Here’s your Situation Update for May 22, 2018

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Marines return to Sangin to advise Afghan National Army in combat operations (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 cloudy with a 30% chance of you skipping over the weather forecast to get to the main content. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

The Department of Defense chose the ninth general to run the war in Afghanistan. Lt. Gen. Scott Miller comes from Joint Special Operations Command and will take over the war as it enters its 18th year this fall. Outgoing Gen. Nicholson visited Farah, the city that was overrun by the Taliban last week. Nicholson boasted with the Afghan defense minister that the time it took for Afghan and coalition forces to react to Taliban fighters (overrunning the city, killing Afghan security forces, and laughing and joking while strolling in the streets) represented progress.

Israel claimed to be the first country to use the F-35 in combat in remarks to local media. “We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East and have already attacked twice on two different fronts,” the Israel air force chief said. The most advanced fighters in the world are flying in the Middle East as foreign powers fight a proxy war in Syria. Last winter, Russian Su-57s were spotted in Syria. American F-35s and F-22s are also in the area of operations.

Iraq sentenced a Belgian to death for being a member of Islamic State in a 10 minute hearing. The Belgian appeared in an IS video threatening Europe. So far, Iraqi courts have sentenced 300 members of IS to death including 100 foreigners. Some sentenced to death were wives of IS fighters with small children.

Turkey sentenced coup planners to life in court on Monday. 106 people involved in the 2016 failed coup received maximum sentences under Turkish law. Most evidence against them was from two participants who turned state’s witness for reduced sentences.

Indonesian police killed 14 suspected terrorists and arrested dozens more in raids following suicide bombings last week. Those killed were people who “resisted,” said the police chief.

An unclaimed bombing killed 16 people in Afghanistan today. The bombing occurred in Kandahar, a province known for its heavy Taliban presence.

Your baby powder could be funding Islamic State in Afghanistan (IS-K) said advocacy group Global Witness in a new report. IS-K is illegally operating talc mines that is exported and makes its way to the United States and Europe.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be asked in the comments section and answers will be unhelpful. To receive these updates in your inbox, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile).

Here’s your Situation Update for May 17th, 2018

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Israeli Defense Force 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 sunny with a 20% chance of emotional reasoning. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

Most of the Palestinians killed by Israel were Hamas said a senior Hamas official to a Palestinian news organization. Hamas is an Islamist political party that runs Gaza and includes a militant wing whose mission is to destroy Israel. Another spokesperson for Hamas said that they were paying for the funerals of 50 of the killed whether they were Hamas or not. A third Hamas official said it is “natural to see members or supporters of Hamas in large numbers” at protests like the one at the border fence and that those killed were protesting peacefully. Human rights groups say it is irrelevant if those killed were affiliated with Hamas if they were killed while unarmed and not posing a threat to Israeli security forces.

Election-related violence continued in Iraqi Kurdistan yesterday according to the chief of the electoral commission. Several polling stations in Kirkuk were under threat of armed men to change the election results. “The employees of the commission are in a hostage situation,” said the chief.

Islamic State, diminished in Iraq in Syria, is still active in other parts of the world. The Wall Street Journal published an overview of all the places militant groups aligned with IS are still operating including Afghanistan and West Africa.

There is good news in Afghanistan according to a corrected Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report that showed Afghan troop decline is not as bad as once thought. Okay, I lied. It’s not good news. SIGAR said the corrected numbers still show a “sharp decline,” just not quite as sharp as before.

India declared a Ramadan ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir, the first one in 18 years. Indian forces occupy Jammu and Kashmir and are engaged in continuing operations against Muslim separatists there. Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based separatist group, called the cease-fire a “sin” and will not honor it.

Islamic State claimed the attack on Indonesian police yesterday by four men armed with swords.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be asked in the comments section and answers will be given only if they paint the author in a good light. To receive these updates in your inbox, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile).

Here’s your Situation Update for May 16th, 2018

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U.S. Marine at a training range in Jordan (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 wet with a 60% chance of repeating your past mistakes forever. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

Taliban forces left Farah this morning without a shot fired. One Farah resident told the New York Times: “The night was calm. It shows the utmost incompetence of our forces. The Taliban were wandering the Farah city streets openly without fear as if they had lived there a long time, making jokes with their friends and telling citizens to stay calm and not worry.” Meanwhile, the Taliban captured Dara-e Bom in Badghis Province after the Afghan soldiers and police assigned to the area fled.

In another part of Afghanistan, Islamic State still controls territory they established four years ago, despite efforts of U.S. special operations teams and Afghan forces. At the farthest checkpoint into the valley partially controlled by the Afghan franchise of Islamic State (IS-K), the local Afghan government forces do not man checkpoints 24 hours a day, so when they leave IS-K comes and mines them.

Israeli Defense Forces are still killing Palestinians in Gaza, but yesterday they only killed two.

Four sword-wielding men attacked a police checkpoint in Indonesia today. The men rammed their vehicle into the police officers, killing one, and then dismounted to attack with their swords. The police shot dead the assailants. The attack comes shortly after the multiple bombings on Monday by a family with jihadist allegiances, but the motive of today’s attackers has not yet been identified.

Libyan National Army forces began the operation to retake Derna in northeastern Benghazi. Derna is infamous for supplying jihadists to foreign conflicts. The Libyan National Army (LNA) does not answer to the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, but rather the unrecognized government in Tobruk. The LNA has cleared most of Eastern Libya of jihadist fighters.

Violence in sub-Saharan Africa displaced twice the number of people it did last year says a new report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. The Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Ethiopia were the most affected by internal displacement.

A suicide bomber killed several people in Iraq today in Tarmiyah, a small town 15 miles north of Baghdad. The attack took place at a funeral meeting for a leader in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). The PMU is an organization comprising of dozens of militias, brought together in 2014 to fight Islamic State.

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

Here’s your Situation Update for May 14th, 2018

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Department of Defense photo

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

The weather forecast this morning is hot with an 80% chance of making it through this, because look how far you’ve already come. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

Israeli troops killed dozens of Palestinians today in Gaza as protesters approached the fence separating Gaza from Israel. Gaza is occupied by the Israeli Defense Forces who control both the airspace and territorial waters of Gaza. Protests at the barrier have been going on for several weeks, but today the protests grew in size in response to the American announcement that it will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (considered the capital of both the Israelis and Palestinians). Associated Press reported at the time of publishing that 52 Palestinians were killed by the Israelis and more than 1,200 injured. The IDF reported that some Palestinians were armed, but no evidence has been provided.

The US successfully exported American-style democracy to Iraq apparently, since the turnout in Iraq’s elections was 44.5% — less than a typical US presidential election, but much more than a typical midterm. The winner appears to be Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric who led an insurgent militia against the American occupation.

Three church bombings in Indonesia were a family affair say police. The three separate bombings on Sunday morning were perpetrated by a father, mother, and their four young children.

A bomb was found at a South African mosque today just three days after the mosque was attacked my armed men.

Hezbollah confirmed they launched missiles at Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from Syria in a statement from the leader of the group, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. The missile attack marked a “new phase” in the Syrian war, said Nazrallah.

On-again, off-again American ally Turkey says the U.S. and Israel are partners in crime against humanity according to the Prime Minister in a statement to reporters in Ankara.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions have never been asked, so I wouldn’t know what to do with them. To receive these updates in your inbox, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile).

Here’s your Situation Update for February 26, 2018

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Department of Defense photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a regular feature from Insurgentsia that covers irregular war and runs weekday mornings. The scope of these posts will cover small wars, but big things can come in small packages.

The weather forecast this morning is clear with a 30% chance of reflexively calling someone you don’t like at work a Russian bot. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

“It’s high time to stop this hell on earth,” said the United Nations General Secretary referring to the cease-fire in Syria. Adopted over the weekend, the 30-day ceasefire was drafted in response to the relentless campaign by Syrian government forces on a suburb of Damascus that has killed hundreds, targeted protected civilians, and possibly used chemical weapons. Unfortunately, the cease-fire has yet to have any effect, as Syrian government forces continue to attack eastern Ghouta under the pretense of attacking Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a militant group that is effectively a rebranded al-Qaida.

“The patriarchy really is over,” joked a Kurdish woman in Kurdish-controlled northern Syria in this article about how Marxist theory from an imprisoned terrorist in Turkey has revolutionized the power women have in Kurdish society. But as Kurdish militias like the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and its female counterpart, the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) liberate majority Arab towns from Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or Daesh), these Arab areas, traditionally male-dominated and conservative, also get Kurdish-created feminist governments. One Arab resident of Manbij told the New York Times, “To understand the current situation, think of ISIS, but at the other end of the spectrum.” He’s making a point about radicalism, but “the opposite of ISIS” seems like pretty high praise to me.

Three Taliban attacks in southern Afghanistan killed 20 Afghan soldiers on Saturday. In one attack, Taliban fighters used an American Humvee as a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED), packing it explosives and detonating it. During the attacks the Taliban fighters stole another American Humvee and captured “a lot of light and heavy weapons.”

Russian state media tried to pass off a video game as footage from Syria in a bizarre example of Russian disinformation in the news. This would be like Fox News showing footage of Call of Duty and saying it was from heroic action in Iraq. We praise the Russians for being good at disinformation, but they do so much of it that maybe it’s just the successes that get attention while these obvious failures slide under the radar.

Turkey occupied a portion of Syria’s Afrin province that it shares a border with. The campaign to enter Afrin has met resistance both from the YPG that Turkey is attempting to destroy and pro-Assad militias sent to assist the YPG in repelling Turkey. The Turkish army said the operation meant it was ready for a “new battle” and deployed special forces units to the area.

Missing Nigeria girls now number 110 after a Boko Haram attack last week. Previous reports said 75 girls were missing and that they had all been rescued.

Plan to truck oil from Northern Iraq to Iranian refineries delayed due to security concerns. Iraq recently launched an offensive to clear the area of militants, but now Iran is concerned it cannot guarantee the trucks will not have explosives on them.

Questions still linger over an American airstrike in Iraq that occurred in January in Anbar province. The town was not under IS control and it struck the police chief and other security forces as they investigated where a raid was conducted by U.S. forces and Iraqi Army. The locals do not understand why their police chief was target and the U.S. is mum on the reason for the strike. One theory is a local used the American air power to solve a personal problem.

Despite over a decade of supporting the troops, women veterans don’t feel supported says a woman veteran in this op-ed for The Atlantic. According to the piece, 74% of women veterans don’t feel supported by the general public.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section. Existential questions must be pondered silently. To receive these in your inbox daily, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile). Your next Situation Update will be Tuesday, February 27th, 2018.

Here’s your Situation Update for February 12th, 2018

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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 military operations other than war (oddly enough, this is another name for war).

The weather forecast this morning is freezing with a 30% chance of strained Clausewitz references. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

Gaza is starving and the world wonders if that will affect them this piece from The New York Times seems to say. Gaza has long been blockaded by Israel, but the tiny strip of land with two million people living there found ways around the economic siege to survive. Namely, tunnels into Egypt provided Gaza with goods and a tax revenue on those imported goods. But Egypt has cracked down on the tunnels and Gazans must turn to Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority. Fatah is not keen to work with Gaza because it is ruled by a rival party, Hamas. With no where to turn, Hamas may turn to violence against Israel to draw international sympathy and aid.

Kobani, Syria is preserving a neighborhood destroyed by war by turning it into an open air museum. During the battle to win back Kobani from Islamic State, Kurdish fighters supported by  U.S. and allied air power targeted and destroyed areas where militants were operating. “A reinforced-concrete, three-story house on the street was pancaked. ‘Everyone in that house is dead now,’ said Mustafa, a 40-year-old mechanic,” says the article about part of the area preserved.

Anti-IS campaign in Iraq caused $45.7 billion in damage says a new study by the World Bank and Iraq. I wonder who will be generously willing to loan the Iraqi government money to rebuild (at a modest interest rate, of course)? The Wall Street Journal vaguely states, “international investors.”

Pakistan-based militants attacked an Indian Army base over the weekend, killing at least six. Indian authorities blamed Jaish-e-Muhammad, an insurgent group that has attacked government forces in Kashmir as well.

Israel bombed Syrian government positions over the weekend in retaliation for the shooting down off an Israeli fighter over Syrian airspace. The loss of the Israeli fighter was the first in three decades.

A Turkish helicopter was also shot down in Syria on Saturday, killing two Turkish soldiers. The Kurdish YPG claimed responsibility and posted a video of the attack.

Pakistani Taliban confirmed deputy leader killed by a suspected U.S. drone strike last week and appointed a new one.

“Tunisia is finished” says one migrant who fled to Europe is this breakdown of the crisis from The Guardian. A crackdown on the smuggling routes from Libya, including a deployment of soldiers from Italy, has shifted the business to neighboring Tunisia.

Terrorism is not as useful lens for understanding violence in the Sahel said Nathaniel Powell of King’s College London for War on Rocks last week. Support for authoritarian regimes in squashing violent dissent is not helpful in the long run, he argues.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section but we are unaware of answers at this time because we were traveling. To receive these in your inbox daily, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile). Your next Situation Update will be Tuesday, February 13th, 2018.

Situation Update February 5th, 2018

Eyes in the Sky: Afghan Air assists ANDSF offensive maneuver during Maiwand 10

Department of Defense photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a new feature from Insurgentsia that will run weekday mornings. The scope of these posts will cover the globe’s various low-intensity conflicts (i.e. all of them until a mythical near-peer force-on-force war awakens from its slumber as prophesied).

The weather forecast this morning is chilly with a 70% chance of bias presented as context. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

Russia struck multiple targets by air in Idlib province, Syria starting Sunday night and continuing into Monday afternoon. Many cities were bombed and the targets included hospitals. Syria’s “White Helmets” reported on Twitter that chlorine gas was used in at least one attack. The strikes may have been retaliation for the downed Russian pilot on Saturday. Russian press reported the pilot killed himself with a grenade to avoid capture.

Iraq announced a military operation to secure the oil route to Iran and provide a path for Iraqi oil exports. The mountainous terrain between Iraq’s Kirkuk oil fields and the Kermanshah Oil Refinery in Northern Iran has been occupied by militants including Islamic State (IS). In January, IS fighters launched a cross-border raid and killed three Revolutionary Guard soldiers. The region is known by locals as Iraq’s “Tora Bora,” a name referencing the mountain hideout Osama bin Laden escaped from in Afghanistan in 2001.

Dangerous work in liberated Raqqa continues as the city is swept for explosives by the coalition-trained Syrian Defensive Force despite no training or tools. Since October, over 300 civilians have been killed from improvised explosives left by IS or perhaps unexploded ordinance dropped by the coalition.

Turkish causalities mount as it continues its anti-Kurdish Afrin operation in Northern Syria. Two soldiers were killed Sunday and 8 killed Saturday in the operation that the United States has tolerated despite allying with the Kurds to fight IS in Syria.

Saudi Arabia shot down another Houthi missile launched from Yemen targeting the Saudi city of Khamis Mushait. Since the Saudi invasion of Yemen in 2015, Houthi rebels have been targeting Saudi cities including Riyadh with ballistic missiles. Most are intercepted, but in December one did explode near the Riyadh airport.

American military officers lack integrity according to the scuttlebutt at Al Udeid Airbase in Qatar. An American military officer, on the condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to press, said that officers deployed there are lying to the lodging office by making up fictional roommates to secure rooms by themselves.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section but answers are not guaranteed. Your next Situation Update will be Tuesday, February 6th, 2018.

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.

Happy 16th birthday, forever war​

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US Army soldiers pose for a photo in Afghanistan (DoD photo)

Today, the war in Afghanistan and across the world turns sweet sixteen. Authorized under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, known otherwise as the AUMF, the war is now old enough to drive (or drink in Germany).

The AUMF, written by Congress in 2001 in response to the 9/11 attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and foiled in Pennsylvania, authorized the United States to go to war in Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaida.

Since then, it has been used to justify military options in fourteen countries — almost one for every year this war existed.

The war in Syria and Iraq against Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL) is legally the same war as Afghanistan. The war in Libya, Somalia, Yemen. . . you get the idea — if you know of any terrorists, you can start a war and it will be covered under the same Congressional authorization.

“By 2021, the US and Afghan governments still plan to be fighting insurgent forces for territory.”

The war in Afghanistan is not forecasted to end anytime soon, either. Recently, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told NPR that the current four-year plan is to “[bring] 80 percent of the territory of the country under control.”

By 2021, the US and Afghan governments still plan to be fighting insurgent forces for territory. The war will be twenty years old and we do not even expect to control the entire country.

Meanwhile, the war against IS in Iraq and Syria seems to be going well. After all, coalition forces reduced IS territory by nearly 80 percent and it did not take 20 years to do it.

Yet, after IS loses its territory in Iraq and Syria, things will get worse. Vera Mironava spent time embedded with Iraqi Security Forces and interviewing IS fighters. She predicts that things will not improve until government corruption and abuses stop.

The next IS, made up of seasoned veterans, will have plenty of young people to recruit in the coming years.

One result of the forever war is that the children of the war’s early years are coming of age.

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Samar Hassan, age five, screams in terror after US soldiers kill her parents in 2005 (Getty photo)

Samar Hassan was five years old when US soldiers killed her parents at a checkpoint. In the documentary Hondros, Samar, now 18, is interviewed and told an American soldier wants to apologize to her.

She responds, “No one ever told me they were sorry. ‘Sorry’ won’t bring back my parents. I’ll never forgive them. If they were in front of me, I’d want to drink their blood — and I still would not feel satisfied.”

This is one birthday I do not look forward to celebrating next year.

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.