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).

Situation Update February 6th, 2018

Airstrikes in Syria

Department of Defense photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.