Here’s your Situation Update for February 22, 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 wars small in name, but big in our imaginations and defense budgets.

The weather forecast this morning is cold with a 50% chance of misunderstanding the context of historical events. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

A bomb in northern Myanmar killed two and injured 22 at a bank on Wednesday. The bombing was not claimed, but Myanmar has many armed groups representing ethnic minorities in its northern frontier. The ethnic minorities claim that Myanmar’s government is persecuting and displacing them and using examples of violence like this bombing to justify it. Myanmar is also home to the Rohingya, ethnic Muslims who live in Western Myanmar, who were recently displaced by the government in what the Western media has called a genocide.

Stealth fighters are in the Middle East and they aren’t American suggest pictures that Russia deployed its latest-generation Su-57 to Syria. Some analysts are worried this may prove Russia is preparing for a wider regional conflict there. It may also be to test their capabilities in a live war lab like the U.S. has done in Afghanistan by bombing drug laboratories with stealth F-22s.

I keep writing about the devastating violence in a Damascus suburb and there’s not much left to say. The United Nations recently delivered a blank statement as a symbol for the horror there that left them speechless. So here are some photos of the senseless and total destruction.

Saudi Arabia joined Turkey and China efforts to block the U.S. from adding Pakistan to an official international financier of terrorism list. Pakistan recently pledged 1000 troops to support Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The U.S., Saudia Arabia, and Pakistan all worked together to finance what wasn’t yet popularly known as terrorism in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 when they armed and trained jihadists against the Soviet Union.

A Yugoslav veteran attacked the U.S. embassy in Montenegro then blew himself up. The man as served an anti-air gunner during the NATO bombing of then-Yugoslavia. Montenegro joined NATO last year.

The 76 girls missing after a Boko Haram raid in Nigeria were reported rescued by the Nigerian government. But when Nigerian officials visited the villages where the missing girls were from, they admitted that they are still missing.

A Basque separatist group in Spain plans to vote to dissolve itself by this summer. The group, known as the ETA, killed more than 850 people in a campaign for independence from Spain and France over the last half-century. It voluntarily disarmed itself last year proving insurgencies can and do end.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section. Answers may be given, but philosophy begins in wonder.  To receive these in your inbox daily, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile). Your next Situation Update will be Friday, February 23rd, 2018.

Here’s your Situation Update for February 19th, 2018

M777 A2 Howitzer fire mission

Department of Defense photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a feature from Insurgentsia that runs weekday mornings (except when it doesn’t, like last Friday). The scope of these posts will cover small wars, full hearts, can’t lose.

The weather forecast this morning is unseasonably warm with a 60% chance of media-induced cognitive dissonance. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

“A front against Israel where there is no war but also no peace,” writes the New York Times in a piece about the Iranian presence in Syria. While Iran deployed its own military and facilitated the organization of foreign militias to fight for Assad in the Syrian Civil War, Western think tanks see the potential for a permanent presence to counter Israel in the region, similar to the model it used with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Such a model has sparked multiple Israeli invasions of Lebanon. Over the weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a speech brandishing a piece of an Iranian drone, threatening war.

A gunman attacked a church in Russia and Islamic State claimed responsibility. Countering violent extremism has become a discipline of study and an industry of its own, but this quote highlights why it is important to learn the basics: “Churchgoers said they had prevented more casualties by closing the door to the church and stopping the attacker from getting inside.”

Four U.S. soldiers died in Niger in October and the New York Times wrote a staggering account of their last moments with a visual aid detailing their last steps. It’s heartbreaking.

In Kabul, suicide attacks occur monthly. Street cleaners have to deal with the aftermath. “We found hands, feet — even a head. I couldn’t eat for the next two days. I was horrified,” says one.

Damascus suburb endures death and misery as it has for years and will continue to as long as outside powers decide to continue the war in Syria. Regional powers focus on more strategically important places while residents wonder what their children will eat and if there will be a tomorrow.

Three Iranian police were killed in Tehran in protests by Sufi Muslims against the government. A bus drove into a formation of Iranian riot police. The protests were in support of jailed Sufi leaders.

Turkey adds the Syrian government to its list of potential enemies having already threatened the United States in its campaign against the Kurdish YPG in northern Syria. Turkey threatening the Assad regime would have been good news to the U.S. and rebel forces in 2012, but today it just adds another violent dimension to a brutal conflict that shows no signs of ending.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section, but answers are having a great, but very reflective, President’s Day. 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 20th, 2018.

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

Exercise Sea Soldier '17: US-Oman MOUT Training

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 unconventional warfare around the globe (conventional warfare is just so basic).

The weather forecast this morning is warm with a 90% chance of hopes and prayers from lawmakers. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

You can come back to concentration camps the Myanmar government says to the Rohingya. The ethnic minority that fled Myanmar to Bangladesh after harsh government reprisals to insurgent attacks caused over 7,000 to flee wants to return home. Many of their villages were burned to the ground, so the Myanmar government has built what Human Rights Watch calls “open-air prisons” and the government calls “refugee camps.”

Over 10,000 Afghan civilians killed or injured in 2017 says the United Nations. Anti-government forces like the Taliban and Islamic State are deliberating targeting civilians in complex ambushes. However, casualties are also attributed to American airstrikes which have increased under the Trump Administration.

Tillerson acknowledges Hezbollah as “part of the political process in Lebanon” at a news conference in Beirut. Most of his speech was boilerplate denunciation of Hezbollah and Iran, but the statement is significant as it tacitly recognizes Hezbollah as a political organization, despite their presence on the State Department’s official list of foreign terrorist organizations. Realistically, it just means Tillerson can’t stay on message and is out of his depth.

Pakistan doesn’t want to be on the terrorism financier list so it has launched a crackdown against the jihadist group responsible for 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 166 people. It only took 10 years and a major threat from the international community.

Russia admits five civilians killed in U.S. attack in Syria last week. Russian media reported rumors of dozens if not hundreds of Russian contractor deaths, but Russia denied the claims at first. Acknowledging civilians were killed is not admitting Russia is using private military contractors, but it’s closer than saying nothing.

53 Islamist militants killed in the Sinai says the Egyptian military. The offensive began last week in response to an attack on a mosque that killed over 350 people.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section, but answers are busy crypto mining. To receive these in your inbox daily, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile). Your next Situation Update will be Friday, February 16th, 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 7th, 2018

CRG Airmen sustain air operations at Q-West

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 conflicts in the realm of irregular warfare (the term “irregular warfare” being like the word “irregardless,” i.e. nonsensical and overused).

The weather forecast this morning is overcast with a 20% chance of misdirected outrage. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

President Trump wants a military parade modeled after the one on Bastille Day in France. The desire is apparently being taken as a presidential directive and is “being worked at the highest levels of the military.” On Twitter, people reacted with shock that the nation might consider fetishizing the military in a grand public spectacle unironically just days after the Super Bowl.

Public attention shifts from Syria despite nearly daily airstrikes on civilian-populated areas and massive death tolls. Over 80 people were killed on Tuesday in Syrian government air and artillery strikes. With little hope for a ceasefire, civilians wonder why they even try to film and report the human rights abuses they witness. To them, it seems the international community no longer cares.

And if that makes you depressed, don’t read this about Libya, where no plan to by the Trump Administration to bring stability to the nearly governmentless country means that Russia has decided to back its own horse in that race. After meeting with whom the U.S. recognizes as prime minister in December, the Trump administration has left Libyan affairs mostly up to the United Nations. Meanwhile, Russia has backed former general and strongman, Khalifa Haftar, including brokering weapons for oil deals and printing money for the Haftar-allied government.

Not so tranquil in the Maldives, known as a small but beautiful island country in South Asia, where the president appears to have issued a state of emergency and purged the supreme court and opposition.

New imagery shows Chinese development on reclaimed Islands in the South China Sea. China has long insisted the buildings were not for military purposes, but new photos show the runways, ships, and supporting buildings in new detail.

Turkish border towns feel repercussions from Syria campaign. Rockets and mortars from Syria’s Kurdish-held areas are not uncommon in Syrian border towns like Reyhanli. “This is happening every day now. I’m just waiting for it all to be over,” said a Turkish mother with her two children who were shopping for groceries while explosions thudded in the distance.

Meanwhile, France accuses Turkey and Iran of violating international law in Syria. The move is noteworthy because France and Turkey are both NATO allies. The Turkish foreign minister is on his way to Iran for talks about Syria’s future.

And Syria accuses Israel of airstrikes on government positions. There is a lot going on there.

The U.S. encourages NATO to establish long-term training mission in Iraq like the one it has had in Afghanistan for a decade. One senior NATO diplomat commented to Reuters, “This looks suspiciously like another Afghanistan. Few allies want that.”

Whoops, those tanks were ours. As many as nine American tanks provided to the Iraqi military ended up in the hands of Iran-backed militias says a new report.

Saudi living in Oklahoma arrested for al-Qaida ties. The man attended flight school in the United States and his fingerprints were found on an application to join al-Qaida from 2000 recovered in Afghanistan.

The VA motto is sexist says the head of the largest Iraq and Afghanistan veteran group. The motto, a quote from Lincoln, reads “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” Today the VA must care for whoever shall have borne the battle, not just him.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section but answers are not forecasted. 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 8th, 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.

Trump’s War in Syria: What You Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask

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A Tomahawk missile is launched from a Navy Cruiser in the Persian Gulf (U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons photo)

President Trump announced Thursday night that the United States conducted a cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government earlier this week.

The U.S. Navy launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles targeting aircraft at al-Sharyat airbase in Homs province from destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea. Russian forces are stationed on the base, but U.S. officials said they used established deconfliction channels to notify them beforehand.

Cruise missiles have a range of 1,000 miles and typically carry a 1,000 lb. warhead. A staple of U.S. military unmanned strike capability, cruise missiles have been used since the 1991 Gulf War. They were utilized by former President Bill Clinton who famously used them to strike at al-Qaida in Afghanistan in Sudan prior to the attack on September 11th, 2001.

Most recently, cruise missiles were used to attack targets in Yemen after Houthi rebels launched missiles at U.S. Navy ships supporting the Saudi-led war there.

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Aftermath of an air strike in Sana’a, Yemen (Ibrahem Qasim/Wikimedia Commons photo)

The missile strike in Syria was launched at roughly 8:40 PM Eastern time or 4:40 AM local time. It came hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced “steps are underway” to build an international coalition to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.

The announcement marked a major shift in U.S. policy in Syria, where the U.S. has spent two and a half years combatting Islamic State (IS, also know as ISIS or ISIL), but has not struck Syrian government targets (on purpose—in September Syrian troops were killed in a U.S. airstrike it deemed “unintentional”).

Is the U.S. going to war in Syria?

The U.S. has been at war in Syria since September, 2014 when it conducted its first airstrikes against IS in response to the videoed and widely-seen assassinations of Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Thursday’s missile strike represents and expansion and escalation of the war, authorized under the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Military Force to target al-Qaida.

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U.S. Special Operations Forces in Syria (AFP/Getty photo)

If Trump continues to strike Syrian government targets, he will need a new Congressional authorization. The War Powers Act of 1973 limits military force to 60 days without Congressional approval.

However, former President Barack Obama continued military operations in Libya far past the 60 day limit by claiming “operations did not involve sustained fighting.”

Will the U.S. send ground troops?

Ground troops, typically defined as non-Special Operations Forces (SOF) in country, have already been in Syria for a month. U.S. Army Rangers (highly-trained shock troops originally intended to seize airfields) and a Marine artillery unit were deployed to Northeast Syria to support continuing operations against IS near Raqqa.

These forces combined with existing SOF such as Navy SEALs and Army CAG (also known as Delta Force) total almost 1000 American military personnel currently in Syria.

The U.S. has possibly two military bases already established in Syria. One at Rmeilan airfield and another near Ain Eissa, both in Kurdish-controlled areas.

What would an American-Led Operation to Remove Assad Look Like?

It is difficult to predict what regime change might look like or if it will even happen. We can compare the last three successful government-toppling actions in the greater Middle East for context, though.

In 2001, the U.S. sent a small contingent of C.I.A. operatives, Special Operations Forces including Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs, and Army Rangers to Afghanistan to remove the Taliban government in Kabul while simultaneously hunting al-Qaida.

With the support of the Northern Alliance, local forces already fighting the Taliban, Kabul was captured in roughly a month, but al-Qaida leadership slipped through the U.S.’s fingers.

Today, the U.S. is still hunting al-Qaida and fighting the Taliban for control of territory in Afghanistan.

In 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq with 150,000 troops in a multinational coalition after a heavy bombing campaign striking government targets in Baghdad and military bases throughout the country.

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U.S. tanks in Baghdad, 2003 (Department of Defense/Wikimedia Commons photo)

Baghdad fell in just months and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was captured within the year.

U.S. troops completely withdrew from Iraq in 2011, but returned in 2014. Today, there are over 5,000 troops supporting the operation to defeat an insurgent group created in the chaos after the 2003 invasion.

In contrast to the colossal Iraq invasion, in 2011 the United States supported a NATO air operation to depose Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi. The U.S. provided support to European airstrikes protecting rebels and targeting the Libyan government.

Gaddafi was killed by rebel forces in 7 months. Today, Libya continues to fight a multi-factional civil war. U.S. bombers continued to conduct airstrikes in Libya this year.

Whatever may come, Thursday’s events did not mark the beginning of an American war. The U.S. has been at war toppling multiple governments in the Middle East for nearly 16 years. Killing a Middle Eastern head of state and destroying the government of that country has become the specialty of the U.S. this century. Repairing what it has broken has proven challenging and burdensome.

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

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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.”

Canada’s Train and Equip Mission in Iraq Turns Offensive (Like Always)

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Canadian special operations forces scan the horizon (Canadian Armed Forces photo)

Canadian special forces in Northern Iraq are performing offensive operations against Islamic State (IS, also referred to as ISIS or ISIL) according to Canadian military officials. Lt. Col. Stephen Hunter, commander of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR), told reporters on Monday that Canadian troops have sometimes shot first in engagements with IS when Kurdish forces were not present.

“Because they have demonstrated hostile intent, we’re able, through our rules of engagement, to use our own weapons systems to engage that kind of threat,” said Hunter. This sort of preventive attack in the name of self-defense is the same justification U.S. forces use in Afghanistan to attack the Taliban two years after “combat operations” ended.

But the revelation that Canadian soldiers are attacking IS is significant because Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau supposedly ended combat operations in Syria last March. He announced the Canada would suspend its bombing operations and instead focus on training and defending allied forces—namely the Kurds.

Canada, like the U.S., is succumbing to mission creep—even with a left-leaning Prime Minister who vowed to take Canadians out of combat. Similarly, what started as a deployment of an extra 275 personnel to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as IS quickly took territory in Iraq has become well over 5,000 in both Iraq and Syria.

It is important to identify that the idea that U.S. and Canadian forces can engage in offensive operations under the authority of self defense is doublespeak. A similar blurring of the meanings of words occurred when former President George W. Bush used the concept of preemptive war to embroil the U.S. in Iraq from which now the American government seems unable to disentangle itself.

The American and Canadian examples show that it is not only the Russian government that utilizes their military overtly while saying they are not (as they did during the annexation of Crimea and are doing in Syria). We must hold our governments accountable when they tell us one thing and do another.

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Canadian Joint Task Force 2 assault demonstration (Patrick Cardinal photo)

It is more important now more than ever as the Trump Administration prepares to move into the White House heralding an era many have coined as “post-truth“. Liberals in American society allowed President Obama to do things they found unsavory, like expanded surveillance, extra-judicial killing, and re-intervening in Iraq because they trusted him. Likewise, conservatives are already turning blind eye to President-elect Trump’s admission of intention to break campaign promises.

Interestingly, public support of the war against IS is rising. Recent polls have suggested that Canadians are overwhelmingly in favor of utilizing ground troops against IS while American opinion is mixed but growing. With the support of their citizens, one wonders why the governments of Canada and the U.S. use doublespeak regarding their military operations.

It appears that in a (debatable) post-Cold War world, it is not just the Russians embracing deception operations. We as a people must decide whether we find this in accordance with our democratic values. Malcolm X said, “You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified U.S. forces as Canadians

A Post-Syria Middle East

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Update: The Department of Defense’s Operation Inherent Resolve spokesperson answered a direct question about Rmeilan Airfield on Reddit, tacitly acknowledging that it is being used by special operations forces:

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A recent article about a purported American deal to use an airbase in Syria to support operations against Islamic State (IS) struck me as odd. It was not that the United States was further establishing a military presence in the war-torn Middle East — let’s face it, it is 2016 and this the norm — but rather who the agreement was made with: the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG, whom I have written about before (specifically their capacity to recruit American volunteer fighters), have controlled the territory in northeast Syria where Rmeilan airfield is located for over two years. If the claim that the Americans are using the airfield is true (a spokesman for United States Central Command has denied it, despite some evidence to the contrary), this represents a significant step in the end of the state we know to be Syria.

What is a state?

To discuss this concept, the state must be defined. The classical definition of the state in the field of international relations usually starts with sociologist Max Weber, who wrote in 1919 that the state is a “human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”

Additionally, the declarative theory of statehood adds that a state must have:

  1. Defined territory
  2. Permanent population
  3. Government
  4. Ability to enter into relations with other states, or thus be recognized by other states
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Sociologist Max Weber dropping some knowledge, 1917 (Wikipedia Commons photo)

When we combine these two definitions, it is apparent that Syria is struggling as a state — particularly when it comes to the monopoly on violence and defined territory.  But what makes the question of Syria as a state interesting is the other actors that have popped up inside what was once Syrian sovereign territory and how they have started to check the boxes for statehood. Prominently, groups like the YPG and IS are beginning to look like states.

Kurds and the Rojava state

The YPG controls most of northern Syria along the Turkish border. In the Weberian sense, the YPG looks like a state — they have successfully monopolized the legitimate use of violence within their territory. Though there has been active warfare over the last two years or so, in the opinion of the permanent population of Kurds that live there, it is for the most part the YPG who are the legitimate doorkeepers to the use of violence (not, for example, Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra).

Vehicles pass a Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) checkpoint in Tell Tamer town in Hasaka

Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) checkpoint in Syria, November 30, 2013. The sign reads “YPG in every place, YPG eyes do not sleep”. (REUTERS/Rodi Said photo)

However, a monopoly on violence and territory are not the only requirements. The YPG’s Kurdistan must also have a government. In fact, the YPG has established a government: an autonomous area called “Rojava” (West in Kurdish) with four established cantons and a democratic constitution.

The last and most crucial ingredient to statehood is the ability to enter relations with other states. Therefore, if the YPG has made an agreement with the US government to allow the use of an airfield, then Rojava has made an important step toward an eventual statehood.

Islamic Statehood in Iraq and al-Sham

But if the YPG are fulfilling some of the requirements to being recognized as a state, what about IS? After all, “state” is right in their name (by design!) Well, despite the name, there are many who would argue that Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state. As the former would require another post (or book) entirely, I will only be focusing on the “state” aspect.

“Islamic State reacts as stately as the US when it comes to armed dissent — though IS justice can be a little more Waco, a little less Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.”

IS has been effective in brutally enforcing the monopolization of violence. On the one hand IS must continue to fight and win to attract foreign fighters, thus as long as they continue to win, they can claim legitimacy in the simplest “might makes right” terms. But while immigrants to Islamic State-held territory are pre-convinced of IS sovereignty, surely not all of their permanent population recognizes IS’s legitimate violence monopoly.

In this case, I do not think that some contention from their population delegitimizes the claim of statehood. After all, in the United States, an armed militia recently occupied federal lands. In response the FBI shot and killed one of the militiamen and arrested the others. By winning and eliminating the troublemakers, the US retains its legitimate monopoly of violence. IS reacts as stately as the US when it comes to armed dissent — though IS justice can be a little more Waco, a little less Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The ability of IS to actually govern has been widely covered. Much like Hizbullah or Hamas, IS does provide services to its population via bureaucratic institutions. But what about the most important element to statehood? Officially, IS is not recognized by any other state. IS can call itself a state all it wants, but until another state acknowledges them as one, they are not in the club. This is not for lack of trying, however. In a recent video, IS recognized Taiwan — perhaps hoping to get a return scratch on the back.

Iraq-Syria-border

Islamic State literally destroying the border between Iraq and Syria in a figurative gesture (IS social media photo)

Curiously, a major source of IS revenue is oil sales. Yet if no state has recognized IS, then who is buying their oil? (Assad, actually, among others.) This implies that IS does actually have some sort of de facto recognition from the international community and demonstrates that they do have some ability to enter in relations with other states. For the time being, it appears they can only do so discreetly.

The end of the Syrian state

While the YPG’s Rojava and Islamic State cannot be considered full-fledged states yet, they are certainly on their way. The current state of their existence has delegitimized Syria to a point that the Syria we knew before 2011 has ceased to exist — probably forever. We have seen that various actors in Syria have started to fit the classical definition of the state: monopolizing violence, controlling territory, having a population, and governing. As the global community begins or continues to enter into relations with these actors, new states may form and we will have finally stepped fully into a post-Syria Middle East.


Update: I did eventually write another post on how Islamic IS is. You can read it here.