Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

What an interesting drama this has turned out to be.

Russia reports they detected no activity near the site where the US claims the operation occurred.

The US reports that Baghdadi “whimpered and cried” before blowing himself up in an underground tunnel.

In our world where truth seems to be an elusive commodity, we are left to wonder. Let’s consider the facts.

First, despite the fact that we might rightly not trust politicians and governments in general, because they do often lie, it is not common for the military to blatantly lie. Not a lie as in say something happened when it did not. The military will lie, has lied and does lie about the scope and nature of things – but generally not so far as to fabricate a complete fiction; not generally.

Second, it seems unlikely that if the operation occurred that one could actually know that Baghdadi whimpered and cried in a tunnel and that he actually blew himself up, as opposed to say perhaps someone else did the act of blowing those in the tunnel up. It is difficult to state unequvically that he did the whimpering and the blowing up of himself. These are small details but perhaps items that were just best to leave out of the narrative, as they diminish rather than enhance credibility. (yes, there exists technology that would make the knowing, or at least suspecting with a high degree of certainty, the facts of what occurred in the tunnel possible but this is still not relevant to the story).

The operation was reportedly conducted by Delta. These guys are not the ball bouncing amateur SEALS. It is highly unlikely there will ever be an interview, book or movie about this created with the cooperation of any SFOD-D team member. That is not how these guys operate.

It is possible if the reports are correct and the 75th Ranger Regiment provided cordon security for the operation, that some enterprising reporter might track down enough current members of the Ranger regiment and confirm or deny that such an operation occurred on the specified date. This will take time, those youngsters will not talk whilst they are still in the regiment if they hope to remain there.

It is likely this all occurred. It is likely the US suspected with a high degree of fidelity that Baghdadi was there and we are likely pretty confident he could not have escaped the cordon. It is logical to assume that he died.

It is just odd. If the event occurred and if the US government wanted to hold this out as a win why not exploit the site after the operation -of course, after the guys that conducted the event were extracted. Like we used to say when I was an OC/T, “pictures and video or it did not happen.” Why not allow and information operations and a combat camera crew a few moments on the site to document things after it was over? Why rush to dispose of Baghdadi in the ocean so soon after he died? More importantly, why even make a big deal of this at all. If you killed him, great, why talk about it?

I spent two rotations in the middle-east on a team that every evening geared up and departed our little base to hunt folks on a target list. Every night, as soon as it was dark until the early morning we were out raiding houses, blowing holes in walls, kicking in doors and detaining or killing big and small targets. (I was just a geek with some skills in geolocating, validating the target and exploiting some of the stuff left behind).

The thing about the guys on all these target lists, none of them are the villains from a James Bond movie. They are not super-geniuses, hiding out in lairs with extensive and technologically advanced defenses. They are not world-changing philosophers or thinkers that will change the nature of the world with their ideas. These are all just regular guys, many of them with good leadership skills, but regular guys that adhere to an ideology that is different than our own. It is like whack-a-mole, detain or kill one and another pops us. You simply cannot shift the center of gravity of an ideological fight by whacking a few moles.

Baghdadi was just a bigger, fatter mole. He was the leader of a group that did bad things and for that he deserved punishment. However, killing him will not change the world. He deserved to die, kill him and move on, making him out to be a supervillain, hero or a martyr simply inspires others to someday be him.

Confusion on Syria

On the 16th of October, I went out on a limb and postulated that perhaps there was a bigger strategy and significant goings-on behind the scenes in the apparent sudden US withdrawal from Northern Syria. As facts have become clearer I believe I was wrong.

First, we learn that the troops leaving Syria that the US initially stated would move to Western Iraq, to be “in the neighborhood”, are not welcomed. US troops relocating from Syria have four weeks to stay in Iraq (Military Times, 23 October). Some news agencies report that Iraq went so far as to prepare official complaints to the UN regarding the movement of US troops into its territory. This demonstrates, pretty clearly, that there was no strategy, or plan and no coordination with Iraq. Perhaps at best there was an assumption but assumptions are bad planning.

If the plan all along was to keep an eye on a resurgence of ISIS from Iraq, one would think that coordination with Iraq would be a key element to work out before announcing a departure from Northern Syria. However, three days ago we read, US military struggles to find a strategy amid sudden policy changes in CENTCOM region (Military Times, 22 October).

Finally, yesterday the US announced, After American troop withdrawal, Trump shifts focus to Syria oil fields (Military Times, 24 October).

Let’s use a first principle to analyze this:

The same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time

We cannot say;

“they fight over there all the time, it is not our fight”

AND

“We need to be close to keep things under control” (Western Iraq) and when that fails, “we need to send troops back to Syria.”

Either it is true that we have no compelling strategic interest in Syria that requires us to risk blood and treasure, OR, we do. In either case, the manner in which we have executed this honestly makes no reasoned sense. We cannot claim that both are at the same time true and false.

Is this all a result of the “Military-Industrial Complex” pushing back to keep the status quo?

Is it a result of what Ann Coulter called in a recent Frontline interview a phenomenon where Trump acts on the last piece of advice he gets and more hawkish voices got to him?

Is this the “3D Chess” that some apologists suggest?

Was this a result of the Intelligence and Military community’s propensity to see the boogeyman behind every rock and pushing to get back in the fight?

Only time will tell.

Syria, The Kurds and Russia

Over the course of my Army career, I had numerous opportunities to live with, train, fight beside and become friends with Kurds.  I am not unlike many others that had the same experiences over the last two decades in that my interactions with the Kurds left me with a sense of respect, admiration and affection for them. 

Naturally, I felt an initial sense of bewilderment and some anger last week at what seemed a sudden US policy shift relative to the Kurds.  We have had many foreign partners and extra-national compatriots over the years but in my and many other’s experiences, none match the overall worthiness and decency of the Kurds.  Also, considering this is not the first, but rather the third, major policy betrayal of the Kurds by the US in the last 30 years this all just felt wrong.  I made real friends among Kurdish soldiers, this all touched me on a personal level.

However, once I put emotions aside and began to analyze what has occurred critically, I have come to suspect that something much bigger has occurred.  The narrative spun by “national security experts” and parroted by hyperbolic media is an inaccurate picture of these events because none of these folks seems to be taking into account actual facts.

Facts

Despite the Kurds being one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without a country of their own it has never been a US policy tenet to support the formation of such – our partnership with the Kurds in Syria was always within the context of a restored Syria.

The “moderate” elements so often touted by liberal pundits and neoconic warhawks, were never really that moderate.  Many of those elements are now threatening genocide on the Kurds in support of Turkey (and by extension Saudi Arabia).  The Kurds were and are the only moderates in Syria.  

Turkey itself has a pretty dismal history.  There is, of course, the Armenian genocide in the early 20th Century, persecution of religious and ethnic minorities and growing repression of the rule of law and political dissent inside the regime.  The failed 2016 coup was perhaps the last best effort to set Turkey on a different path, but the resulting purge removed all remaining moderate and sane voices.  Their policies and action since have proven they are no ally and not within the Western sphere of thought and action.

By any objective measure, Bashar al-Assad was and is not that bad, relatively speaking, when compared to other outcomes in the Middle East.  The Muslim world works best, politically, with a strong government that keeps the passions of the people in check.  Assad was no better or worse than any other leader in the region in this regard.  In fact, pre-civil war Syria respected the rights of ethnic and religious minorities far better than many countries in the region – Turkey and Saudi Arabia as prime examples of “allies” that have much worse records in that regard. By international law and custom, Assad is the legitimate leader of Syria – objectively it was never correct to interject in the internal affairs of another sovereign nation without their invitation.

Many in the media bemoan the fact that a US disengagement from Syria empowers Russia and Iran.  The standard narrative conflates the interest of those two countries into an “axis of evil” but that is not a correct view.  Their interest have been conjoined only insofar as the recent geopolitical environment has made them bedfellows.  The other part of this flawed narrative is that Russia is an enemy to be feared which, when evaluated based upon real facts is ridiculous.  They are at worst a protagonist and adversary in terms of some strategic goals but Russia is a glass cannon, a shade of its former self.  The true peer competitive enemy of the US is China – focus on Russia “getting a small win” distracts from the real threat.

Assad is Russia’s ally.  Syria has invited Russia into Syria to assist with its internal conflict.  This complies with international law.  The US was never invited and short of declaring war in Syria, we were always wrong for being there.

Considering those facts, recent events make more sense.  Russia is not a threat to us.  The US was expending blood and treasure in a place, not in our strategic interest.  Syria is within Russia’s strategic interest and a stable Syria would control ISIS. 

Conclusion

Why would a rational person not see this as an acceptable outcome?

Consider this.  Less than 24 hours after the “infamous” tweet last Thursday the Kurds struck a deal with the Syria Army.  Is it reasonable to assume that enemies suddenly become allies following a tweet?  Is it more reasonable to assume a lot more went on behind the scenes prior to the announcement via tweet that facilitated this arrangement?  It is highly unlikely the US would announce that we brokered a deal like that but looking at the situation rationally it seems the most likely possibility.  If so, we really did not abandon the Kurds as is so readily portrayed in the media. 

Such an outcome is essentially a strategic win for the US.  We get out of Syria, the Syrian government can reestablish control of its territory and return to the status quo that existed prior to the civil war (and no matter what political grievances some people had then the situation was much better than the last several years, that is inarguable).  Russia bears the responsibility to see all this through, via financial and military support.  We can retract and refocus on our true threats in the world – China.

The only fly in the ointment is Turkey and their invasion of Syria.