Canada will send troops to Latvia. Mainly to counter Russia’s aggressiveness in the region, the Canadian soldiers will form up the majority of a 1,000-strong multinational battalion capable of acting as a Quick Reaction Force (QRF).Read More
The United States announced that it will only commit one battalion to the NATO mission against Russian influence in Eastern Europe, going against their previous promises to commit two battalions to the mission.Read More
In early February 2016 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a shift in Canada’s strategy in its contribution to the fight against the Islamic State.Read More
In the hours preceding Christmas Eve, Afghan forces were able to fend off Taliban sieges in the Sangin District, killing a “Taliban commander and 50 fighters.” Nonetheless, the district, located in Afghanistan's strategic Helmand Province, could not have been rid of Taliban presence without US and British airstrikes and air support backing Afghan reinforcements.
Since this incident in the Sangin District, and since the recent deaths of six Americans in an attack just outside of Bagram Air Base, President Obama’s vow to significantly reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan has again become a prominent component of US foreign policy--with 9,800 slated to stay in the region into most of 2016, and 5,500 to be deployed beyond the president’s departure from office.
U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations Michele Sison spoke at the Security Council on December 21st, reiterating the fact that while US forces will still be present, the primary focus is to establish Afghan forces to fight the Taliban.
“Our message to these forces is clear – there is only one path to peace, security, and stability in Afghanistan. And that path is not through military action – but through an Afghan-led reconciliation that builds upon the democratic and human rights gains the country has made since 2001. The Taliban’s attacks harm the Afghan people, destabilize the country, and betray the group’s disregard for the lives of the Afghan people. They must stop.”
Defense Secretary Ash Carter also echoed sentiments of US-Afghan partnership in a December 18 press conference in Jalalabad, despite this being the longest war in American history:
“[...] as groups like ISIL emerge on the battlefield, or al-Qaeda seeks to reestablish a safe haven, we must be prepared to deter their growth and counter the threats they pose. We will be prepared to do that. They can never have a secure base here in Nangarhar or anywhere else in Afghanistan.”
Even with 14 years of United States support and backing for Afghan forces, there are still gaps in areas like intelligence, special forces, logistics, aviation, and “ministerial development.”
Part of the difficulty in regions like Afghanistan is that the battlefields are “dynamic,” in the sense that there are many emerging and reemerging groups in different areas of the country. From a US foreign policy perspective, a dynamic field just makes it more troublesome to pursue a troop withdrawal. Rather than focusing on properly training and equipping Afghan forces to be self-sustaining, we see constant shifts in aid and forces that follow the movements of enemies within the country.
“From al-Qaeda and various different parts of the Taliban movement to groups like the IMU that have been around for a long time, [...] these groups are constantly reconstituting themselves, reorganizing themselves, and accordingly, they show different behaviors and different -- attention at different times, different parts of the Afghan geography,” said Carter. “Therefore, Minister Stanekzai and I were talking about this today, the Afghan security forces with our help are getting more and more agile.”
Despite the fact that the president promised to end the Afghan war in 2014, it is clear that due to recent events, new developments in terror, and the progress of the Afghan forces, a complete US troop withdrawal in the near future is nothing but wishful thinking.
Today may turn out to be a critical day for the course of the Syria Civil War. While the exact details are still far from clear, for the first time in 50 years a NATO country has shot down a Russian jet in air-to-air combat. Turkey, in shooting down a Russian jet has ratcheted up the tension over Syria to its greatest level in the four and a half year long war. But what is confirmed so far about what happened?
At around 09:00 local time this morning, Turkish F-16 fighter jets intercepted a Russian Su-24 ‘Flanker’ jet. Turkey claims this jet had breached its airspace, while Russia claims that it was 4km within Syrian airspace. According to radar tracking information released by Turkey, even in their version of the story, the jet only was in Turkish airspace for a matter of seconds.
Following a number of (alleged) warnings, an F-16 jet fired an air-to-air missile at the Russian Su-24, destroying it and forcing its two pilots to eject. While this ejection was successful, the pilots fell towards rebel-controlled territory in Latakia Governorate in Syria. Video footage from a rebel group on the ground then showed fighters firing at the descending pilots, before another video showed at least one pilot dead on the ground with wounds consistent from small-arms fire. The second pilot was also reported dead by these rebels, however this has yet to be confirmed via photographs or other means.
Following the shoot-down, the Russian Air Force deployed a number of rescue helicopters to retrieve the downed pilots. These attempts were unsuccessful, and one Mi-8 helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing for an unknown reason. While on the ground, this helicopter was targeted by Abu Hamza of the FSA 1st Coastal Division, who destroyed it with a US supplied TOW missile. The Russian Ministry of Defence later confirmed that one Russian marine was killed in this incident. The fate of the rest of the crew is currently unclear.
Aftermath and Political Fallout
This event marked the first time a NATO member has ever shot down a Russian jet. The initial response by Russia was rather muted, likely due to their leadership trying to ascertain the specifics of what happened. Several hours later, Putin responded to the shoot-down, calling it a “stab in the back" committed by "accomplices of terrorists". The Russian Ministry of Defence also characterised the shoot-down as an “unfriendly act”, and promised a series of measures in response.
Later in the evening, the MoD also announced a significant tightening of its air support in Syria. All operations would now reportedly fly with a fighter escort and “dangers” to Russian aircraft would be "destroyed” with support from ship-based anti-aircraft systems.
For its part, Turkey has defended its actions, with President Erdogan claiming that “we did our best to prevent this outcome”. As well, Erdogan claimed that Turkey’s actions were in some part driven by the desire to protect ethnic Turkmen in Syria from Russian bombing saying: “Russia is bombing Bayirbucak Turkmens and claiming they are targeting ISIS.” As well, in a leaked letter to NATO his government referred to repeated breaches of its airspace over the last few years as a further pretext for its actions.
No WWIII, But More Room for Escalation
While there will likely be no further escalation or direct reprisals from either party following this incident, there is now a much greater risk of escalation. With both sides taking aggressive postures to defend their aircraft and strategic interests, mistakes and miscalculations are possible, if not probable. As has become the norm over the previous years, Syria is becoming an even more dangerous flashpoint.
The Syrian Civil War has been raging now for more than four years, and in that time, despite a few close calls, there have been no large-scale interventions of foreign ground forces in the country. This however, is all about to change. The Russian Federation, over the past few months has massively ramped-up the level of support which it providing to the Assad Government in Syria, and appears to be building up the ability to conduct offensive operations within the country. But what equipment are they sending and what does this say about their plans for Syria?
Initial indications that Russia had changed its level of involvement in the Syrian conflict appeared last month when a number of Russian ships began delivering hidden cargo to the country’s naval base in Tartous. Around the same time, video footage and images began to appear online of Russian soldiers deployed to Syria, which many speculated were military advisers.
While this was alarming on its own, and drew international attention, it was just the beginning. In the last few weeks the Russian Air Force has been conducting daily cargo flights to airbases in Latakia. These flights have been delivering a number of advanced combat systems which appear, by all accounts, to be intended for use in offensive operations by Russian forces themselves.
Some of the these advanced systems being deployed include T-90 main battle tanks, as well as the advanced new BTR-82a infantry fighting vehicles and at least one R-166-0.5 electronic warfare and communications vehicle. These systems which have been sighted both on the ground and reportedly in satellite imagery are indisputably of Russian origin, and not in use by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).
Hybrid war or full-scale intervention?
Currently, estimates put the number of Russian soldiers in Syria in the low thousands, with more arriving daily. Knowing this, it is still difficult to assess just how large in scale Russia’s intervention in the conflict will be.
One important question that needs to be analyzed is whether Russia will follow its (reasonably) successful strategy of ‘hybrid war’ where it semi-covertly backs local forces without taking an official lead role. Until recently this looked to be the case, with official denials from Putin’s government that Russian soldiers were involved in direct fighting within the country.
However, the situation is developing quickly and it is appearing more and more likely that Russian troops are building up to take a more overt role in the conflict. Comments by the Russian leadership that they would help out Assad militarily “if there is a request” indicate that any pretense of mere ‘support’ for the Syrian regime will soon be dropped.
— Foreign Policy (@ForeignPolicy) September 16, 2015
So far, aside from expressions of meaningless ‘deep concern’ towards these deployments, other major international players in the conflict have remained muted in their response. This will likely change if and when Russian troops begin to see more active combat within the country. Should they begin to turn the tide in certain regions against the rebel forces which Putin and Assad label as “terrorists and extremists”, the backers of these rebel groups could respond.
Primarily, Turkey and the Gulf States are poised to increase the supply of arms to their favoured rebel groups. As well as increasing the quantity of these supplies, these countries could also supply rebels with more advanced weaponry such as man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), for example the US-made Stinger missile, which was an alleged game-changer during the Soviet/Afghan War.
If this does not prove to be enough, Turkey could be put under pressure to use its ground forces to establish a much-hyped ‘safe zone’ in the north of Syria. Such a move would bring NATO and Russian forces into a possible dangerous confrontation within the country.
Knowing these possible international responses it is likely that for the time being Russia will tread carefully with its forces in Syria, and use them to attack isolated rebel positions as well as to generally halt existing rebel advances – especially in Latakia and the Al-Ghab plain. The last thing an economically-strained Russia wants is to risk the Syrian Civil War becoming an international one.
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Following a report published by a European think-tank group on the ever-impending possibility of a NATO-Russia war, NATO has responded that the report is “misleading” and the Russians have yet to respond – what does this all mean?
The think-tank European Leadership Network (ELN) published a report today that claims Russia and NATO are close to a full-on war as they continue to cross into each other’s borders with their military exercises. The authors of the report found that NATO is focusing on securing the Baltic States, while Russia is focusing on securing the Arctic – two key areas for either side.
“Each side is training with the other side’s capabilities and most likely war plans in mind. Whilst spokespeople may maintain that these operations are targeted against hypothetical opponents, the nature and scale of them indicate otherwise: Russia is preparing for a conflict with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia.”
– from Ian Kearnes, Łukasz Kulesa, and Thomas Frear of the European Leadership Network (ELN).
NATO responded that the ELN report “misleadingly puts NATO and Russian exercises on par” and that Russian exercises far outnumber those planned by NATO and its allies.
“Moreover, Russia has incorporated nuclear and nuclear capable forces in its recent exercises. NATO has made repeatedly clear that we not seek confrontation with Russia. For over two decades, we have tried to build a cooperative relationship with Russia. But Russia has changed borders by force, continues to support separatists in Ukraine and threatens to base nuclear missiles close to Alliance borders.”
– from Deputy spokesman Carmen Romero of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
There’s yet to be an official Russian response (as of 14:00 CEST - this article will be updated once one is released). Previous responses from Moscow towards NATO-centric topics have accused the organization of undermining regional stability via their increased presence in bordering nations with Russia, as stated by Sputnik International.
Coincidentally, the ELN report was published on the same day as the Russian annual holiday celebrating their Air Force branch, known as the VDV; this year marks their 103rd in official existence. Additionally, Russia recently expanded their military aviation branch on August 1st 2015 to include their “aerospace” program, designed to defend Russia against air and space attacks.
So is war between NATO and Russia inevitable as these military drills escalate? The ELN authors are careful to directly state that war will happen -- even going so far as to provide pointers to NATO and Russia on how to avoid war -- but their message is clear enough: at this rate, it’s bound to happen. Spokesmen and women can cite their statistics or opt for the “blame game” tactic, but what lies on the international table presently is an unstable country in a deep recession with anger towards the West and a trembling military organization in fear of any other upsets in Europe, which in all reality looks to be the recipe to another war.
In this podcast we examine the role of the Druze in Southern Syria, who are under threat by Islamist groups who view them as infidels. We discuss the unrest this has caused in the Golan Heights, their relationship with Israel, as well as their attempts to transition towards becoming a neutral party within the Syrian Civil War. We also then switch topics to discuss the latest Kurdish YPG offensives around Tel Abyad, and finish with a discussion about the latest NATO deployments to Eastern Europe, and any potential response from Russia.
This is a guest post by London-based Anthropology student Alexandru Ionescu
In today’s world, a world where the international community and the relationships between States are governed mostly by economic ambitions, we witness the fact that modern governments have not overcome their Machiavellian political reason in which the ends justify the means. This situation is most obvious in the ever-evolving relationship between Russia and the West.
After the ousting of Ukraine’s last president, one which sustained and nurtured a favourable relationship with Russia, the international community witnessed not only a divide between Eastern and Western Ukraine, but also a dived within itself. The ousting itself was very violent, with reports of snipers killing people on both sides and allegations that it was orchestrated by the West, the USA specifically. Assuming that the West was politically involved in replacing Yanukovych , it did so to benefit the people living in Ukraine, an ex-soviet country with a poorly developed government and an infantile democracy riddled with corruption. However, the polls at the time indicated that there is an ideological divide within the country: the western Ukrainians supported closer ties with the EU while the eastern Ukrainians supported the continuation of favourable relations with Russia.