Here’s your Situation Update for May 21, 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 humid with a 50% chance of hate-reading something today. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

The Syrian army captured the last rebel stronghold near Damascus, the completely destroyed Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp. This marks the first time since the civil war began seven years ago that the Syrian government controlled its capital and surrounding neighborhoods. Rebels still control territory in the Northwest and Southwest and foreign governments like Turkey and the United States control portions of Syria as well.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed to crush Iranian proxies around the world in a starkly undiplomatic speech to the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, a former Iranian proxy just won the most seats in parliament in the Iraqi election. So good luck with that, Mike.

Violence in Afghanistan is getting worse. Attacks are becoming more frequent in Kabul and locals are dealing with the same PTSD as returning American servicemembers, but they don’t get to escape.

Speaking of PTSD, Gazan paramedics are also suffering as they treated hundreds of injuries during last week’s protests at the border fence with Israel. Most injuries were tear gas and gunshot wounds from Israeli security forces. “I notice when I’m talking to my neighbors or my family, I get angry easily,” said one medic.

At NATO, where southern members have felt frustrated at a lack of attention, the removal of an Italian painting is “not a metaphor” according to the Italian ambassador. NATO will plan how to address southern members’ security concerns including counterterrorism and refugees from Africa and the Middle East.

Multiple bombings injured three people in Thailand on Sunday. A decades-long separatist insurgency has been taking place in the predominantly Buddhist Thailand’s Malay, Muslim provinces.

The Saudi military destroyed a Houthi missile fired at Jazan airbase. Reuters provided this context:

“The Houthis have fired a salvo of missiles at Saudi Arabia in recent months, including the capital, Riyadh, while the coalition launched thousands of air strikes against Houthi-held areas, killing hundreds of civilians at hospitals, schools and markets.”

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

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

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A U.S. Marine on a patrol near Bost Airfield, Afghanistan, April 21, 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 humid with a 30% chance of reaching a level of cynicism so deep it will be considered transcendental. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

“The city is closed, people are panicked and in a state of fear. Some people left their homes and fled the city, some are trapped,” said an Afghan Minister of Parliament from Farah, a city of 50,000 that was mostly captured by Taliban fighters today. The attack began at 2:00 a.m. local time and quickly overran most of the city causing the governor of the province to flee. Some areas of the city including the police headquarters are still contested. If Farah is completely taken, it will be the second major city taken by the Taliban since the U.S. invasion in 2001. “We do look towards a victory in Afghanistan, but not a military victory. The victory will be a political reconciliation.” said Secretary of Defense James Mattis earlier this month.

“We can’t put all these people in jail,” said an Israeli government spokesperson when asked why the IDF was shooting dead protesters at the fence enclosing occupied Gaza. The U.N. Humans Rights Commissioner said among those killed are “women, children, journalists, first responders and bystanders.”

Maybe we didn’t export American-style democracy to Iraq after all, since Kurdish political parties engaged in a gunfight after election results were announced. Many expected the two major political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), to fair poorly in the election after the many political losses the Kurds faced after the failed referendum last year. After local news announced that the KDP and PUK gained seats, the leading opposition party, Gorran, accused them of election fraud. In response, the PUK sent Peshmerga fighters in technicals to shoot at Gorran’s headquarters and a short gunfight ensued. Nothing says “this was a legitimate election” like attacking your political rival’s headquarters with machine guns.

Iraq continued air strikes in Syria this week and announced it destroyed an Islamic State “command and logistics support center.” Before these strikes, Iraq had not attacked its neighbors since the 1991 invasion of Kuwait. After decades of American destruction and assistance, it is now able to once again.

Houthis rockets struck military targets in SaudiArabia according to their television media division. Houthi rocket attacks in Saudi Arabia are the reason the Department of Defense says it deployed Special Forces soldiers to the Saudi border with Yemen.

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

Here’s your Situation Update for February 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.

With Major Operations in Iraq and Syria Ongoing, Pentagon Wants to Begin a Third Urban Campaign in Yemen

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Town near Mosul, Iraq burning during the Mosul offensive in 2016 (Mstyslav Charnov/Wikimedia Commons photo)

According to Buzzfeed, the Department of Defense continued its quest to back a new campaign to take a major port city in Yemen at a meeting last Thursday.

The assault on the Houthi-controlled city of Hodeida would be led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia but supported by U.S. military logistics and intelligence — likely aerial refueling and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) — American capabilities in demand by allies.

The meeting was requested by aid agencies who had concerns over the humanitarian impact of the operation. The Pentagon official assured that the operation would be “clean” and only take weeks.

The Trump Administration has ramped up military options in Yemen since coming to power. In January, the first American service member to die under Trump’s Administration happened during a botched raid on al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants there.

The tempo has increased so much that the U.S. launched more airstrikes on AQAP targets during one week in March than it did in any single year during the Obama Administration.

But an attack on the Port of Hodeida would be targeting Houthis — Shiite rebels supported by Iran — not AQAP, significantly increasing the scope of U.S. involvement in the now two year old civil Yemeni civil war.

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Yemen territorial control map. Green = Houthis, Red = Yemeni Government, Black = al-Qaida (Yemen Conflict Maps graphic)

This escalation of military responsibility in Yemen is what is known as “mission creep” and is a sign of a lack of strategy and usually a longer than anticipated commitment.

In the civil war in Syria, what began as non-military aid turned into funding, training and intelligence, then air strikes, and now American ground troops in country.

The Trump Administration may not authorize the Hodeida operation, but it and further involvement is not out of the realm of possibility. Trump has shown an eagerness to allow the Pentagon greater freedom to wage war. Last week, Trump bragged that he had given the military “total authorization“.

One thing is certain: an American war in Yemen will not be short or “clean”. Such a fanciful idea should be seen for the foolishness it is.

Considering the decades-long-without-success American involvement in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa, we should realistically expect as much anywhere we consider increasing American military presence in the region.

If ongoing urban campaigns in Iraq and Syria are a sign of what may come, then thousands of civilian deaths, the devastation of the city, and a humanitarian disaster is a reasonable prediction.

The United States and the ‘Fight for the Future of Islam’

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Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul (Ben Lieu Song photo)

Yesterday, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut sent out a mass email asking for feedback on a speech on United States relationships in the Middle East that he gave to the Council on Foreign Relations last January. Murphy is a Democrat who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has styled himself as the leader of a movement for a progressive foreign policy.

Murphy’s foreign policy goals are a marked difference from the early 2000s Neoconservative foreign policy of preemptive war and this decade’s Neoliberal foreign policy of endless covert war. Murphy calls for increasing foreign aid spending versus defense spending, the end the president’s authority to wage limitless war, and reigning in mass surveillance and drone strikes.

“Is it the role of the US to provide theological guidance?”

In his speech about US policy in the Middle East, Murphy makes it clear that he understands how our ally, Saudi Arabia, makes the world less secure by investing enormous amounts of money in spreading Wahhabism, a Saudi form of Sunni Islam that is considered intolerant by the West. At the end of his speech, he argues that it is time to stop being myopic when it comes to our relationships in the Middle East:

“If we are serious about constructing a winning strategy to defeat ISIS and Al Qaeda, then our horizons have to extend beyond the day to day, here and now, fight in Iraq and Syria.

We need admit that there is a fight on for the future of Islam, and we can’t sit on the sidelines. Both parties in Washington need to acknowledge this reality, and the U.S. needs to lead by example by ending our effective acquiescence to the Saudi export of intolerant Islam.

And we need to be careful not to blindly back our friend’s plays in conflicts that simply create more instability, more political and security vacuums, into which ISIS and other extremist groups can fill, like what is going in Yemen today.”

I commend the Senator on his unusually canny understanding of the Middle East and Central Asia. It is refreshing to see frankness instead of mealy-mouthed support of least bad options in our relationships there. After all, often it is our allies who cause many of the problems we attempt to solve, from Pakistan protecting the Taliban (and the US-designated terrorist Haqqani network, and perhaps Osama Bin Laden), to Israel and its illegal settlements in occupied Palestine, to the Gulf States arming jihadist groups in Syria.

However, sandwiched between two great points in the quote above, the Senator makes a very troubling remark: “We need admit that there is a fight on for the future of Islam, and we can’t sit on the sidelines.”

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Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut (US Senate photo)

Murphy should reflect about what that statement means. Is it the role of the US to provide theological guidance? Does it have the right to get off the “sidelines” (and is a sports reference appropriate)? The separation of government and religion is a cornerstone of American democracy. While the US does have some history hypocritically prohibiting the free exercise of religion abroad, Murphy must understand that making a statement about the US’s role in the “fight for the future of Islam” is exactly the type of shortsightedness that he is rejecting.

It should be plainly obvious that most of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims would not support the government of the nominally secular, culturally Christian United States making any decisions on the future of their religion. If he thinks the anti-Americanism in madrasas is bad now, just wait until they find out that the US is getting off the sidelines in fight for the future of Islam.

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Men praying in Afghanistan (Wikimedia Commons photo)

I think Murphy is an ambitious, smart guy who truly wants the best for the US and I admire the type of world he is attempting to create. Perhaps the sentence in question was simply a phrasing error — I would like to think that he does not believe the US government should have a prominent role in shaping a religion. Nonetheless, Murphy must be aware of how that type of messaging will backfire among the people he is attempting to fight for.

Murphy’s team asked for feedback on his speech. I urge them to consider this point when talking about Middle East policy in the future.