'war on terror'

AFGHANISTAN. Nangarhar Province. Jalalabad. 2001. In the intense therapy department. A child victim of an American strike that mistakenly killed 153 people in a village near the Tora Bora Mountains.

Photograph: Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

On the road to Raqqa

Civilians fleeing fighting between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Islamic State militants in the countryside of Syria’s Raqqa province wait at a screening center in Ain Issa.

A Kurdish-Arab force is closing in on the Islamic State’s capital in Syria, but there is still no plan to seize it.

By Liz Sly for The Washington Post. All pictures by Alice Martins. December 28, 2016 [x]

TAL SAMAN, Syria — “Raqqa we are coming” say the words spray-painted in Kurdish at the entrance to this empty little town, which lies on the front line of a U.S.-backed advance toward the Islamic State’s capital.

The city of Raqqa is 17 miles away, a tantalizingly short hop to the place showcased in the militants’ propaganda videos as an Islamist utopia, where the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels were planned and where, U.S. officials warn, new plots against the West are being forged.

But a full offensive to retake the city could still be months or more away, despite hopes in Washington that an operation to take the Islamic State’s most symbolically significant stronghold would be well underway before President Obama left office.

A rare visit to the Raqqa front line illustrated how near and yet far off the defeat of the Islamic State may be. The battle for Mosul in neighboring Iraq has stalled, the attack in Berlin has brought home the continued threat of terrorism, and there is still no plan for an offensive on Raqqa, making the war one of the most immediate, and complicated, challenges the Trump administration will have to confront.

Meanwhile, a preliminary operation to isolate and besiege Raqqa is going well. Over the past month, a Kurdish-Arab alliance called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been slicing briskly through Islamic State lines in the northern and western countryside of Raqqa province. The fighters have captured some 140 villages and nearly 800 square miles of mostly empty rural land on two fronts in a just over a month, encountering little resistance along the way.

Graffiti in Tal Saman, Syria, reads ‘‘YPG’’ and ‘‘Raqqa we are coming.’’

This is not the battle for Mosul, where large armored formations are converging from different directions. There are more sheep than soldiers scattered across the empty fields. Flocks trot through the landscape herded by boys on donkeys as the lightly armored pickup trucks and SUVs used by the Kurdish and Arab militias weave among them.

Every now and then, American soldiers hurtle past, a reminder that the U.S. military is very much invested in the Raqqa front, however remote it may be. There are around 600 Special Operations troops embedded with the SDF in northeastern Syria, a number that could rise before the battle fully takes shape, U.S. officials say. One of those troops was killed on Nov. 24, the first U.S. casualty of the war in Syria.

He died in Tal Saman, a victim of one of the mines and booby traps that have become the Islamic State’s hallmark defense against advancing foes in Iraq and Syria.

Otherwise, the militants have put up little resistance, firing mortars as the soldiers advance but retreating well before their enemies arrive.

Bigger obstacles loom, however, in the form of a geopolitical tangle that could prove more daunting than any defenses mounted by the Islamic State.

At the heart of the issue is the U.S. military’s policy of sending arms to the area controlled by the main Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units, widely known as the YPG.

A building in Hisha, recently recaptured from Islamic State control, serves as a military base for fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The decision has paid off so far. The YPG — which constitutes the Kurdish component of the SDF — has proved to be the United States’ most effective military ally in Syria, and it has retaken vast swaths of territory. It is also expanding deep into Arab areas as it presses forward against the militants, raising questions among observers about the long-term sustainability of the gains.

The cooperation has, moreover, provoked the ire of Turkey, because of the YPG’s long-standing ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington. Turkey is waging its own offensive against the Islamic State in nearby Aleppo province but has hinted it may soon turn on the SDF alliance and perhaps then make its own push for the Islamic State capital.

The Syrian government also opposes the Kurdish expansion and has repeatedly said it plans to retake Raqqa, which it lost control of in 2013. Syria is backed by Russia, which is forging a new alliance with Turkey over Syria, potentially setting the stage for a global clash over who wins the prize goal.

To ameliorate the concerns of NATO ally Turkey, the U.S. military says it is giving arms only to Arab fighters within the umbrella SDF, formed last year to serve as a vehicle for the delivery of military aid. There are 13,000 Arabs now serving with the SDF, alongside 45,000 Kurds with the YPG, according to a U.S. military spokesman, Col. John Dorrian.

But there seems to be little doubt that the YPG is leading the fight. Its flags flutter over the checkpoints along the newly liberated rural roads and at the military bases closest to the front lines. Its graffiti is scrawled over the walls of the captured towns and villages, as in Tal Saman, where the initials “YPG” were spray-painted alongside the pledge to take Raqqa.

Rojda Felat, a YPG commander, speaks on the radio at the entrance of Tal Saman shortly after the village was captured.

The Kurdish-Arab alliance, with U.S. assistance, plans to recruit and train an additional 10,000 Arab fighters for an offensive on Raqqa, said Rojda Felat, one of the commanders of the offensive to encircle the city. But YPG participation will be essential “because we have proved that we are the most effective fighters,” she said.

“We will even go past Raqqa,” she added, to other areas farther south controlled by the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh.

Whether it is wise to send an overwhelmingly Kurdish force to capture the overwhelmingly Arab city of Raqqa is in question, however. A Kurdish push on Raqqa risks alienating the local population, perhaps encouraging residents who otherwise would not support the Islamic State to fight on its behalf, according to Abu Issa, a commander with the rebel Free Syrian Army’s Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa, or Raqqa Revolutionaries Brigade.

“We saw in Iraq and other places that if the local people are not involved in the liberation, there won’t be any stability,” he said in an interview at his headquarters, in a remote farmhouse in the countryside of Raqqa province. He and his group are from Raqqa, and though they are loosely allied with the SDF, they fly the flag of the Free Syrian Army.

“All the Arabs know that the SDF are YPG, and if things continue as they are, there will be big problems in the future, sectarian clashes and conflict,” Abu Issa said. “People don’t understand why the YPG are going to Raqqa. It’s an entirely Arab area, and the Arabs feel marginalized.”

Arab residents of the areas recently freed from Islamic State control seem mostly just relieved to be rid of the extremists — and to have survived yet another battle, one that has so far proved mercifully brief. The fight has been so easy that there have been few casualties and relatively little damage to the isolated villages dotting the desert landscape.

The YPG fighters conduct what appear to be well-organized evacuations of the villages that lie in the path of the offensive. As people from areas close to the front lines leave, those from villages that have been cleared are allowed to return.

On one recent day, hundreds of people streamed into the destroyed Arab town of Ain Issa from villages well behind Islamic State lines, in trucks piled high with children, mattresses and sheep. They had responded, they said, to messages sent by the Kurds to vacate their homes before the battles arrived. They said they were glad to seize the chance to escape the seemingly collapsing rule of the Islamic State fighters fleeing in the other direction.

“They used to take people with them to use as human shields, but now they are not even doing this,” said Saleh Hassan, one of the men who said he had escaped his home through minefields to reach the Kurdish lines. “People were with them before, but now even their fighters are trying to defect.”

Ahmed Naim, 23, said he had covertly sold cigarettes and had many run-ins with the militants, who banned smoking. “Their days are numbered,” he said. “Daesh is finished, and the majority of the people are happy.”

It is hard to tell how happy people really are when armed guards are standing nearby. As the villagers who escaped areas behind the Islamic State lines arrived in Ain Issa, others were returning to their homes in the village of Hisha, which was freed last month after a brief battle.

Families who have fled the fighting wait at the screening center in Ain Issa.

At the local barbershop, a line of long-haired customers waited on wobbly plastic chairs for haircuts that were forbidden under Islamic State rule. “Nobody wants ISIS,” Mouay ad Khalaf said as he snipped the curly locks of a teenage boy.

But some men, when stopped in the street and asked what they thought of the change of authority, seemed less thrilled.

“They haven’t caused us any problems,” one man said vaguely. He didn’t want to be named.

“It’s okay,” said another who didn’t seem sure. “We’re cooperating with them.”

U.S. officials acknowledge the concerns about sending Kurds into battle in Raqqa but say that at the moment there is no alternative. “The only force that is capable on any near-term timeline is the Syrian Democratic Forces, of which the YPG are a significant portion,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told reporters last month.

Turkey has, meanwhile, been waging a rival offensive against the Islamic State farther west, in the province of Aleppo, where Turkish troops are backing Syrian Arab rebels with the Free Syrian Army, with the support of the United States. Though the focus of the fighting is on the Islamic State, Turkey has threatened to attack the SDF, potentially drawing troops and resources away from the Raqqa battle.

So complicated are the politics that there is still no plan for a Raqqa offensive, said Nasir Haj Mansour, a veteran Kurdish fighter who is now an adviser to the SDF. “Unfortunately, yes,” he said when asked whether he thought the Islamic State would still be in control of Raqqa in six months’ time.

And in a year?

“Probably, yes.”

A shepherd passes by a roadside sign pointing to Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital in Syria.

hawkward-chicken  asked:

In Rogue One, Cassian Andor states that he's been fighting for the rebels since he was 6 years old. Assuming he meant literal combating, would his personality be similar to that of a child raised for combat? Would there be any differences?

This is sort of a yes and no, as all children involved in violent conflicts from an early age are affected by it. However, the children who take part in rebellions aren’t in the same category of the child soldiers discussed on this blog before, though they absolutely share similarities.

Kids involved in rebellions are rarely used as frontline combatants. They’re far too valuable for that. Instead, they function as informants, carriers, and, occasionally, saboteurs. They’re not the one who picks up the gun to shoot down enemy soldiers in a safe zone. They’re the ones who move the gun past the security perimeter or receive it from the old man or woman who did and plant it. They’re the ones hanging around befriending enemy soldiers in bars or cantinas so they can tip their friends off about where the troops are moving to next. Children, women, the elderly, those generally viewed as non-combatants, the ones that society overlooks or views as “safe” are often the backbone of any resistance movement.

They get the goods, they move the packages, they carry the messages between resistance cells, they sometimes take care of the equipment, and they do most of the footwork that allows a resistance to engage the enemy. When they do fight, it’s generally in the form of sabotage like finding and slipping poison into the enemy troop’s stew, planting bombs, or because survival necessitates it when their cover is blown.

As a child, Cassian Andor would have a background common with other children in rebellions depicted in media like ‘Phan Duc To’ from Good Morning, Vietnam! (1987) and the children involved in The Battle of Algiers (1966).

If you’ve never seen Good Morning, Vietnam! I just spoiled the movie.

The Battle of Algiers is a great movie if you’re looking for an honest overview of how rebellions function on both sides of the conflict or just a treatment on the French colonization of Algeria. Fair warning, it is not an english language film. Kiera Nerys from Star Trek: Deep Space 9 is another decent character to look at when wanting to model a background for a resistance fighter who joined as a child. G’kar from Babylon 5 and the entire Narn/Centauri conflict is also an excellent example of the enduring hatreds and issues brought by colonization.

One of the qualities you see in these children and then again as adults is pure, unadulterated hatred for their oppressors. More so than the other kinds, they hate. Often to the point of becoming a new version of the enemy their resistance was attempting to drive off.

Cassian would’ve spent a lot of time hanging around rebel fighters, doing odd jobs for them until the day came when they were short a man or needed a message run by someone who wouldn’t attract attention.

If this has started to sound like spycraft, well, you’re not far off. Resistances don’t have the luxury of major battle offensives like an army, and even guerilla warfare is actually a step up from what happens on the ground, and there is a common word you’ll find familiar for what they do: terrorism.

The actions of a resistance fighter and the actions of a terrorist are one and the same, the only difference is in who is telling the story. If you want to investigate real resistances without the judgements, study up on World War II, the French Resistance, and the Maquis.

Yes, that Maquis not the one from Star Trek.

On the ground resistances are rough and ready, they’re often split apart into distinct cells comprised of only a few agents, and almost no one knows who is higher up the food chain. This is important because it protects the other operating cells and resistance leadership in case an operative is captured by the enemy.

For the most part, whether you’re writing historical fiction or a foray into science fiction, the philosophy, goals, and strategy of a resistance will remain the same. What changes is how they go about operating within their setting because, like spies, a resistance requires the author have a solid grasp on how the enemy functions, the details in how they hold power, the technology they have access to, and how their army works.

On a literal and literary level, the Resistance is about disruption. Whether they’re sabotaging train tracks, blowing up food transports, or bombing nightclubs, their goal is to disrupt everyday life and make it as unpleasant as possible. They’re ghosts in the system, you’ll never know where or when they’ll strike, and they’re out to destroy enemy moral every way they can. A resistance drives the enemy from their homeland by making the cost of holding it no longer worthwhile. Though, historically, this is often impossible unless the majority of the population joins the cause and/or the tide of public sentiment back home within the enemy’s homeworld or nation turns against the invaders. A resistance occurring against the powerful within their own homeland is much, much more destructive.

What marks a character like Cassian, who grew up in a resistance movement, more than other children engaged in violence is first and foremost betrayal. Betrayal from without, betrayal from within, the people he’s lied to and betrayed, seeing many friends vanish overnight or die, and never quite knowing who he can trust. He probably has very few friends left alive from his early days with the Rebellion, and more than likely experienced the Imperials wiping out his cell(s) on multiple occasions. He worked his way up the ranks until he became an operative working closely within the Rebellion’s inner circle.

Star Wars is functionally much more clear cut than the real resistances that occur throughout the world.

Happy writing!

-Michi

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IRAQ. Al-Anbar governorate. Fallujah. June 27, 2016. A member of Iraqi government forces celebrates along a street in Fallujah after government forces recaptured the city from Islamic State militants.

Photograph: Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters