Monday, October 05, 2015

The Civilian Price & U.S. Patriots in Paradise

Aftermath of U.S. bombing of Kunduz hospital [Photo -]
The news of the horrific American air strikes that struck the only civilian hospital in the city of Kunduz in Afghanistan on Saturday is a costly (and deadly) warning that any serious effort to defeat ISIS forces and other terrorist groups operating in Syria is going to take a lot more than just air strikes.

It's going to require a commitment by a consortium of nations to deploy a massive humanitarian relief effort as well as ground troops at a time when many Americans are wary of sending service men and women overseas into combat after over a decade of simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that took the lives of over 6,800 Americans, thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians and cost U.S. taxpayers over a $1 trillion.

Saturday's bombing happened after members of the Afghan military requested US air support after coming under heavy fire from Taliban forces; it killed 22 Afghan patients and injured at least 37 people in the hospital which was run by the international aid group Doctors Without Borders or MSF.

Pentagon officials initially called the casualties "collateral damage".

Sadly, in a reflection of the complexity and senselessness of the "fog of war", the U.S. air strikes on the civilian hospital continued for quite some time even after representatives from MSF frantically called both the US military and Afghan officials to report the hospital was being targeted by mistake.

A spokeswoman for the Russian foreign military issued a statement saying that U.S. not only knew the location of the hospital in Kunduz, they had the exact coordinates to prevent something like this from happening.

Now even though this happened in Afghanistan, it offers an example of why targeted air strikes alone are not going to be enough to weaken and defeat ISIS in the war-torn nation of Syria.

Syrian women in front of a building destroyed by air strikes in Brimahle
US-led coalition aircraft killed at least 52 Syrian civilians during an air strike in May on the Northern Syrian village of Brimahle in Aleppo province. 

Just a few days ago a Russian air strike in Syria killed at least 39 civilians.

The Russian government has already indicated  that they intend to deploy troops in some capacity on the ground in Syria.

So the question remains how committed are the US and it's coalition allies to putting a halt to the war that is wreaking unspeakable havoc on the Syrian people?

One that's causing an international humanitarian crisis as thousands of refugees have fled to Europe.

It's reasonable to assume that the US already has a limited number of special forces on the ground in Syria helping US-backed insurgents and directing airstrikes, but will America send a larger contingent of soldiers to confront ISIS?

Interestingly, there are a number of Americans who aren't waiting for the government to answer that question.

Last Wednesday Jennifer Percy wrote a fascinating article in The New York Times Magazine, entitled, "Meet the American Vigilantes Who Are Fighting ISIS" which offered a look at the strange collection of American civilians who've used their own money to travel to Syria to fight ISIS.

Now these guys are not members of any of the professional security organizations that are contracted by the CIA or the Pentagon to fight insurgents abroad.

These guys are, well, regular American guys (some not even ex-soldiers) motivated by everything from boredom, curiosity or a craving for adventure, to a sense of patriotic duty to take on ISIS.

But their presence there isn't having a measurable impact in the fight against ISIS; and frankly ISIS isn't loosing any sleep because of these civilian volunteers.

John (Ray Milland), Beau (Gary Cooper) and Digby (Robert Preston) Geste
One of my absolute all-time favorite classic Hollywood films is Beau Geste, the 1939 version of the novel of the same name directed by master filmmaker William Wellman.

The film stars Gary Cooper, Robert Preston and Ray Milland as three orphaned brothers adopted by a wealthy British woman named Lady Brandon; a young Donald O'Connor plays Beau as a young boy in the 1st act.

As the brothers come of age, Lady Brandon's finances start to get tight and she's faced with the decision to put the family's priceless crown jewel, The Blue Water sapphire, up for sale.  

One night the jewel disappears and the evidence points to the brothers as the culprits.

That night Beau Geste slips away leaving a note that he's joined the French Foreign Legion; and his brothers Digby and John decide to follow him and join him.

All three end up stationed at a remote desert fort run by the ruthless Sergeant Markoff played brilliantly by Brian Donlevy where they defend the fort against an army of attacking Arab warriors with a ragtag group of Legionnaires.

While Beau Geste is a classic Hollywood mix of mystery, romance and adventure, the Americans interviewed by Jennifer Percy for her New York Times Magazine article (click the link above) discovered no romance or adventure when they arrived in Syria to fight ISIS.

Their lack of professional training, combat experience and the infighting that takes place amongst the stressed-out Americans illustrates why war is best left to professional armies.

War may be Hell but it's best left to those trained for the task.

Until the US-led coalition, the United Nations and the other leading powers in the mid-east get serious about coming up with a comprehensive plan to take on ISIS on the ground, it's the Syrian civilians who will be stuck in the middle; or risking their lives to escape the carnage.

Under threat from the forces loyal to their own leader Bashar Al-Assad, ISIS fighters seeking to turn Syria into an Islamic state governed by primitive Sharia law - and now (as evidenced by the aforementioned air strikes) by both coalition and Russian forces as well.

The Syrian people deserve better, and the world has a collective moral responsibility to respond to this worsening humanitarian crisis with a cooperative large-scale effort.

Air strikes alone ain't cutting it - nor are a group of American civilians who think taking on ISIS is like an adventure movie.


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