Here’s your Situation Update for March 7th, 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 clear with a 40% chance of unfairly judging yourself using higher standards than you would judge your friends. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

The U.S. postured against its NATO ally, Turkey in northwest Syria today. The U.S. Army sent the commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve and clearly non-Special Forces soldiers curiously captioned as such by the New York Times to Manbij to tell the press, “You hit us, we will respond aggressively. We will defend ourselves.” Turkey threatened the U.S. if it didn’t withdraw from Manbij in January.

Meanwhile, Turkey asks the U.S. to stop the Kurds from defending themselves in Afrin. If this doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, fret not. It just doesn’t make sense. That’s how international relations work.

Those Kurds say they’re leaving the fight against Islamic State to defend themselves against the Turks in northwest Syria because the U.S. let them down.

This Kurdish veteran has been fighting for four years and she’s tired of it. She’s only 19 years old.

Two soldiers and six others were arrested in connection the Burkina Faso attack last week. 

The German government approves more troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Mali.

Buddhist attacks against mosques in Sri Lanka prompted the government to shut down social media access there.

The “Gerasimov Doctrine” doesn’t exist says the man who coined the term in a public apology in Foreign Policy. Named after a speech a Russian general gave about American foreign policy in the Middle East, it became an facile explanation for Russian action in Ukraine and is used by grifters and established bureaucrats alike.

If you are located in the Oklahoma City area, I’ll be co-hosting a monthly Scotch & Strategy meetup sponsored by The Strategy Bridge this Thursday at 6pm in Norman. Our guest speaker will be Dr. Xiaobing Li who will talk about his upcoming book on the Battle of the Chosin Resevoir from a Chinese perspective. If you’d like to know more or get onto our email invite list, send me a direct message on Twitter.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section. Answers will be given to only the best people, so you should get one quickly! You’re the best. To receive these in your inbox daily, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile).

Here’s your Situation Update for February 13th, 2018


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 end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The previous sentence was written in 2012. —Ed.

The weather forecast this morning is warmer than when it was colder with a 90% chance of Olympic-caused ethnocentrism. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

The Syrian Civil War is no longer a civil war, but a regional war writes Liz Sly for the Washington Post. She breaks it down as such: Russia, Israel, Turkey, and Iran have all lost aircraft in Syria in the last week. As for who controls what, she writes that the Syrian government controls the largest amount of territory in Syria, but the United States controls the second largest. That’s a frank way to put it.

Islamic State is not defeated said Rex Tillerson at a summit in Kuwait City. He also pledged $200 million in aid to “war-torn countries.” The Iraqi government alone said it needs $88 billion to rebuild. Tillerson is expected to announce $3 billion in aid to Iraq for reconstruction, partly in loans.

Russian government mum on contractor deaths during a conference call with reporters today. Yesterday, Russian media reported hundreds of dead contractors from American air strikes. Some contractors may work for Wagner, a private military or security company operating in Syria that the Russian government has not confirmed exists.

U.S. in the business of destroying Russian tanks and business is good. U.S. officials announced today a Reaper drone destroyed a T-72 tank on Saturday in defense of SDF forces and three inside were killed.

Iraqi Kurdish political parties weakened since the independence referendum in September. In response to the referendum, Iraqi government forces seized the oil fields in Kurdish-held Kirkuk. Now the two ruling parties of the Kurdistan Regional Government have an income problem and cannot pay salaries.

Iraq resumes rail transport of oil from Baghdad to Basra. The shipments were halted in 2003 during the U.S.-led invasion. 15 years later, a basic infrastructure service finally resumes.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section, but answers are in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. To receive these in your inbox daily, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile). Your next Situation Update will be Wednesday, February 14th, 2018.

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


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.

Here’s your Situation Update for February 9th, 2018


Amber Clay 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 small wars with big hearts.

The weather forecast this morning is clear and dry with a 50% chance of Fulda Gap fantasizing. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

Bad news, the Syrian Civil War is getting worse, contrary to popular belief. With Islamic State territory mostly liberated, the Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian government is free to focus its attention on rebel held areas near Damascus and in Idlib province while Turkey attacks Kurdish-held areas in Northern Syria. Since December, over 300,000 civilians have fled new fighting. You can watch new video of the devastation here.

Good news, two infamous Islamic State fighters were captured by Kurds in Syria. The two British fighters were part of a group of four known as “The Beatles” because of their Liverpool-like accents. They were known for their presence in the videos beheading Western journalists. The other two members of the group were already killed or captured.

Egypt launches its largest offensive against Islamic State in years in the Sinai Peninsula. The offensive is a combined arms operation intended to cut off and destroy the militants who have been operating in the peninsula, notably killing more than 350 people in a complex mosque attack in December.

Reuters published a detailed report of a massacre of Rhohingya men in Myanmar in which two of its journalists were imprisoned during the investigation. This bloody event is only one day in the ethnic cleansing occurring in the northern Rahkine state.

Human Rights Watch accuses Kurds of mass executions in a statement by the director. The group claims that in a week during the summer offensive against Islamic State last year, Kurdish security forces may have killed hundreds of male detainees.

How do civil wars end? With civil wars raging in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, and other places the U.S. and foreign powers are involved in around the world, political scientists examine how civil wars end and what role these external forces play in their ending on Political Violence at a Glance.

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 Monday, February 12th, 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


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.


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.


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.

Trump Announces Afghanistan War Strategy, No One Gives a Shit

On Monday, President Donald Trump announced his new Afghanistan strategy, but no one gives a shit. Distancing himself from the war under Obama, Trump proclaimed additional troops and no timelines, but no one gives a shit.

Trump did not mention any key strategic goals besides the defeat of the Taliban, but no one gives a shit. Trump was secretive about how many more troops would be sent to Afghanistan or what exactly they would be doing, but no one gives a shit.

“Retribution will be fast and powerful,” said Trump of the war launched nearly sixteen years ago in retaliation for the terrorist attacks on 9/11, but no one gives a shit. By not defining any standards for success, Trump is likely shielding himself from any political fallout as conditions in Afghanistan continue to deteriorate, but no one gives a shit.

In truth, such ambiguity by the president may not be necessary. The American public does not seem to attribute any political cost to the war. In the three 2016 presidential debates, Afghanistan was mentioned just one time—in passing—but no one gives a shit.

The speech countered what Trump has said about Afghanistan in the past. Tweeting multiple times from 2011 through 2013, Trump said the war in Afghanistan was a mistake and the United States must leave, but no one gives a shit.

As the war in Afghanistan drags on endlessly, new benchmarks are created. In July, the first American soldier to be a toddler during 9/11 was killed, but no one gives a shit.

American troops in Afghanistan are committed to two concurrent missions: training and advising Afghan forces under NATO-led Operation Resolute Support, and destroying Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) under Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, but no one gives a shit.  IS-K did not exist when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Perpetual war destabilized the country enough to allow room for new radical groups to flourish, but no one gives a shit.

Besides IS-K, new troops in Afghanistan will face additional threats. The Department of Defense suggested that Russia is arming the Taliban, but no one gives a shit. The burden will not be carried alone, however. NATO members signaled that they are willing to also increase their troop commitments in Afghanistan, but no one gives a shit.

The speech was welcomed by the Afghan government. Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib, Afghan envoy to the U.S., told AP, “We heard exactly what we needed to. The focus on the numbers has taken away the real focus on what should have been: what conditions are required and what kind of support is necessary.” The Afghan budget is 70% dependent on foreign assistance, but no one gives a shit.

Trump is now the third consecutive president to escalate the war in Afghanistan, but no one gives a shit.

The MOAB and a Brief History of Bombing Afghanistan


The last BLU-82, the predecessor to the MOAB, detonated in Utah by the 711th Special Operations Squadron in 2008 (DoD/Wikimedia Commons photo).

The United States dropped a “Mother of All Bombs” (MOAB) in Afghanistan on Thursday targeting Islamic State (IS, also referred to as ISIS or ISIL) — its first ever use in combat.

In a statement, the Department of Defense said the bomb, designated the GBU-43 Massive Ordinance Air Blast (the common name being a backronym), targeted and destroyed a tunnel complex used by IS in Nangahar province in eastern Afghanistan.

The bomb has the largest explosive yield of any non-nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal at 11 tons. For comparison, the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima had the explosive capability equal to 15,000 tons. The blast radius is roughly one mile.

The strike took place at 7:32 PM local time in Achin district, where ongoing operations against IS in Afghanistan are being conducted as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and in the vicinity of where Special Forces Staff Sergeant Mark De Alencar was killed earlier this week.

According to Ismail Shinwari, the governor of Achin district, the strike took place in a remote, mountainous location and there were no reports of civilian casualties. Recently there has been heavy fighting between Afghan forces and IS fighters in the area.

The weapon’s purpose as an air blast weapon, like the BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter” before it, is to destroy troop concentrations and equipment, clear explosives, and intimidate enemy forces. It is not a “bunker buster” designed to penetrate the ground or hardened structures. It was designed before the 2003 Iraq War to pressure Saddam Hussein.

While the trend lately in U.S. counter-terrorist airstrikes has been to use smaller, precise bombs and missiles delivered by drones and F-16s to conduct localized surgical strikes against single rooms or vehicles, the MOAB was kicked out of the back of an MC-130.


A BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter” deployed from an MC-130 on a test range in Utah (DoD/Wikimedia Commons photo).

But this is not the first time large area weapons have been used in Afghanistan. In the beginning of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, Daisy Cutters were used to attempt to destroy Al-Qaida and kill Osama Bin Laden in Tora Bora, also in Nangahar province. The operation was unsuccessful.

Afghanistan has been the target tens of thousands of airstrikes over the last 15 years. Unfortunately, the amount of civilian casualties per airstrike has risen since 2009, with 2016 the highest year on record. On average, one civilian was killed per every three US airstrikes.

Most civilian airstrike casualties occur in populated areas that the Taliban has infiltrated since most NATO forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 2014. As of early 2017, the Afghan government only controlled 65 per cent of its territory.

However, airstrikes against IS in Afghanistan have been in less populated areas because the U.S. has not given IS room to grow. The U.S. increased its airstrikes against them in early 2016 when reports of thousands of fighters had established themselves in remote areas of Nangahar. Today, the U.S. estimates only 600 – 800 remain.

I have seen a lot of outcry on social media about the use of the MOAB, presumably versus smaller munitions, but a war is still occurring in Afghanistan whether a MOAB is used or not.

If Governor Shinwari is to be believed and no civilian casualties occurred, perhaps it is a legitimate tactical choice to use a large airburst weapon against the few remaining IS fighters in Afghanistan, especially if we do not want them to take population centers.


A U.S. operator accompanying Afghan commandos (DoD/Wikimedia Commons photo).

Most Americans do not like when American service members are killed overseas. So using a weapon to destroy defenses, IEDs, and potentially psychologically disaffect IS fighters before U.S. Special Forces assist Afghan forces in conducting a dangerous clear and sweep operation on the ground may not be a bad thing.

Time will tell if the weapon was effective (we will have an idea if it is used again), but we should not let ourselves be swept up by the media’s fetishization of military weaponry with sexy names.

The Mass Ordinance Air Blast may be the U.S.’s largest non-nuclear bomb, but at 22,000 lbs of explosive yield it is more comparable to the size of the extensively used drone-launched Hellfire missile (20 lbs) than to “Little Boy”, the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima (30 million lbs).

One MOAB was dropped on Thursday. In 2016, the U.S. used so many smaller precision-guided weapons like the Hellfire — tens of thousands — that it could not replenish its stocks to keep up with with demand. Which weapon system has had more impact? You do the math.

Without Significant Troop Commitment, Trump’s Syrian Safe Zones Will Not Be Safe


Kamuna refugee camp in Syria after being bombed (Getty/Andolu Agency photo)

President-Elect Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he will establish “safe zones” in Syria, the second time he has mentioned such a plan since being elected.

Trump said at a rally in Pennsylvania that the situation in Syria is “so sad, and we’re going to help people.” He told the crowd that he would make the Gulf States assist, echoing a promise he made on the campaign trail.

Last month at a rally in Tennessee he also brought up safe zones, saying, “What I like is build a safe zone in Syria [sic]. Build a big beautiful safe zone. And you have whatever it is so people can live.”

Hillary Clinton also campaigned on establishing safe zones in Syria, something the Obama Administration has not been interested in. In April, President Obama said, “As a practical matter, sadly, it is very difficult to see how it would operate short of us being willing to militarily take over a chunk of that country.”

Trump had said he would deploy as many as 30,000 American troops before, but his Syria strategy, like much of his proposed policy, has not been consistent. In June 2015, Trump told Fox News “maybe Syria should be a free zone for ISIS, let them fight and then you pick up the remnants.”

It would take a significant force to protect these proposed safe zones. During the Bosnian War, the United Nations established safe zones for Muslims but only deployed lightly-armed and legally-restricted peace keeping troops to protect them.

“American Special Operations Forces were chased out of the Syrian town of al-Ray by US-backed Free Syrian Army militias to cries of ‘Pigs!’ and ‘Crusaders!'”

As a result, Serbian forces repeatedly attacked and eventually captured the safe zones. At one safe zone in Srebrenica, strict rules of engagement prevented UN peacekeepers from taking action as nearly the entire male population of the town was massacred.

Gathering mostly Sunni refugees from Aleppo into safe zones creates an opportune target for Assad-backed forces for easy extermination. Indeed, Assad may have foreshadowed his intentions earlier this year when the Kamuna refugee camp in Northern Syria was bombed in May, killing more than 30 people.

Additionally, Russian warplanes bombed a UN aid convoy last September in then-opposition controlled territory near Aleppo and subsequently denied it. Russia insisted no airstrike occurred, despite video evidence proving otherwise.

These precedents prove that Assad and/or Russia is not above purposely attacking defenseless civilians. Thus, for American-created safe zones to work, they would need to be heavily defended with a significant troop presence. Both air and ground elements would be required to protect refugees from Russia and Assad’s combined forces.

Trump has used the 30,000 troop figure before in reference to fighting Islamic State (IS, also referred to as ISIS and ISIL), but the Pentagon estimated that it might take 30,000 troops just to protect safe zones. Even if some of those troops are provided by coalition partners such as the Gulf States, that does not leave many troops to fight IS.

Currently there are roughly 5,000 troops in Iraq and another 500 in Syria supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led campaign against IS. Trump has described the operation as “a total disaster.”

But more troops in Syria may not be welcomed. In September, American Special Operations Forces were chased out of the Syrian town of al-Ray by US-backed Free Syrian Army militias to cries of “Pigs!” and “Crusaders!” The US-backed forces claimed that the presence of ground troops signaled a military occupation of Syria.

If the US’s own proxy army does not want US ground forces in Syria, deploying 30,000 troops to protect safe zones is a recipe for disaster. During the Iraqi occupation, Shiites liberated by American forces quickly began a five-year long insurgency against them.

Trump has claimed that he will make “rich Gulf States” contribute to the safe zones, but the United Arab Emirates and Qatar has a combined military force of less than 90,000 troops. Saudi Arabia is currently embroiled in a war in Yemen to the tune of 150,000 troops, so it seems unlikely they will be able to commit many soldiers without significant incentive from Trump.

It is unclear whether he is as informed as one might expect a president-elect would be on the situation in Syria. Since being elected, he has refused daily intelligence briefings, insisting he does not need them because “I’m, like, a smart person.”

Bragging TheBlaze Journalist Shoots at ISIS, Endangers Real War Correspondents


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.


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.


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.