The Syrian War started in 2011 as an uprising and protests against the government of Syria led by Bashar al-Assad. Originally, the rebel forces were known as the Free Syrian Army but later splintered into several different groups, one of which is ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). The conflict is complex, with several internal and external groups and nations fighting for control of Syria and Northern Iraq.
This conflict has grown in complexity with more groups and nations being pulled into it since the beginning in 2011, and all have participated in varying degrees. The major world players are Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Lebanon, Russia and the United States. Some of the major non-state groups involved are; The Free Syrian Army, ISIL, the Kurds, and various other rebel groups.
Developments: The current state of the conflict is positive for Bashar Al Assad and pro-government forces which have retaken much of the southern part of the country, while the U.S.-backed Kurds hold a large portion in the North. Small pockets of resistance continue in the south as well, but most of the current focus is on the city of Idlib, which is in the north near the Syrian/Turkish border. The Idlib city itself is roughly just over 150,000 people, but the problem for the government forces is that the region has around 2 million people. The Syrian government has been dropping leaflets urging residents not to fight, and the Russian military is helping the pro-Syrian forces as well. Some artillery has been reported already being used in the Southern part of Idlib province.
What to watch: Watch for the invasion of Idlib by pro-government Syrian and Russian forces. The Syrian forces are turning their attention from the South to the North, and this may take some time to move artillery, troops, and tanks from the South to the North. The Turkish lira has been falling in response to actions taken by the United States for Turkey’s detention of an American pastor, which is not good for the rebel groups inside Idlib as they rely on help from Turkey, which is why it is important to keep a watch on the developments with the lira.
Analysis: Hopefully this will not be a humanitarian disaster with so many people in the area they would have no place to go but to Turkey, which is suffering from their falling currency, the lira. With so much resistance and rebel forces it will be unclear as to what will happen but it is difficult to see them resist when they have the backing of Russian forces and support and no backing from a major power unlike the Kurds who are in talks with a reconciliation of sorts with the Syrian government to be reintegrated back into Syria but with some self autonomy.
Reconstruction is already a big topic amongst all sides of the conflict. Who gets to rebuild Syria? Russia, China, and Iran want a stake in rebuilding Syria, as well as Turkey and the United States which. However, the State Department has redirected a little over 200 million in funds meant to rebuild Syria to other foreign policy projects. The rebuilding is a topic because Russia, Iran, and China all want to have more Middle East influence, contracts, and deals with a rebuilt Syria and the rebuilding effort was meant to counter these countries influence in the region. The 200 million was said to be made up with more contributions to rebuild by Saudi Arabia and other countries according to U.S. officials.
War in Donbass, Ukraine, Ukrainian/Russian conflict
This conflict started in March of 2014 when pro-Russian rebels in the Donbass (Eastern Ukraine) took control of government buildings after the successful annexation of the Crimea near the Black Sea by Russia. This conflict is complex with both Russian and Ukrainian forces involved as well as pro-Russian rebel groups and separatists as well as Ukrainian militia groups involved. The Russian government is also thought to have played a major role in large-scale election meddling and cyber attacks on Ukrainian power grids and infrastructure during this conflict.
Developments: Angela Merkel met with Russian President Vladimir Putin outside of Berlin and discussed a range of topics including Syria, Ukraine, and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline which the United States opposes.
The OSCE continues to monitor the situation in Ukraine, and there are regular reports of explosions gunfire in the region by Special Monitoring Mission (SMM). There is one report that an SMM mission came under fire in the Donetsk region.
What to watch: As of this writing there has been no word on what the final agreement if any there has been on any of the issues discussed between Angela Merkel and Putin. Watch for any significant agreement that may come about as a result of the meeting.
Analysis: The Nordstream 2 is a pipeline that will give Russia the ability to pipe natural gas into Germany directly and therefore give more leverage to Russia over the Ukraine where much of this gas currently flows from Russia into the European Union. The United States is very much opposed to the pipeline and has even threatened sanctions against the company’s operators should it proceed with the plans. Russia does want the ability to double its capacity to pipe energy into Germany, however, many people are worried about their track record of using energy as a political tool to influence countries that are dependent on them for energy.
For the United States, major operations started after the September 11, 2001 attacks from the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. Following the September 11 attacks which were planned and coordinated by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the United States attacked on October 7, 2001, in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks and has since been involved with the long conflict in Afghanistan. The conflict is now the longest in U.S. history and with thousands of troops still deployed it will take more time to ensure that it will not degrade back to a pre-9/11 condition, which was a hotbed of terrorist and extremist ideologies.
Developments: Following last weeks assault on the city of Ghazni, there was a blast in the capital city of Kabul where a man wearing a suicide vest blew himself up along with dozens of students who were preparing to take an entrance exam for the university.
One day after that, there was an attack on an Afghan intelligence center but no reports of casualties on the Afghan government side. All four attackers are reported to have been killed with one of them blowing himself up, while the other three were killed fighting.
Analysis: The recent attacks have most likely put any idea with a ceasefire on hold as Afghan forces along with American advisors and airpower helped the city of Ghazni fend off an attack from the Taliban last week. The recent attacks in the capital city and especially against government forces make possible peace talks more difficult if not irrelevant at this point.
Mexican Drug Wars
The Mexican Drug wars have been bloody for decades, but the modern drug war (as referred to in the media) was generally thought to have started in 2006 when Mexican President Felipe Calderón sent over 6,000 Mexican troops to his native state of Michoacán. As a result, the drug wars have gotten significantly worse, and tens of thousands of murders have occurred since then, which was a dramatic increase from before 2006. Mexico’s drug wars have claimed up to tens of thousands of lives a year, with many reports of escalating brutality such as beheadings and torture.
Developments: The bodies of two men were found hanging from the San Luis Potosi overpass in central Mexico this past week. However, this was not the only time this has happened. This is the third time this month that bodies were found hanging from the overpass in the city.
In the state of Sinaloa near the city of Culiacan, authorities have seized nearly 50 tons of synthetic drugs in one of the largest drug busts in Mexico. The estimated value of the bust is about 5 billion U.S. dollars.
What to watch: September 30, 2018, is the deadline for the funding, which would be the deadline to watch this play out in the next coming months.
Mexico has elected Andreas Manuel Lopez Obrador as new incoming President of Mexico and is expected to take over December 1st, 2018 is reportedly considering a big change in how Mexico deals with its drug cartels and the war on drugs which have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives since major developments in 2006. He is considering a number of new strategies such as more opportunities for the youth such as scholarships to divert them away from the drug cartels, more security at the ports, having the military move away from doing law enforcement and more emphasis on police taking over more law enforcement duties. This is according to Olga Sanchez, who is Obrador’s proposed interior minister.
Analysis: The incoming President will hopefully create better opportunities for those who may be tempted to go into the cartels for work. The President is self-described as left-leaning, while his incoming labor secretary wants to raise the minimum wage by double in some of the poorest areas of Mexico and is in talks with some organizations to see how that can be accomplished. The border wall will no doubt have an impact on the drug cartels, but they are already trying to expand into other areas such as kidnapping, human trafficking, and blackmail for other sources of income. The border wall debate in the United States continues to be a hot button topic. There are several numbers for how much it would cost though, but a little over 20 billion seems to be a starting point for the price tag of a possible wall with Mexico. For comparison, a new Ford Class Aircraft Carrier would cost roughly 13 billion. With many hot spots around the world such as the South China Sea, a rising Russia Navy threat this topic and the cost associated with having either one or possibly two new aircraft carriers or a border wall will be continued to be debated in Congress and the media. Trump has suggested at times that he could use defense funds to build the wall, which would directly impact the budget of the military, which as I pointed out is well over the cost of one and possibly two aircraft carriers for the Navy.
Guest Author — William Bayless: William spent nine years on active duty in the Navy as an analyst, serving aboard the USS John F. Kennedy for two years as well as serving at duty stations in Maryland and the U.K. William has an MBA, an Associate Degree in Information Systems and a solid foundation of basic cybersecurity principles and concepts.