Last year, members of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, dug a tunnel leading to the Syrian Air Force Intelligence building in Aleppo and detonated a massive bomb in an attempt to destroy the facility. Reported globally, this event was by no means a rarity in the ongoing Syrian civil war. As Benjamin Runkle warned last year, the United States and its allies must prepare for the subterranean future of warfare. His article was a broad and useful overview of the various threat actors using tunneling to negate the advantages that airpower and other technologies provide to Western militaries. As America increases its military involvement in Iraq and Syria, a more detailed look at the military significance of such structures is warranted. As of February of this year, there were nearly 4,500 U.S. troopsin Iraq. Regardless of the merits of further intervening in the conflict, it is a fact that the United States and its allies are sending increasing amounts of troops to the region. Whatever the intentions of American leaders, this expanded presence is almost certain to result in greater contact with a variety of hostile forces. Al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Syrian government, and other factions in the war have all used tunnels to great effect throughout the conflict. U.S. and allied militaries must thus understand and prepare for subterranean warfare.
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