-Qaida leadership slipped through the U.S.’s fingers.

Today, the U.S. is still hunting al-Qaida and fighting the Taliban for control of territory in Afghanistan.

In 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq with 150,000 troops in a multinational coalition after a heavy bombing campaign striking government targets in Baghdad and military bases throughout the country.

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U.S. tanks in Baghdad, 2003 (Department of Defense/Wikimedia Commons photo)

Baghdad fell in just months and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was captured within the year.

U.S. troops completely withdrew from Iraq in 2011, but returned in 2014. Today, there are over 5,000 troops supporting the operation to defeat an insurgent group created in the chaos after the 2003 invasion.

In contrast to the colossal Iraq invasion, in 2011 the United States supported a NATO air operation to depose Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi. The U.S. provided support to European airstrikes protecting rebels and targeting the Libyan government.

Gaddafi was killed by rebel forces in 7 months. Today, Libya continues to fight a multi-factional civil war. U.S. bombers continued to conduct airstrikes in Libya this year.

Whatever may come, Thursday’s events did not mark the beginning of an American war. The U.S. has been at war toppling multiple governments in the Middle East for nearly 16 years. Killing a Middle Eastern head of state and destroying the government of that country has become the specialty of the U.S. this century. Repairing what it has broken has proven challenging and burdensome.

Reflections on 2016: The Year’s Most Popular Posts

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Afghan National Army soldier fires an RPG-7 (DoD photo)

As 2016 comes to a close, it is important to look back on our successes and failures as we go forward into a different numbered year. Very thankfully, Insurgentsia has had a few successes. In 2016, Insurgentsia entered into a syndication agreement with Business Insider. Select posts have been republished to a wider audience for which I am both proud and grateful.

Through my work both here and other publications like The Fair Observer and NonDoc, I was sponsored for an associate membership in The Military Writers Guild—a more impressive group of people you will have a tough time meeting.

This year also saw more posts, more subscriptions, and more readers per post (a certain 2015 post going viral means 2016 did not break 2015’s total readers—note to self: make more posts go viral). If you found Insurgentsia this year, I thank you very much for your readership.

Here is a look back at this year’s most popular posts. I hope you enjoy(ed) them and I look forward to providing a continued look into the world of small wars, political violence, and terrorism in 2017:

 

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What ISIS Really (Really) Wants

 

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Homage to Catalonia: A Lions of Rojava Update

 

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ISIS-Chan, the Crowdsourced Anime Meme Information Operation

 

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Five Years After Killing Bin Laden: The Failure of Decapitation Strategy

 

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Reflections on Leaving Afghanistan

Bragging TheBlaze Journalist Shoots at ISIS, Endangers Real War Correspondents

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TheBlaze journalist Jason Buttrill claims to be shooting at IS (Photo from his Twitter)

This post has been updated

TheBlaze published an article on Thursday with a provocative headline boasting that one of their journalists filmed himself “shooting at ISIS”—a clear violation of the spirit of international law that protects journalists as non-combatants.

The journalist, Jason Buttrill, tweeted in detail about his experience willingly entering offensive operations against IS (Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL), bragging that he “got off 6 shots. ISIS looked like ants on that scope, but my USMC PMI was exceptional.” PMI refers to Primary Marksmanship Instruction, or the training he received in Boot Camp.

As he is a former Marine, I would assume that Buttrill is familiar with the basic concepts of the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC)—training all U.S. service members receive, often in Boot Camp or Basic Training. A main principle of LOAC is distinction: distinguishing combatants from non-combatants. Non-combatants include civilians, prisoners of war, and wounded personnel removed from combat.

International Law is clear in its distinction of journalists as non-combatants to protect them from being targeted in war. However, when one picks up a weapon and fires it without provocation, like Buttrill did, one becomes a combatant and a legal target. Buttrill can no longer claim non-combatant status as a journalist. If he did, he would be in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which classifies feigning non-combatant status as perfidy—the same thing as pretending to surrender and then ambushing your enemy.

Buttrill should and likely does know better. But when presented with an opportunity for a photograph of him simulating combat, he did what lots of non-combat arms (and even, admittedly, some combat arms) military members do: take the picture, professionalism be damned.

If Buttrill wants to see combat so bad, he should join one of the many militias accepting American volunteers that are currently fighting IS, like the Lions of Rojava. Instead, he is just one of many pretenders getting their kicks as war tourists.

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Jason Buttrill with Peshmerga (Photo from his Twitter)

It was the gruesome and public deaths of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff at the hands of IS in 2014 that galvanized the Western public against them. The cruelty and injustice of murdering two American civilians—non-combatants—made the fight against IS personal for many.

Unfortunately, because of Buttrill’s foolish and selfish actions, he has tainted the professionalism of all journalists in the region. IS rather infamously has access to the internet and social media too.

For the reward of a few seconds of adolescent excitement, Buttrill has discredited hundreds of real journalists that have risked their life to do their job for us—some, like Foley, Sotloff, and dozens of others sacrificed their lives. By publishing this video, photos, and tweeting about it, Buttrill discredits them and gives IS the moral authority to treat journalists as combatants.

Update:

Politico is reporting that TheBlaze has recalled Buttrill from Iraq and suspending him from further field assignments.

The statement from Mercury Radio Arts, which owns TheBlaze, reads:

Jason Buttrill is a valued researcher for Mercury Radio Arts for a television show that airs on TheBlaze network. Given his military and security background, Mr. Buttrill was offered the opportunity for an important research assignment in Iraq. Due to his conduct, Mercury Radio Arts has recalled him back to the US. He has been suspended from further field research assignments.

Trump’s National Security Advisor Tweeted Fake News That Inspired D.C. Pizzeria Shooter

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Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Mike Flynn at a campaign rally for Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore photo)

Sunday’s shooting at Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington D.C. was inspired by a baseless conspiracy theory targeting Hillary Clinton that Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, shared on Twitter. The gunman claimed to be “self-investigating” the fake news story, according to local police.

The election-related conspiracy theory dubbed “pizzagate” claims that Hillary Clinton has ties to a child sex ring operated out of the D.C. pizzeria. Flynn shared a link to an anonymously authored and unsourced story in November on the fringe conspiracy blog True Pundit that alleged Hillary Clinton was involved in child sex trafficking with the commentary “U decide” and “MUST READ!”

Trump appointed Flynn to one of the most senior positions in the West Wing. As National Security Advisor, he will directly shape American policy on national security as a chief advisor to the President.

Flynn served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense’s in-house version of the C.I.A., for two years during the Obama Administration until he was fired. Flynn claims he was fired for not agreeing with the Obama Administration’s message that al-Qaida was in decline (to his credit, it was not), but others have attributed it to his inability to manage a large, bureaucratic organization of mostly civilian employees, his chaotic management style, and the wildly inaccurate claims he made about Muslims that his analysts began calling “Flynn facts”.

The New York Times elaborates:

During a tense gathering of senior officials at an off-site retreat, he gave the assembled group a taste of his leadership philosophy, according to one person who attended the meeting and insisted on anonymity to discuss classified matters. Mr. Flynn said that the first thing everyone needed to know was that he was always right. His staff would know they were right, he said, when their views melded to his. The room fell silent, as employees processed the lecture from their new boss.

According to those who worked with Flynn, it is difficult even meld your views to his because they are not clear. “If you listen to him, in 10 minutes you’ll hear him contradict himself two or three times,” said Sarah Chayes of the Carnegie Endowment.

Flynn wrongly believes that Shariah, or Islamic Law, is spreading in the United States and is of the opinion that Islam is a “cancer” and a “political ideology”, not a religion. In February he tweeted a video that asserted Muslims living with other religions was “a problem” and more violent than other religions. Flynn said in his tweet, “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: please forward this to others.”

“Mike Flynn is crazy,” said an analyst contact of mine who worked under Flynn at the D.I.A. who, like many in the intelligence community, did not want to be quoted by name. When discovering Flynn had been appointed to Trump’s Administration, another analyst who did not wish to be named commented, “We’re doomed.”

Flynn has disseminated unsubstantiated reports, i.e. lies, that have led to a politically motivated act of violence in this country. He officially assumes the role of National Security Advisor to the President of the United States in 45 days.

Canada’s Train and Equip Mission in Iraq Turns Offensive (Like Always)

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Canadian special operations forces scan the horizon (Canadian Armed Forces photo)

Canadian special forces in Northern Iraq are performing offensive operations against Islamic State (IS, also referred to as ISIS or ISIL) according to Canadian military officials. Lt. Col. Stephen Hunter, commander of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR), told reporters on Monday that Canadian troops have sometimes shot first in engagements with IS when Kurdish forces were not present.

“Because they have demonstrated hostile intent, we’re able, through our rules of engagement, to use our own weapons systems to engage that kind of threat,” said Hunter. This sort of preventive attack in the name of self-defense is the same justification U.S. forces use in Afghanistan to attack the Taliban two years after “combat operations” ended.

But the revelation that Canadian soldiers are attacking IS is significant because Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau supposedly ended combat operations in Syria last March. He announced the Canada would suspend its bombing operations and instead focus on training and defending allied forces—namely the Kurds.

Canada, like the U.S., is succumbing to mission creep—even with a left-leaning Prime Minister who vowed to take Canadians out of combat. Similarly, what started as a deployment of an extra 275 personnel to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as IS quickly took territory in Iraq has become well over 5,000 in both Iraq and Syria.

It is important to identify that the idea that U.S. and Canadian forces can engage in offensive operations under the authority of self defense is doublespeak. A similar blurring of the meanings of words occurred when former President George W. Bush used the concept of preemptive war to embroil the U.S. in Iraq from which now the American government seems unable to disentangle itself.

The American and Canadian examples show that it is not only the Russian government that utilizes their military overtly while saying they are not (as they did during the annexation of Crimea and are doing in Syria). We must hold our governments accountable when they tell us one thing and do another.

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Canadian Joint Task Force 2 assault demonstration (Patrick Cardinal photo)

It is more important now more than ever as the Trump Administration prepares to move into the White House heralding an era many have coined as “post-truth“. Liberals in American society allowed President Obama to do things they found unsavory, like expanded surveillance, extra-judicial killing, and re-intervening in Iraq because they trusted him. Likewise, conservatives are already turning blind eye to President-elect Trump’s admission of intention to break campaign promises.

Interestingly, public support of the war against IS is rising. Recent polls have suggested that Canadians are overwhelmingly in favor of utilizing ground troops against IS while American opinion is mixed but growing. With the support of their citizens, one wonders why the governments of Canada and the U.S. use doublespeak regarding their military operations.

It appears that in a (debatable) post-Cold War world, it is not just the Russians embracing deception operations. We as a people must decide whether we find this in accordance with our democratic values. Malcolm X said, “You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified U.S. forces as Canadians