Here’s your Situation Update for February 14th, 2018

Manning the gun

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 (nobody does conventional warfare anymore — it’s too popular).

The weather forecast this morning is dry with a 70% chance of media-induced feelings of inadequacy. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

United States to add Pakistan to terror financing list according to a senior Pakistan official. The U.S. will likely introduce a motion next week when the Financial Action Task Force meets in Paris. This move comes after the U.S. suspended $1.3 billion in aid to Pakistan last month.

But the U.S. admitted to financing terrorism itself, in effect, when the Director of National Intelligence stated American allies, the YPG, were “the Syrian militia of the Kurdistan Workers Party.” The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, is officially listed as a Foreign Terror Organization by the State Department. The Turkish government has long claimed the YPG were part of the PKK, but the YPG and the U.S. has denied these claims.

Whose problem are British Islamic State fighters is something that Britain and the U.S. do not agree about. The British government thinks the fighters are now Iraq or Syria or somebody else’s problem, while the U.S. thinks those fighters should stand trial in Britain, and if the not there, then at least go to Guantanamo.

Iran asks U.S. to leave Syria, defending its own military presence there as legitimate as it was invited by the Syrian government. Iran now joins Syrian rebels and Turkey in calling for a U.S. withdrawal. In response, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanded Iran-backed militias out of Syria. He also asked the same in Iraq in October, but so far they have not complied.

The Taliban reaches out to Americans directly in a 16,000 word letter sent to the media. “Prolonging the war in Afghanistan and maintaining American troop presence is neither beneficial for America nor for anyone else,” they say. True enough, but the Taliban doesn’t understand that the American people, by and large, just don’t give a shit.

Former Bush Administration official to be new Syria envoy in the latest example of nothing matters and time is a flat circle. Mr. Hannah served as Dick Cheney’s deputy national security adviser for the Middle East and later as his national security adviser.

An Afghan Shiite militia helped defeat Islamic State in Syria and a new piece in War on the Rocks examines what their next move may be. The militia is supported by Iran and many of the Afghan militiamen’s families live in Iran, but the many of the seasoned combat veterans have been fighting for years and they may prove useful to Iran elsewhere.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section, but answers were given up for Lent. 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 15th, 2018.

What Does It Mean to Retake Ramadi?

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 10.43.05 AM

(Reuters/Stringer Photo)

By now we have learned the Iraqi Special Operation Forces (ISOF)-led operation to take Ramadi back from Islamic State (IS) has been mostly successful, retaking the government center and leaving only the eastern part of the city in IS control. In print, these words are sterile, devoid of context or richer meaning. A city “falling” reminds us of a domino toppling—a swift, deft, inevitable culmination of a small amount of external energy and a large amount of natural law.

Yet for the soldiers on the ground taking a city is an arduous crawl perfused by hidden dangers. When I was in Iraq, I never had to do the type of brutal house to house clearing that ISOF is doing now so it is difficult for me to conceptualize. But even during training, stacking outside of a door at a shoot house always brought an adrenaline-laden feeling of excitement of anticipation and nervousness of uncertainty. Luckily, VICE News has been producing some of the best mini-documentaries on the wars in Iraq and Syria to date.

In their latest video, Retaking Ramadi From the Islamic State: The Battle for Iraq (Dispatch 11), a journalist embedded with the Iraqi Golden Division (ISOF) describes the then-ongoing conflict for the city center. With bodies littering the streets, sniper teams take shots from rooftops and troops discover IS tunnels and caches.

What is most striking about this video to me is the role of the United States in this battle. In an interview, an Iraqi soldier describes the coalition airstrikes they relied on:

We should thank the Russians, because they encouraged America to increase their bombing. They helped our forces. Any place they find a threat to us, they [the US-led coalition] hit. We’ve started to give them coordinates—whatever coordinates we give them to hit, they blow up. It’s not like before [emphasis added.]

For me, thinking about this quote starts a long chain of causal relationships. Without the United States, the Iraqi government would likely not have retaken Ramadi. So are the US’s renewed efforts in Iraq good, just, necessary? In this instance, limited to this battle, it seems obvious. But during an interview with a masked ISOF member about sectarianism, this clarity on the US’s role becomes more ambiguous.

Warning: the following section contains graphic description of torture:

Do you want me to tell you how the militants kidnapped me? They took me to a house, they hung me upside down and lashed me. Then they took me down and put two nails and held me to the wall, another here [points to wrist] to hold my other arm. They got pliers and pulled out my nails. I fainted every time they pulled a nail, but they made sure I was awake before pulling the next one. He also cut my forehead, making a long cut across my forehead. He wanted to cut off my face. Unbelievable. What’s wrong with them? I kept saying I don’t work for the Americans.

In this instance it is his involvement with America that makes him the target for abduction and torture. And worse, the Shi’a militia that captured him is part of the side that we are backing against the Sunni IS. Much of the sectarian strife in Iraq was caused by the 2003 invasion. So much for moral clarity.