Here’s your Situation Update for May 15th, 2018

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A U.S. Marine on a patrol near Bost Airfield, Afghanistan, April 21, 2018 (Department of Defense photo)

Welcome to your Situation Update, a regular feature from Insurgentsia that covers irregular war and runs weekday mornings.

The weather forecast this morning is humid with a 30% chance of reaching a level of cynicism so deep it will be considered transcendental. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

“The city is closed, people are panicked and in a state of fear. Some people left their homes and fled the city, some are trapped,” said an Afghan Minister of Parliament from Farah, a city of 50,000 that was mostly captured by Taliban fighters today. The attack began at 2:00 a.m. local time and quickly overran most of the city causing the governor of the province to flee. Some areas of the city including the police headquarters are still contested. If Farah is completely taken, it will be the second major city taken by the Taliban since the U.S. invasion in 2001. “We do look towards a victory in Afghanistan, but not a military victory. The victory will be a political reconciliation.” said Secretary of Defense James Mattis earlier this month.

“We can’t put all these people in jail,” said an Israeli government spokesperson when asked why the IDF was shooting dead protesters at the fence enclosing occupied Gaza. The U.N. Humans Rights Commissioner said among those killed are “women, children, journalists, first responders and bystanders.”

Maybe we didn’t export American-style democracy to Iraq after all, since Kurdish political parties engaged in a gunfight after election results were announced. Many expected the two major political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), to fair poorly in the election after the many political losses the Kurds faced after the failed referendum last year. After local news announced that the KDP and PUK gained seats, the leading opposition party, Gorran, accused them of election fraud. In response, the PUK sent Peshmerga fighters in technicals to shoot at Gorran’s headquarters and a short gunfight ensued. Nothing says “this was a legitimate election” like attacking your political rival’s headquarters with machine guns.

Iraq continued air strikes in Syria this week and announced it destroyed an Islamic State “command and logistics support center.” Before these strikes, Iraq had not attacked its neighbors since the 1991 invasion of Kuwait. After decades of American destruction and assistance, it is now able to once again.

Houthis rockets struck military targets in SaudiArabia according to their television media division. Houthi rocket attacks in Saudi Arabia are the reason the Department of Defense says it deployed Special Forces soldiers to the Saudi border with Yemen.

This concludes your Situation Update. Please keep your questions until the end of briefing. To receive these updates in your inbox, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile).

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.