Situation Update February 6th, 2018

Airstrikes in Syria

Department of Defense photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a new feature from Insurgentsia that runs weekday mornings. The scope of these posts will cover the globe’s various low-intensity conflicts (i.e. conflicts that are just as intense as any other, but armies pretend they aren’t because they’d rather fight a uniformed enemy).

The weather forecast this morning is partly cloudy with a 90% chance of confusing tactics for strategy. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

Iraqi Shiite militia groups threaten U.S. troops if they do not leave the country. The U.S. announced a partial withdrawal on Monday. The Iran-backed militias, part of the Popular Mobilization Units that were supported by the U.S. to fight Islamic State, said U.S. troops would only attract terrorists and cause instability. One militia, Kataib Hezbollah, said in a statement, “We are serious about getting the Americans out, using the force of arms because the Americans don’t understand any other language.” This is not the first time Shiite militias groups have threatened U.S. forces since they returned to Iraq in 2014.

And leave Syria’s Manbij too said Turkish president Erdogan on Tuesday to U.S. forces, saying, “Why don’t you just go?” Turkey continues an anti-Kurdish campaign in Northern Syria, while the U.S. supported Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State.

An attack on the Iranian presidential complex by a man wielding only a machete is the latest escalation in nationwide protests in Iran that began over a month ago. The lone man attacked a security guard, who shot and wounded him. The attacker was a Shiite Muslim who wore a white shroud symbolizing martyrdom.

American Islamic State recruits stuck mopping and sweeping says a new study. Unlike their European counterparts, American recruits lacked the support networks needed to promote in what was apparently a good ol’ boy system, despite being from wealthier backgrounds. The American recruits frequently found themselves cleaning, cooking, and caring for the injured instead of fighting.

Don’t build the wall say Lebanese leaders to Israel. The president, prime minister, and parliament speaker, a Christian, Sunni Muslim, and Shiite Muslim, respectively, issued a joint statement saying the proposed wall was a “direct threat.”

A video shows Syrian militia abusing corpse of Kurdish woman fighter. The militiamen, from the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army, documented themselves posing with the body, calling her names, and standing on her. The fighter was identified as one of three women killed from the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) killed last week in Afrin. While gruesome videos are not rare in the five-year war in Syria, this one, in particular, sparked outrage due to the gender of the slain fighter.

A senior Chinese executive was murdered in Pakistan in Karachi on Monday. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the murder is the latest in attacks on Chinese workers as tens of thousands of Chinese nationals travel to Pakistan. Last summer, Islamic State militants kidnapped and murdered two Chinese nationals in Baluchistan.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section but are not encouraged. Your next Situation Update will be Wednesday, February 7th, 2018.

Dropping Cyberbombs on Islamic State


Civilian and Army cyber personnel at a Cyber Operations Center in Ft. Gordon, Georgia. (Department of Defense/Michael L. Lewis photo)

A United States Air Force cyber officer recently told me that United States Cyber Command was shifting its focus to Islamic State (IS, also referred to as ISIS and ISIL). I was a little surprised to learn this, since it seems that China is the larger cyber threat. But after reading the recent New York Times article by David Sanger on the cyberwar against IS, the switch in focus becomes more clear.

While the National Security Agency and its military counterpart, Cyber Command, both focus on traditional threats such as China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran, the ability to use cyber attacks is less available and less publicly admitted due to concern over foreign sovereignty.

But with IS, it appears that the Obama Administration has an opportunity to use Cyber Command to attack an adversary and brag about it. Deputy secretary of defense Robert Work is quoted as saying, “We are dropping cyberbombs. We have never done that before.”

If “cyberbombs” seems like a bit of a strained metaphor to you, you are not alone. From Sanger’s article:

“It should not be taken out of proportion — it is not the only tool,” [National Security Advisor Susan Rice] said when asked about Mr. Work’s “cyberbombs” comment. In fact, some of Mr. Work’s colleagues acknowledged that they had winced when he used the term, because government lawyers have gone to extraordinary lengths to narrowly limit cyberattacks to highly precise operations with as little collateral damage as possible.

But Work is not the only one using strained metaphors. The mission statement of the Air Force cyber school includes creating the “world’s most lethal cyber operators”.


Mission statement at USAF cyber school

Silly language aside, Sanger’s piece says Cyber Command has the ability to assist in the killing of IS militants by altering the messages of IS commanders “with the aim of redirecting militants to areas more vulnerable to attack by American drones or local ground forces.” Cyber command can also disrupt IS operations by stopping or misdirecting electronic fund transfers and President Obama claims that “our cyberoperations are disrupting their command-and-control and communications.”

But the cyberwar against IS may not be one-sided. A group of pro-IS hackers called the United Cyber Caliphate has responded to the announcement to use cyberoperations against them, threatening to attack the US. In the past, pro-IS hacker groups have released target lists of US government officials and police.


Threat by pro-IS hackers posted on Telegram

In 1998, two Chinese army colonels published a manual called Unrestricted Warfare in which they outlined warfare in the age of globalization. In it, they argued that warfare must now include “using all means, including armed force or non-armed force, military and non-military, and lethal and non-lethal means to compel the enemy to accept one’s interests.” When it was written, the internet was a mere shadow of what it is today, but they argued that attacking networks would become an integral tool of tomorrow’s war.

Seventeen years later, Unrestricted Warfare’s tomorrow is now today. From Russia’s “hybrid war” in Ukraine to US cyberoperations against IS, the Chinese prediction of warfare beyond bounds has proved prescient.