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: There was an explosion at an arms depot in the village of Sarmada which has killed at least 67 people (69 according to some reports) and caused the collapse of two five-story buildings. This is in the province of Idlib, which has over 2 million inhabitants. The preparations for the invasion of Idlib are underway, with government forces dropping leaflets warning the civilians not to resist. This is after the Syrian government along with help from Iran and Russia have taken the rebel stronghold of Daraa in the south.
What to watch: Expect the government of Syria to invade Idlib with some shelling already having taken place along with some air strikes with the help of Russian air support.
Analysis: Turkey has some observers located throughout the city, and does not want a full-scale invasion of Idlib since that would create a humanitarian crisis on their doorstep when they can least afford it due to the falling currency, the Lira, has hit new lows due to their ongoing financial crisis. Russia, Turkey, and Iran had a meeting in Sochi on July 30 perhaps to discuss this situation with Idlib. Adding to this is most of the area is controlled by a rebel group known as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which sprang from Al Qaeda in Syria.
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: The OSCE has reported that for the first time they have confirmed that there were several electronic warfare devices spotted in the village of Chornukhyne. The devices are thought to disrupt communication of drones along with disruption of GPS navigation along with basic communication.
What to watch: Chancellor Angela Merkel will host Vladimir Putin on August 18 to discuss a range of topics, one of which is expected to be Ukraine and the War in Donbass.
This conflict is still ongoing and will be closely followed as President Trump is said to have been thinking over a proposal made by Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Helsinki in July. President Trump has invited Putin after the new year — expect this conflict to be discussed further on this issue. The OSCE will continue to monitor the situation; however, there seems to have been many small violations such as explosions, flares, and projectiles from both sides according to many of the observers.
Analysis: The meeting with Angela Merkel by Putin will be interesting to watch if anything comes of this meeting with regards to the war in Donbass. New sanctions on Russia along with increased pressure to spend more by Germany on its military to meet NATO requirements will make this meeting important for both Germany and Russia, but the world as well.
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: There has been fighting and activity in the town of Ghanzi, in Eastern Afghanistan, with mixed reports coming from both sides about who is in control. Ghanzi is a town that would be strategically important for the Taliban to retake since it would help merge two large areas thought controlled by the Taliban and not the Afghan government. There is an important and strategic road at stake which could potentially help the Taliban move more freely throughout the country. This is a major road that forms a circle from the cities of Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat.
The major cities of Kandahar and Kabul are connected by this important road, and it does run through the city of Ghazni, which makes it such an important city to control for both the United States and Afghanistan.
What to watch: From the reports there seem to indicate that there are American and NATO advisors helping Afghan forces on the ground. The U.S. military has conducted airstrikes to deter advancement of the Taliban, along with at least 25 airstrikes within the city.
Analysis: U.S. officials are said to have actually sat down informally with members of the Taliban in Doha, Qatar opening up the possibility of actual talks between the United States and the Taliban. The attack by the Taliban is also said to be just about as much about intertribal disputes as it is between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Elements of Al Qaeda are said to have been with the fighters.
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: If the murder rate continues at the current pace which is 16% higher in the first half than it was in the previous year it will surpass 30,000 murders from just over 25,000 murders for 2017.
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 1, 2018, is reportedly considering a big change in how Mexico deals with its drug cartels and the country’s 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.
Featured image: In this May 10, 2018 file photo, women carry a banner calling attention to the cases of people who have gone missing in the fight against drug cartels and organized crime, demanding authorities locate their loved ones, as they mark Mother’s Day in Mexico City. According to federal data, there have been more than 6,000 registered disappearances in Mexico’s Tamaulipas state alone since 2006, more than any other state. | AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File