The current situation of US Forces in Iraq and Syria
Despite some initial strategic and political doubts, the United States has kept on maintaining and strengthening its military presence in Syria, especially in the Eastern part of the country, as well as in Western Iraq.
There are now over 400 US military soldiers already stationed in Syria, with approximately 200 in the North, i.e. in the Aleppo region and in the Eastern Euphrates area.
The US forces arrived in Syria directly from the Iraqi Kurdistan, through the border crossing of Al-Waleed.
According to the latest information, this includes 70 means of transport and other vehicles for transporting oil, as well as for armament and logistical support.
The total number amounts to over 250 vehicles.
The convoy is mainly heading for the base of Ayn al-Arab, north-east of Aleppo, but also for Jabaleh, north of Raqqa.
Indeed, this continues the policy of maintenance and, sometimes, expansion of US troops in the region – a US policy that has been going on since last January.
Other 200 soldiers have just been deployed to the Jordanian base of Al-Tanf.
Initially that base had been created to counter Daesh-Isis, but now it runs almost on the side of the most convenient and likely line of communication between Iraq and Iran – a line that, thanks to the current presence of US forces, is becoming the breaking point of the “Shiite crescent” that is supposed to connect, by land, Tehran and the Hezbollah positions in the Lebanon.
Hence, if we consider an amount of US soldiers already present on the Israeli-Syrian border- not confirmed by President Trump, but very likely to be there -the American soldiers in Syria total 1,000, while other US intelligence sources talk about over 1,500 US soldiers who are expected to remain in Northern Syria.
The bases that the United States will use are six.
They are all located in Iraq, exactly where the Daesh-Isis jihadists are heading after their final defeat in Syria.
Nevertheless, this is the second target.
The Marines are present above all in a base near Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar Governorate, which is 1,110 kilometres away from Baghdad.
The US reinforcements arrived also at K1, a North American base near Kirkuk.
After having served as collection point for the troops operating in Syria and for all armaments and infrastructure, currently the K1 base serves to control the Northern part of the Syrian-Iraqi border, on the side of the Kurdistan sector in Iraq.
The third US organized presence in Iraq is the air base of Ayn al-Asad, which was visited by President Trump last Christmas.
Hence, a simple strategic deduction is already possible: the US forces in Iraq are such as to allow full land and air control throughout Iraq. Therefore the six bases are capable of ensuring continuity between the Iraqi command on the border with Syria and the rest of the US strategy in the Middle East.
There is also the aforementioned Al-Tanf base, which is now fully operational, located just 24 kilometres away from the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi triple border. Said base has been strengthened with Marines and electronic networks, in addition to new heavy artillery positions.
Also the base of Al-Raqqa – the old “capital” of the Caliphate in Syria, is already active. Another base which is still operational is the Remelin base, north-east of Hasakeh, which has always been the political centre of the Kurds.
Thanks to this new configuration, the control of US forces on the ground is such as to check the movements, intelligence and communications of a wide part of the Iraqi territory, between Hasakeh and Tanf, right in the middle of the border between Syria and Iraq.
Hence what is the strategic logic underlying this new deployment and configuration of US forces in the Syrian-Iraqi region?
There is a simple answer to this question: US pressure on the Golan Heights, which means very clear military and political support for the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
As is well-known, the Israeli part of the Golan Heights was conquered by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) during the “Six-Day War” of 1967. Nevertheless, in 1981 the Israeli Parliament, namely the Knesset, enacted the Golan Heights Act, which extended the Israeli law, civil administration and jurisdiction throughout the territory.
As we may recall, at the end of the “Six-Day War” of 1967Israel conquered as many as three specific territories: the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt and obviously the Golan Heights from Syria.
Again in that phase, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242 – also known as Land for Peace – which proposed, in principle, a stable and formalized peace between Israel and the neighbouring Arab countries, in exchange for a partial or total return of the territories to the previous sovereign States.
Before 1967, over 150,000 Syrians lived in the Golan Heights, while currently 25,000 Druze Arabs, most of them Syrian citizens, live in the area, as well as over 20,000 Jewish settlers, but all those living there are anyway liable to Israeli citizenship.
In 1981 Israel announced the simultaneous annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights while, shortly afterwards, with Resolution 497 the UN Security Council condemned the Jewish State only for the annexation of the Golan Heights.
There were negotiations, even secret (in 2010), between Israel and Syria on the issue of the Golan Heights’ sovereignty.
At strategic level, the area is extremely important for both Israel and Syria.
In the Golan Heights, however, there is also the drainage basin of River Jordan, Lake Tiberias, the Yarmuk River and of some underground water networks reaching up to the Mediterranean coast.
Not to mention oil. Allegedly, oil reserves – worth millions of barrels – have recently been discovered under the Golan Heights territory.
Certainly, while – on the one hand – this Trump’s announcement for support to the Israeli designs on the Golan Heights has its strategic rationality in relation to the US interests in the region, on the other, it can also be interpreted as strong support for the electoral campaign of Benjamin Netanyahu, who still seems to be the US favourite candidate.
President Trump’s policy on the Golan Heights, however, is new and, to some extent, contradictory.
The United States, especially in the Middle East, has always been thinking of negotiations on the territories as a result of direct talks between the parties concerned.
Moreover, the international law which is currently in force, however, does not recognize the Israeli sovereignty over the territories occupied during the 1967 war.
It should also be noted that in 2010 Israel offered a sort of Land for Peace agreement to Syria.
Nevertheless negotiations ended in March 2011, obviously due to the beginning of the Syrian civil war.
At the time, however, the Golan Heights were for Israel without any control from Syria and were characterized by of war between the Al-Nusra Front, also described as al- Qaeda in Syria, Isis-Daesh and some other jihadist groups.
What was the use of dealing with Assad?
Furthermore, still today, Syria does not ensure any support to the population and security for the Golan Heights: currently only Israel provides water and basic services, while also taking care of the economy and, obviously, internal security of the area.
As early as Barack Obama’s time, Netanyahu has also been asking for the US “green light” for annexation.
Hence, at a time when President Trump wants to control the areas of the Golan Heights from the centre of Syria and Iraq, the US and Israeli goal is to disrupt the terrestrial line between Iran (and Iraq) up to Syria and Southern Lebanon and, above all, the Mediterranean – which is also the primary goal of Iran’s participation in the Syrian war.
This was the subject of the negotiations held on March 18 last, in the secret meeting between Iraqi, Syrian and Iranian leaders.
Moreover, for President Trump, even if the operations in “Syraq” were supported also by Putin – as currently seems to be the case – they would be designed to reach a clear goal, i.e. stopping every operation aimed at the unification between Syria and Lebanon.
Furthermore, the idea of a “common market” between Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Lebanon is now widespread among the ruling classes of the region.
It is an obvious strategic expedient.
However, it will certainly not be the subject of the negotiations between the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and the Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, from whom the former wants to know one thing only, i.e. whether the Lebanon accepts to be part of the Iran-Syria-Iraq-Hezbollah axis. In this case the United States will hit- with harsh sanctions – the Lebanese banking system, which is already undergoing a severe crisis, while the other steps of the US Presidency in the Middle East – after the recognition of the Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights – will be the following: a tightening of sanctions on Iran; the possible conquest of a military base in Northern Lebanon and, finally, strong military presence in both the Golan Heights and the other areas, albeit within the Israeli region.
Beyond the Battlefield
Since the beginning of time, wars and conflicts have been an inextricable part of human history. As such, they have developed in lockstep with the complex interactions between social, political, and technological changes that have shaped our world. Warfare’s methods and goals have undergone a significant metamorphosis, moving from crude and simple engagements to ones that are sophisticated and complex. Armed conflicts have expanded to take on global proportions with the advent of destructive world wars, and are no longer restricted to simple tribal or regional skirmishes. In addition to transcending their religious roots, these conflicts are now driven by nationalistic imperatives, giving rise to wars with geopolitical goals.
However, in the fierce race to reach the pinnacle of technological achievement with the introduction of a revolutionary artificial intelligence-powered search engine, issues of veracity and the widespread dissemination of false information are the most crucial issues of our time. These worries are well-founded because the consequences of a poorly functioning search engine could distort reality, worsen the already virulent spread of false information, and cause irreparable harm to the fabric of truth.
Additionally, warfare has changed from being characterized by linear battles to being characterized by maneuver warfare, placing greater emphasis on flexibility, agility, and strategic maneuvering. Armed engagements have evolved from primitive first-generation manifestations to the complex dynamics of fourth-generation warfare. They now involve a variety of unconventional tactics such as asymmetric tactics, psychological operations, and information warfare. Thus, in order to successfully navigate the complexity of the modern battlefield, this evolution calls for both a thorough understanding of the many facets of modern warfare and the adoption of adaptive strategies.
Simultaneously, the concept of fifth-generation warfare, also known as hybrid warfare, denotes a paradigm shift in contemporary military tactics, where the importance of cultural warfare, information warfare, and unconventional methods surpasses the conventional use of brute force on the battlefield, as seen in third- and fourth-generation warfare. India is said to be using 5th-generation warfare strategies against Pakistan to sow seeds of enmity and spread false information in an effort to block Pakistan’s progress. Moreover, India is using all of its resources to undermine Pakistani society in a number of different domains. Pakistan to modernize its weaponry and armed forces given the strategic landscape of South Asia, which is becoming more complex and volatile, especially given India’s use of fifth-generation warfare against Pakistan.
Relatedly, information warfare has undeniably grown significantly important in the effort to effectively project Pakistan’s narrative both domestically and internationally. A well-calibrated national response reinforced by a clearly defined foreign policy is required in light of the double-edged nature of fifth-generation warfare. Modern times see a rapid spread of irregular wars across the spectrum of conflict, amid intensifying great power competition, as the nature of warfare changes continuously.
Modern warfare has undergone a sea change as a result of the advancement of information technology, which makes it easier for nontraditional actors like violent extremist groups to communicate. We find ourselves ensconced in a world permeated by high tension, accompanied by a flood of tweets, ranging from the tumultuous battlefields in Ukraine to a pernicious terrorist attack on mass transit inside the borders of the United States. Our insatiable appetite for knowledge is driven by a desire to protect our safety, show compassion for those who are suffering, or see wrongdoers brought to justice. Despite our desire for knowledge, we must maintain an appropriate level of skepticism toward the sources that provide it. After all, we are living in a time that is frequently referred to as the “golden age of fake news.”
Today’s conflicts are largely not fought between nation-states and their armies; instead, they are increasingly fought with the mighty arsenal of words rather than with traditional weapons. In recent years, policy discussions, popular discourse, and academic analyses have given priority to a particular breed of weaponry: “fake news” and viral disinformation. In reality, disinformation used in warfare in the digital age may not differ much from other forms of warfare; after all, wars are fought to establish power, with some reaping financial rewards while the most vulnerable suffer the most.
The problem of fake news has gotten worse since the Internet and social networks were invented. The conventional news model, which involved a small number of media outlets run by experienced journalists who interviewed reliable sources and meticulously verified the information before it was published, has been overturned by the current media environment. Today, there are numerous channels, a never-ending stream of messages, and an environment where contradictory information is frequently overlooked that all contribute to the relative ease with which conspiracy theories and rumors can spread. The temptation to cling to a simpler fiction rather than taking on the laborious task of dissecting a more complex reality grows as we are frequently presented with contradictory messages.
United States Donates $9 million in Weapons, Equipment to Support Somalia National Army
Official reports here said the United States through its diplomatic office in Mogadishu has presented $9 million in weapons, vehicles, medical supplies and other equipment to the Somali National Army (SNA). The ceremony was attended by Minister of Defense Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Jama and U.S. Ambassador Larry André.
Aside from heavy weapons, equipment included support and construction vehicles, explosive ordinance disposal kits, medical supplies, and maintenance equipment for vehicles and weapons. Most of the supplies are already on their way to Hishabelle and Galmudug States to support SNA troops.
“We cheer the success achieved by Somali security forces in their historic fight to liberate Somali communities suffering under al-Shabaab,” said Ambassador André. “This is a Somali-led and Somali-fought campaign. The United States reaffirms commitment to support country’s efforts.”
Minister of Defense Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Jama thanked the United States, saying, “Allow me to convey the appreciation of the Federal Government of Somalia to the Government of the United States of America for the continued support to Somalia’s peacebuilding process and the support for the fight against terrorism. This support comes at a critical time for our forces as we boost their capabilities to combat al-Shabaab.”
The Minister was joined by Chief of Defense Forces Brigadier General Odowaa Yusuf Rageh for the ceremony.
The weapons, including light and heavy machine guns were purchased with U.S. Department of Defense funding. They are marked and registered pursuant to the Federal Government of Somalia’s Weapons and Ammunition Management policy, designed to account for and control weapons within the Somali security forces and weapons captured on the battlefield.
Notification to the UN Security Council is conducted by the Federal Government of Somalia in close coordination with the Office of Security Cooperation of U.S. Embassy Mogadishu in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.
The weapons will support SNA-Danab battalions, including battalions currently participating in operations in Hirshabelle and Galmudug. The weapons will provide a significant increase in the lethality and mobility of the SNA-Danab units participating in these operations. Somalia and its neighbouring States have come under frequent heightened militant attacks in the Horn of Africa.
From Strategic depth to Strategic Threat
On 30th December, in broad daylight, the hub of Peshawar and administrative center was targeted by the militants with the explosion of a deadly bomb, leaving behind 59 dead. the attack was claimed by the TTP Mohmand faction, whose leadership is allegedly residing in Afghanistan.
The issue of Afghanistan has occupied a consequential part of the strategic culture of Pakistan. Following the partition, with the specter of Pashtun Nationalism looming large on the horizon, policymakers in Pakistan opted for a policy of Islamic Nationalism, which became a cornerstone of strategic thinking during the era of General Zia-ul-Haq in the wake of the Afghan Jihad War in 1979.
Islamic nationalism was seen as only the means through which Pashtun Nationalism could be confronted and subdued.
With the adoption of this policy, swiftly and generously, aid from US, UAE and KSA began to inundate the territory of Pakistan, carrying each their national interests with it.
Within a short period, thousands of new madrassas were established, cultivating youngsters by inculcating the concept of Jihadism.
This formation of an alliance with the US in the Afghan Jihad war was driven by two factors; first, to subdue the dominant Pashtun Nationalism with Islamic Nationalism, and second, to establish an Islamabad-friendly regime in Afghanistan so that any terrorist group could not use Afghan territory while keeping New Delhi at bay, by not letting her establish any foothills in Afghanistan.
Fast forward to 2023, the facts on the group are now telling a different story. Islamabad’s once “strategic depth” is now becoming a distant dream as Pakistan is now confronted by insurmountable problems from all sides
According to the data collected by the Pak Institute of Peace Studies, Islamabad, in the past two years, Pakistan has encountered 100 terrorist attacks, and yet, the recent surge of terrorist activities shows no signs of cooling down in the formidable future. This is clearly evident from the news coming from the casualties on the daily basis of the security forces of Pakistan, mostly on the border areas, and the havoc it caused to the infrastructure. Officially, it is estimated that in the last six months, around 350 military personnel have lost their lives, while the outlawed group has claimed even more than that. These occurrences elucidate the failure of the Pakistani state to effectively persuade the Taliban regime not to let the Afghan territory be used against Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty.
Now, who is to be blamed, if not our flawed policies, and the masters of shortsightedness. Lately, upon leaving his office, the ex-COAS scapegoated Imran Khan who initiated the dialogue with the outlawed group, TTP. While Imran Khan, on the other hand, said that the army was on board when the negotiation decision with the TTP was taken. These inconspicuous but powerful statements clearly reveal the uncertainty of our policymakers while dealing with a sensitive topic. Besides that, it also shows how the wizards of policy making and governance are not on the same page while dealing with the Afghanistan issue.
Recently, a document was released by the National Counter Terrorism Authority and presented to the senate committee where discoveries pertaining to the ceasefire between the government of Pakistan and TTP were made. According to the report, the truce initiated by the PTI-led government last year had utterly emboldened the TTP.
With careful planning and shrewd utilization of resources, they were able to revive themselves both logistically and materially. Once the truce between the two parties was over, yet again, a surge in violent attacks was documented.
Beside the challenge of TTP, the Afghan Taliban shows no signs of a positive stance for the Durand line issue. In an interview, the information minister, Zabiullah Mujahid, said, “The issue of the Durand line is still an unresolved one, while the construction of fencing itself creates rifts between a nation spread across both sides of the border. It amounts to dividing a nation”.
Another prominent concern is the time to time border shelling. On Dec 11, 2022, the Taliban forces heavily shelled a town on the outstrips of the Pakistani border leaving behind seven civilian casualties. A few days later, on Dec 15, another exchange of fire took place, claiming one more life. Although, not much heed has been given to such reports, it seems the genie is out of the bottle now.
Last but not least, the Taliban had even scapegoated Pakistan through which the US drone was flown that killed the top Al Qaeda leader, Ayman Al Zawahiri.
The cherry on top happens to be the readiness of the new system to exhibit the disposition of candour in their interactions with India. The Taliban defense minister, Mullah Yahoob, has expressed his desire for the training of Afghan troops by Pakistan’s arch-rival India. If this goes according to the plan, the dependent policy of Afghanistan on Pakistan will diminish and create new challenges for Pakistan. India, by using Afghan soil, can embolden and logistically support the liberation movements in Balochistan and Sindh, thus exacerbating the already precarious situation.
It’s high time to call a spade a spade!
Our Policymakers must accept that the old strategic depth policy inside Afghanistan has begun to fail. Taliban 2.0 are entirely in contrast to its 1.0 version in terms of statecraft. They are more pluralistic in their policies, and economically, they are far more independent compared to the 90s. This time, they want to cut deals directly with the regional states. It may appear unilateral, but rather it’s a mutually desired engagement as other states have expressed interests in establishing relations with Afghanistan while considering them a new and inevitable reality.
Meanwhile, China is feathering its own nest, and is more concerned about the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). She does not want Afghanistan to be used as a pawn by an insurgent group in the great game against China.
Considering these dynamic global realities, Pakistan must abrogate its old policy towards Afghanistan and focus on a unanimous policy towards Afghanistan. For the success of a cohesive and effective anti-terrorism strategy it is contingent for policymakers to align their viewpoints against the new resurgent groups. And last but not the least , a collective action by the military, politicians and society is necessary.
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