America’s Ignorance: The Syrian Civil War

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Photo by Mahmoud Raslan/Aleppo Media Center.

This is Omran Daqneesh, a child roughly the same age as the Syrian Civil War itself. His image has made its rounds all over social media in the western world, bringing to light the horrors of the conflict. Along with his family, Omran was injured in what most think was a Russian or Syrian Regime airstrike on the city of Aleppo. He was very close to being one of the thousands of civilians killed in the city of Aleppo alone, but was miraculously pulled out of the rubble just in time.

His dazed stare raises questions; how did we get here? Who is we? Most importantly, where do we go from here?

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This web of factions provided by CNN is informative, but does not tell the whole story.

The above chart may give a basic understanding as to who the actors in the Syrian Civil War are and who they are affiliated or fighting with, but it does not come close to telling the real story as to whats happening on the ground. With nearly a dozen different factions within the country itself and a myriad of intervening nations, it is very difficult to ascertain exactly what is happening inside Syria. The fact that both Russia and the U.S. are only miles apart from each other on the battlefield only complicate things further. The only thing known for sure is that there will be no winners, only losers.

The Current State of Conflict

The Syrian Civil War has been in a stalemate for the past few years, with only very recent advances by regime forces supported by Russian air strikes. Much of this results from the various factions inside the rebels themselves. Just like the foreign powers intervening, each rebel faction is motivated by different agendas, causing chaos in a time where unity would be decisive. Desire for land and power have distracted the many rebel groups from the bigger picture of defeating the Assad Regime, and have left them squabbling among themselves as the Russian-backed military Syrian military slowly forces them out of their areas of control.

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Syria as of 5 September, 2016. ISIS controlled areas are in Grey, Regime areas in pink and rebel-held areas are in green and yellow. The white areas in the northwest of the country are the last holdouts of the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra front.

Aleppo, the Syrian city made famous for receiving the brunt of Russian and Syrian airstrikes is currently the focal point of the entire conflict. It is the Civil War in microcosm, with nearly every faction besides ISIS being represented. The Syrian government has besieged the rebel-held eastern part of the city, and a war of attrition has been ongoing for about two years. Indiscriminate airstrikes by the Syrian and Russian militaries have been cause for great alarm, with allegations of war crimes being levied against both the Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Aleppo has been targeted by extremely rudimentary bombing methods, including the barbaric method of dropping barrels of high-explosives in built up areas to cause maximum damage.

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The devestation of the once largest city of Aleppo can be seen here

But what does a civil war 7,000 miles away have to do with the average American?

International Consequences

With the struggle between the rebels and the Syrian government locked in a stalemate for the last five years, only the intervention on behalf of countless foreign governments have managed to turn the tide for either side. On one end is the Russian, Iranian and Chinese governments who have been aiding the Syrian government through direct military intervention in the case of Russia and Iran or economic aid from China. On the opposite side of the conflict supporting the rebels is the U.S. led coalition, supported by over a dozen different Western nations with the aim of ousting Bashar al Assad and eliminating Islamic State from the region through precision airstrikes.

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The sheer terror of never knowing when the next air strike will hit is apparent in this clip from Aleppo.

The airstrikes by both Russian and the U.S. led coalition have devastated the country, with thousands of civilians being killed as collateral damage. Most recently the Russian and Syrian Air Forces struck and destroyed a civilian hospital in Eastern Aleppo, just days after striking a U.N. aid convoy destined for the same city. These attacks have resulted in allegations of war crimes being pressed against both the Russian and Syrian governments by various Western nations.

Rising Tensions

The relationship between Russia and the United States is at its most fragile point since the end of the Cold War more than two decades ago. Tensions have been high since the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014, and their intervention in the Syrian Civil War has only served to make things worse. While the Russian and American governments have worked together on several ceasefires in the country, none of them have lasted longer than a week. Most recently, a ceasefire brokered in mid-September lasted just five days before the Russian and Syrian forces began bombarding the city of Aleppo again.

A Russian spokeswoman has recently statedIf the US launches a direct aggression against Damascus and the Syrian army, it will lead to terrible, tectonic shifts not only on the territory of this country but also in the region in general.” With the U.S. and several Western nations taking an “Assad Must Go” stance, the West has placed itself in direct opposition of the Russian and Syrian governments, something that might carry severe ramifications in the near future.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin can be seen meeting with Syrian Dictator Bashar al Assad

At the time of writing, the Russian Navy has just embarked a naval carrier strike group to take position in the Mediterranean Sea. This act has the potential to completely escalate the Syrian Civil War from an internal strife to an international debacle. Many leaders in the United States have called for a no-fly zone over the entire country of Syria, effectively halting any and all Russian or Syrian air strikes in an effort to bring some semblance of peace to the region. This no-fly zone was to be enforced by the many U.S. Navy ships in the area, but with the introduction of the Russian Navy this task will be impossible without inciting a much larger incident. 8 Russian ships, one of them being their sole aircraft carrier, are destined for the Syrian coast in order to bolster their efforts to support Bashar al Assad. This will bring the total of Russian ships in the Mediterranean to 18, enough to rival the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet who is also stationed in the area and conducting air strikes in Syria.

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The Russian Admiral Kuznetsov, the country’s only aircraft carrier, as it makes its way toward the Mediterranean Sea
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The extent of Russia’s air-defense network can be seen covering the majority of Syria, Israel, Turkey and parts of the Mediterranean.

To further complicate the situation, the Russians have moved an integrated and mobile air-defense system into Syria, focused around their naval base in Tartus. This system gives them a 250 mile radius from which they can shoot down any inbound aircraft or missiles with their S-300 and S-400 anti-air systems. The new system has the ability to “see” the current high-tech U.S. stealth bombers, rendering the billion-dollar aircraft useless in a potential encounter. This would make the task of targeting Assad’s forces or infrastructure impossible, something which both major candidates in the U.S. Presidential election advocate for. Enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria would require a large presence of U.S. and coalition aircraft which would be directly threatened by both the Russian Navy and their newly integrated anti-air defense sites.

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Relations between the United States and Russia can be summed up with this photograph of Presidents Obama and Putin meeting at the most recent G20 summit

Unbeknownst to the average American, the threat of another Cold War with Russia is looming over the horizon. With the media covering nothing but election shenanigans over the past few months, the war in Syria has garnered barely a minute of airtime to every 60 minutes of election coverage. Most do not realize the possibility of confrontation with Russia is real and may happen in the very near future. If more were aware of the lurking danger, the Syrian Civil War would be the hot-button issue during the U.S. Presidential debates, rather than who grabbed who in the genitals.

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