Here’s your Situation Update for March 7th, 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 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 23, 2018

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Russian Ministry 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 don’t size shame them. Thanks.

The weather forecast this morning is overcast with a 20% chance of mid-afternoon existential crisis. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

The United Nations Security Council fails to pass a resolution imposing a ceasefire in Syria that would have allowed humanitarian aid to be delivered to a Damascus suburb that has been relentlessly bombed by the Syrian government for nearly a week. The death and destruction there is unimaginable and hundreds of civilians including women and children have been killed. Russia, who supports the Assad government, blocked the resolution.

Pro-government forces enter Syria’s Afrin despite being initially repelled by Turkish forces. The Assad-aligned militias entered the northern province to support the Kurdish residents who have been under siege by Turkey. The Turkish military entered Syria in a campaign to fight the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, also known as the YPG. This adds another layer to the strained alliances in the region because now the American-allied YPG is receiving support from pro-Assad militias who are aligned with nominal American enemies like Russia and Iran. Meanwhile, Turkey, a member of NATO, is still bent on destroying the American ally. Receiving support from anti-American militias in Syria may make it difficult for American volunteers in the YPG to return to the U.S. legally.

The U.S. successfully added Pakistan to a terrorism financier list after Saudi Arabia backed down from its previous attempts to block the move. Pakistan’s placement on the list will make it more difficult to borrow money internationally.

Car bombs kill 18 and injure 20 more in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. The Islamist militant group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Swedish Armed Forces request to more than double its budget by 2035, noting Russian military action in Europe.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section. Self-affirmations may also be posted in the comments section. You’re amazing.  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 26th, 2018.

Here’s your Situation Update for February 21, 2018

Department of Defense photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a regular feature from Insurgentsia that runs weekday mornings (except when it doesn’t, like yesterday). The scope of these posts will cover small wars with big budgets.

The weather forecast this morning is freezing with a 40% chance of a disappointment over things you can’t control. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

The Syrian government is killing people by the hundreds in a Damascus suburb including women, children, and aid workers. The Syrian government has vowed “no quarter” in the rebel-held area. Civilians were never allowed to evacuate. The Syrian government is targeting civilian populations and hospitals. One video uploaded to Twitter showed a now common “double tap” tactic, where an air strike is followed by a second after rescue workers respond to the scene.

The Taliban overran three checkpoints in Western Afghanistan killing 20 police officers. The fighters were wearing night vision goggles. This is the second attack in the area by Taliban fighters wearing night vision devices. The police officers do not have night vision devices themselves. This tactical advantage was once enjoyed by American forces over its enemies in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The goggles are of Russian origin.

Turkey and Iran-backed pro-Assad forces clashed in Northern Syria in a new twist in the competition between regional powers waging war there. Keeping the alliances and conflicts straight between the Syrian government, Iran, Russia, Turkey, the Gulf States, and the rebel militias has never been easy, but alliances are being strained as the interests of regional powers compete.

Two French soldiers were killed and a colonel injured by fighters in Mali. The French military has been operating there since 2013, when it intervened to stop Islamic fighters from overthrowing the government.

More than 90 schoolgirls in Nigeria are missing after a Boko Haram attack. “I saw girls crying and wailing in three Tata vehicles and they were crying for help,” said a witness. This is the largest abduction of schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram since 270 went missing in 2014, sparking the #bringbackourgirls social media movement amplified by First Lady Michelle Obama.

So we fixed the glitch. The latest Pentagon budget does not including salaries for Iraqi Kurdish militias. The fighters, collectively known as the Peshmerga and long-time U.S. allies, stopped receiving salaries from the U.S. government when the Kurdistan Regional Government held an independence referendum against American wishes in September. The latest budget hints the temporary halt in payments may be permanent.

Islamic State fighters from Iraq and Syria are relocating to the Philippines. The fighters are joining rebel groups already operating in the country’s south.

A U.S. air strike killed three al Shabaab fighters in Somalia said a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, adding that no civilians were killed in the attack.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section, but answers have their own value that is completely independent from outside perception, just like you. To receive these in your inbox daily, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile). Your next Situation Update will be Thursday, February 22th, 2018.

Here’s your Situation Update for February 13th, 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 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 9th, 2018

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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.

Turkish Offensive Against Islamic State into Syria Signals Limit to Kurdish Expansion

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Turkish Special Forces (ANKA photo)

Turkey launched its largest offensive to date into Islamic State (IS, also called ISIS or ISIL if you like to bother everybody) held territory in Syria on Wednesday in a combined air, armor, and special operations campaign to take the border city of Jarabulus.

The timing of the United States-backed operation coincides with Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Turkey which is occurring at a particularly fractious time in Turkish-American relations.

In July, an attempted military coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has been blamed by many Turks on the Americans. Allegations that the US allowed a Turkish Air Force refueler to take off from the US controlled Incirlik Air Base that refueled Turkish F-16s involved in bombing government buildings, and a bizarre conspiracy theory involving American one dollar bills being found on a number of Turkish officials linked to the Gulenist movement credited with the coup are in part responsible for the souring of relations between the two NATO allies.

The Syrian offensive is nominally in response to a suicide bomb attack on a Kurdish wedding in Turkey on Saturday, killing 54. But it may also be a message to the United States that it is still willing to cooperate on regional security issues. The US recently warned Turkey that its purge of Gulenists from the military would hamper the campaign against IS. Wednesday’s offensive suggests that Turkey is showing the US that it has not.

More importantly, the Turkish offensive signals that Turkey is serious about not allowing Kurdish forces to maintain contiguous territory along the Turkish border.

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A representation of Kurdish held-territory in Syria (Thomas van Linge graphic)

By intervening in Jarabulus on behalf of non-Kurdish Syrian rebels, they are preventing the Kurds from crossing the Euphrates River at the Turkish border and putting a stop to the western expansion of Rojava (Kurdish Syria) toward Kurdish-held Afrin District, northwest of Aleppo.

The US backed the Turkish offensive with air support and has agreed to not support any Kurdish operation on the city.

The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, warned the Kurds directly that if they did not remove their troops east of the Euphrates River and away from the Turkish border, “We will do what is necessary.” Turkish armed forces have had no qualms with bombing Kurdish forces in the past.

It appears that if the US is supporting Turkey over its Kurdish allies on the limits of the borders of Rojava, it is unlikely the Afrin Canton of Rojava will be linked with Rojava proper to the east. But this may turn out to be an important step for the Kurdish hope of self-determination and statehood: after all, two major powers just de facto recognized a border.

What We Can Learn from T.E. Lawrence About Today’s Middle East Policy

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I recently stumbled across an article in Foreign Policy written by James Stravadis titled How Would Lawrence of Arabia Defeat the Islamic StateAs a researcher who writes about Islamic State (IS) and a personal fan of Lawrence (my dog is named T.E.), this type of article was right up my alley.

If you could use a refresher, T.E. Lawrence, better known as “Lawrence of Arabia” after the 1962 Oscar-winning film of the same title, was a British Army officer who successfully trained and equipped an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire in World War 1. With an army of irregulars, he employed guerrilla warfare against the Ottomans, blowing up trains, attacking and melting away — he led the same type of insurgency the United States has been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for over a decade.

What was so special about Lawrence was his deep understanding of both Arab and Ottoman societies. He was a British intelligence officer working as cartographer and archaeologist in the Middle East when World War 1 broke out. He was sent to liaise with Arabs from the Hashemite tribe in present day Saudi Arabia who the British thought might be sympathetic to their anti-Ottoman war effort.

Lawrence’s appointment was supposed to be temporary until a replacement could be sent, but he ended up nearly single-handedly (from a Western perspective — there were thousands of Arabs involved) leading a revolt in the desert. In the vernacular of today, we would say he was a special operator training and advising local national fighters. (One might imagine that today an Obama Administration official would make the distinction that he was involved in “non-combat operations” despite the numerous raids he went on.)

That Lawrence was so successful in working with Arab groups to successfully implement Western policy in the Middle East is what draws our attention to him today. Many of the candidates in this year’s American presidential election called for the creation of a Sunni Arab coalition to fight IS. Stravadis’s article recommends we rely on our Sunni allies as well — namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Jordan, and Egypt. But the war against IS today reflects a different reality.

The aforementioned countries minus Oman are currently caught up in a war in Yemen, while Egypt is dealing with its own insurgency in the Sinai. Meanwhile, in the military intervention against IS, Jordan has participated in only token air strikes against Syria –mostly after one of their pilots was executed in a brutal and widely plublicized video. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have participated in Syria, but only nominally. President Barack Obama has been forthright in his opinion that our Sunni allies need to do more, but we should also remember that those five countries’ defense budgets combined is about $110 billion, or only about 15% of what the US spends.

“While Kurds and Shiites are the most organized fighters now and that makes them a convenient ally, one must take into consideration what the ultimate goals are for these groups.”

Instead, what the US has done (after twin failed Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency train and equip programs in Syria) is make the Kurds of northern Syria and northern Iraq along with the Shiites of southern Iraq our de facto fighting force against IS. Our new baby in Syria, a coalition of militias in Syria called the “Syrian Democratic Forces” are mostly Kurds.  The US has also established an airfield in Kurdish-held Syria.

In Iraq, US special operations forces have also set up an airfield and outposts in Kurdish controlled areas. US troops are now operating out of an airbase near Erbil and a US Marine was killed by indirect fire from IS at an outpost in the area. Additionally, a Delta Force soldier was killed during a raid with Kurdish forces, as was more recently a Navy SEAL while training Kurds. Successful territory gaining operations against IS thus far in Tikrit were mostly comprised of Shiite militias and the Shiite Badr Corps were on the ground in the liberation of Ramadi.

So what is the lesson we can learn from Lawrence of Arabia? During the successful Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, the Hashemites of Saudi Arabia were promised kingdoms in a Middle East. Faisal bin Hussein was made King of the Arab Kingdom of Syria. After being ousted by the French who had received Syria in the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement, he became the first King of Iraq with the help of the British.

Faisal’s brother, Abdullah I, became the first King of Jordan after being convinced by the British not to attack the French in retaliation for removing his brother. Finally, Faisal and Abdullah’s father, Hussein bin Ali, declared himself King of the Hejaz (an area in present day Saudi Arabia), but was never recognized by the global community and the British-backed al-Saud tribe forced him to flee in 1924.

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Arab revolt fighters, 1918 (Library of Congress photo)

Today, the only remaining Hashemite ruler in the Middle East is King Abdullah II of Jordan.  The Hashemites were overthrown in Iraq in 1958 during a bloody coup resulting in the death of many members of the Hashemite family. The Sauds conquered the Arabian peninsula and created modern Saudi Arabia.

Lawrence, perhaps disgusted with how the Hashemites he fought with were essentially betrayed by the British and French governments, enlisted in the Royal Air Force in 1920 under an assumed identity, distancing himself from his past identity as Colonel T.E Lawrence, leader of the Arab Revolt.

The lesson here is that the US needs to be careful about who it supports in its fight against IS. While Kurds and Shiites are the most organized fighters now and that makes them a convenient ally, one must take into consideration what the ultimate goals are for these groups. The YPG, a Kurdish militia the US is supporting in Syria, has made it known that it intends independence. Shiites in Iraq have habitually disempowered Iraqi Sunnis and will likely continue to do so.

Whether or not the US plans acquiesce its current allies plans for self-determination, it must be prepared for the next conflict after IS is defeated. It is unlikely that in a post-IS world, empowered and well-armed Kurds will willingly return to the old status quo. Similarly, it is not a stretch to imagine Sunnis in formerly IS-held areas to rebel against their Shiite conquerors. Much of our modern turmoil in the Middle East is thought to be related the failed promises and poor planning of the post-conflict after the Arab revolt —and it has lasted nearly a century. Are we prepared for another hundred years of conflict in the Middle East?

 

Attacks Kill 120 and Wound Over 700 This Week Yet Public Outcry Scarce

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The world’s insurgentsia have been unusually active this week with attacks in Tunisia, Israel, Iraq, Turkey, and Ivory Coast. Interestingly, there has not been much public outcry (if any) in response to any of these attacks in the Western media — certainly not to the extent that the attacks at the Bataclan and elsewhere in Paris last November received. Nor have these attacks garnered the attention of the Charlie Hebdo attacks before that, despite some being similar in nature, i.e. targeting Western civilians. So, in case you missed it:

Last Monday, Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL) fighters attacked army and police posts in the town of Ben Gardane in Tunisia killing 12 soldiers and seven civilians. Ben Gardane is close to the border with Libya and known for being a hotbed of jihadist recruitment. If the town fell to IS, it could establish another transnational control area like the one they enjoy in Iraq and Syria.

On Tuesday, stabbing attacks by a Hamas member in the Israeli city of Jaffa killed one American and injured twelve others. The American was 28 year old Taylor Force, an MBA student at Vanderbilt University, former Army officer, and West Point graduate. Today, four Israeli security forces members were injured in an attack by Palestinian gunmen at a security checkpoint near the entrance of an Israeli settlement near Hebron in the West Bank. These attacks are part of a surge of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories that have resulted in the deaths of 30 Israelis and roughly 180-200 Palestinians that some are calling the “Third Intifada”.

In Iraq, there were two attacks this week by IS using chemical weapons in the Shiite village of Taza, near Kirkuk, a region controlled by Kurdish militias. Reports suggest as many as 600 injured. According to the Department of Defense, IS is using chlorine and mustard gas in its attacks, which it is likely manufacturing itself. Last month, the head of the IS chemical weapons program was captured in a raid by US special operations forces. Additionally, 47 Iraqi soldiers were killed by IS in attacks near the recently liberated city of Ramadi.

In Ivory Coast, an attack most like the Paris attacks occurred. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters attacked a beach resort in the city of Grand Bassam yesterday, killing at least 14 civilians and two soldiers. Four of the victims were Westerners, including one French and a German national. The beach resort was likely targeted because it is popular amongst Westerners. This is not the first attack by AQIM this year: in January, AQIM-affiliated group al-Murabitun attacked a hotel popular with Westerners in Burkina Faso, killing 30 and wounding 56.

Finally, 37 were killed and dozens more injured in a suicide car bombing in the Turkish capital of Ankara yesterday. The Turkish government claims a male and female member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were responsible. The target was a busy bus stop and mostly civilians were killed. In response, Turkey has begun airstrikes on Kurdish militia camps in northern Iraq.

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Protesters in Luxembourg in response the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris (Jwh/Wikimedia Commons)

The combined death toll of just these attacks this week is 57 civilians, 61 military, with over 700 wounded.  The civilian deaths are only about half that of the November 2015 Paris attacks, but almost five times as many as the Charlie Hebdo attack. Of course, only a small fraction of the attacks were on Westerners and none were in Europe. After years of violence, one might understand why Westerners would be numb to attacks in the Middle East and perhaps even in Africa, despite these victims also being human beings. But as one Ankara foreign resident pointed out, why do Westerners feel nothing for Turkey?

“It is very easy to look at terror attacks that happen in London, in New York, in Paris and feel pain and sadness for those victims, so why is it not the same for Ankara? Is it because you just don’t realise that Ankara is no different from any of these cities? Is it because you think that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, like Syria, like Iraq, like countries that are in a state of civil war, so therefore it must be the same and because you don’t care about those ones, then why should you care about Turkey? If you don’t believe that these attacks in Ankara affect you, or you can’t feel the same pain you felt during the Paris or London attacks, then maybe you should stop to think why, why is it that you feel like that.”

Perhaps we should take a look at the numbers on the top of this page, take note of our feelings, and think, “why?”

The GOP Candidates’ Plans for Beating Islamic State Range from Contradictory to Absurd

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Presidential candidate Ted Cruz wants to “carpet bomb” Islamic State (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons photo)

The Republican candidates for president have said some provocative things about battling Islamic State (IS — also referred to as ISIS or ISIL), yet none have mapped out a plan quite as detailed as Hillary Clinton’s, which I wrote about, along with Sanders’, last month. With four Republican primaries today and another 25 to go, the remaining candidates have outlined their strategies as such:

Ted Cruz

Goal: Defeat IS while allowing the Syrian civil war play out and reserving American ground forces as a last resort

How? Cruz famously said that he would “carpet bomb” IS, but later revealed he did not know what the term meant when he elaborated — essentially describing standard close air support within the framework of legal air strikes. He has also said he wants to “bomb ISIS back to the stone age,” but this seems more like blustery talk and less like a new form of hyper-anti-counterinsurgency policy. Cruz wants to:

  • Arm the Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq to defeat IS in both Iraq and Syria
  • Avoid population-centric counterinsurgency and state building in Syria
  • Focus on Iraq, not Syria, and avoid resolving the Syrian civil war

It is clear that Cruz does not want American forces to do more than bomb IS. Ironically, for someone saying Obama is not doing enough, his plan is less involved than the Obama Administration’s. He speaks of using the Peshmerga as a ground force in Iraq, but they have not and will not fight for traditionally Arab areas. It is unlikely that Cruz could defeat IS using the meager plan he has described so far. On his campaign website, his IS strategy is tellingly limited to “calling the enemy by its name – radical Islamic terrorism – and securing the border. Border security is national security.”

John Kasich

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John Kasich wants American troops in Syria now (YouTube/New America photo)

Goal: “Wipe out, degrade, and destroy” Islamic State with an American-led coalition of European and Middle Eastern allies sooner rather than later, without using American forces against Assad

How? Kasich said he wants to:

  • Utilize American, European, and Middle Eastern ground forces
  • Arm moderate rebels in Syria
  • Arm Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish militias
  • Create and enforce no-fly zones in Syria
  • Encourage regional allies to take in refugees

Kasich’s plan is firmly in the interventionist camp, but he also knows that military action alone will not defeat Islamic State. While he once called for the creation of an agency to promote “Judeo-Christian values”, he later walked back this statement, instead suggesting to “breathe life”  into Voice of America, a US-government funded news organization broadcast around the world.

However, his vision of a broad military coalition including American ground forces and no-fly zones, while not taking action to depose Assad is non-sensical. Enforcing no-fly zones in Syria means shooting down Syrian and Russian aircraft should they encroach on this hypothetical airspace. In that event, it would be very unlikely that American ground forces could avoid combat with the Syrian Arab Army.

Marco Rubio

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Rubio sees the world through the eyes of an early 2000s Neocon (Gage Skidmore photo)

Goal: The US-led defeat of IS in a post-Assad Syria as part of a larger zero-sum “clash of civilizations”

How? Rubio’s plan is neatly outlined in bullet points on his campaign website, though most of “his” plan is already being implemented by the Obama Administration. The significant policy changes he would like to pursue are:

  • Utilize American and coalition ground forces in Syria and Iraq
  • Expand air campaign and deploy American forward observers to direct airstrikes in Syria and Iraq
  • Increase training of rebels in Syria to fight Assad
  • Form safe zones in Syria
  • Directly arm Sunni and Kurdish militias in Iraq
  • Increase military action against Islamic State in Libya and Afghanistan
  • Bar entry of Iraqi and Syrian refugees into the United States

Rubio proposes the most military action of any candidate. Like the Democratic candidates, he prefers regime change in Syria. Like Hillary Clinton, he proposes safe zones, but without adequate troop commitment safe areas become the opposite.

He has called for American ground forces embedded with coalition forces, but despite his bravado and “them or us”, “fight them here or there” world view, has not offered that he would deploy American infantry battalions to fight in any country. Most worrying about Rubio’s plan is his insistence on describing the fight against IS as a clash of civilizations:

“For [Islamic State and other jihadist groups] do not hate us because we have military assets in the Middle East, they hate us because of our values. They hate us because young girls here go to school. They hate us because women drive. They hate us because we have freedom of speech, because we have diversity in our religious beliefs. They hate us because we are a tolerant society. . .This is a clash of civilizations and either they win, or we win.”

If 9/11 and the Global War on Terrorism should have taught us anything, it is that the above quote is nonsense. Rubio is still attempting to paint the world as the Bush Administration and other Neoconservatives saw it in the early 2000s. Jihadist groups including al-Qaida and IS have told us themselves that they attack the United States because of realist security issues, not abstract cultural differences — there is not much of a mystery there.

Donald Trump

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Donald Trump wants to give Syria to Exxon and torture people (Michael Vadon photo)

Goal: Donald Trump’s envisioned end state in Iraq and Syria is unclear. If any candidate has said more senseless things about the Middle East than former candidate Ben Carson, it is Trump. Trump wants to defeat Islamic State — that much is clear.

How? Before Trump was an official candidate, he hinted at knowing a “foolproof” plan to defeat IS, but as of yet still has not enlightened us. Interestingly, in that same interview he suggested talks with IS, but a peaceful resolution has not been brought up since. Instead, he has said he wants to:

  • Expand legal authority to torture
  • Ban Muslims from entering the United States
  • Allow Assad and Russia to continue fighting IS in Syria while the US fights them in Iraq
  • Use airstrikes and ground forces to seize IS-controlled oil fields and take the oil for the US

Essentially Trump’s plan so far is three-pronged: bomb them, send in ground forces, take their oil fields. He has said it is important for the US to avoid fighting two wars at once, because it cannot win. While the last decade and a half in the greater Middle East might support his theory, it is important also to realize that wars are not what you want them to be, they are what they are. Simply because he might choose not to fight Assad does not mean Assad will not fight the US directly or via proxy, especially when his oil fields are occupied by American troops and Exxon.

It is also necessary to stress that there is no research that suggests that Trump’s plan to expand the legal authority to torture IS fighters and his suggestion that their families might also be legal targets would hasten an IS defeat. IS has partly risen in response to US torture. Indeed, IS prisoners wear orange jumpsuits to mimic Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and Guantanamo Bay prisoners and treatment of prisoners by Americans is frequently mentioned in IS propaganda videos.

As the French learned in the Algerian War, torture is not only counterproductive, it also “corrupts the the torturer as much as it breaks the victim.”  A quote from a French paratrooper in Alistair Horne’s A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 shows the suffering of the torturer himself:

“‘All day, through the floor-boards, we heard their hoarse cries, like those of animals being slowly put to death. Sometimes I think I can still hear them. . . . All these men disappeared. . . .’ Gradually, ‘I felt myself becoming contaminated. What was more serious, I felt that the horror of all these crimes, our everyday battle, was losing force daily in my mind.’ Going on a month’s leave to Paris was like a deep breath of fresh air, and sufficient ‘to make me forget the suffering throughout poor Algeria. I felt ashamed. Ashamed of having been so happy.’”

For someone who supposedly has made veterans’ issues a high priority, he might consider  more deeply the lasting effects of war on those who serve.