Coronavirus Deals Blow to Syria Rebuilding Efforts

Coronavirus Deals Blow to Syria Rebuilding Efforts

The Syrian Civil War is much less intense than it was a few years ago, but there are serious questions as to whether the war-torn country can become a viable nation again.

The crisis is particularly acute in the Shehba triangle in northwestern Syria. The United States, Russia, and Turkey have all battled Islamic militants in this area. The region is now in a diplomatic no-man’s-land. Both the Syrians and Turks operate checkpoints nearby, restricting the flow of aid to roughly a half-million IDPs (Internationally Displaced People) in the region. No international assistance organizations have entered Shehba since 2018. In that time, the number of coronavirus cases has increased exponentially. People who need specialist care must usually travel to Aleppo. The easiest way to do so, according to one resident, is to bribe Iraninan-backed militias.

Shiler Sido, of the Kurdish Red Crescent, opined that the current crisis is entirely political. “When Turkey started its war against Afrin in its so-called Olive Branch Operation, the Syrian government turned a blind eye,” she said. “Because of political agendas the U.N. are affected by, they neglect us, too,” she added.

Roots of the Syrian Civil War

The origins of the current Syrian Civil War date back to before the current state of Syra even existed. In 1916, with World War I still raging around the globe, British and French envoys secretly divied up the Middle Eastern possessions of the decaying Ottoman Empire. As had been done so many times before, the Great Powers entered into the Sykes-Picot agreement with little or no regard for the people who lived in the area.

The Sykes-Picot map drew an east-west line “from the ‘e’ in ‘Acre’ to the last ‘k’ in ‘Kirkuk.’” The British received a sphere of influence over everything to the south of that line, including the oil-rich fields of Iraq and a direct pathway to India. The French seized a sphere of influence over everything north of that line, including the historically significant Lebanese coast and Bekaa Valley.

What would become Syria practically straddled that line. So, fledgling Syria grew up in the shadow of three world empires: France, Great Britain, and the Ottoman Turks. As a result, and not surprisingly, Syria has been an unstable country in a historically unstable region.

Recent Events

Beginning in the 1960s, much like neighboring Iraq, a series of Ba’ath Party dictators, mostly from the Assad family, has ruled Syria. This political movement, which was dedicated to “Unity, Freedom, and Socialism,” prized social order above things like individual liberties. That’s an attractive stance if you are close to the ruling class. But for everyone else, not so much.

The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq ended Ba’ath Party rule in that country. For a while, it looked like the 2010 Arab Spring movement might do the same thing to Syriian strongman Bashar al-Assad. But Assad survived the revolution which swept a number of regional dictators, including Libya’s Muhamar Qaddafi and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, from power.

Initially, U.S.-backed Syrian rebels battled Russian-backed government forces. As the war continued, neighboring Turkey took advantage of the chaos and occupied northern Syria. It now appears that this occupation is permanent, as the Turks are putting down roots in the area.

Government forces now occupy most of the country, but fighting continues in some areas. As Syria begins to feel the full force of U.S. economic sanctions under the Caesar Act, that fighting will most likely intensify. But no one knows for sure.

Contractor Responsibilities

With two other wars in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region in various wind-down stages, American decision-makers are anxious to avoid the appearance of involvement in yet another foreign war in the area. As a result, a number of private military contractors are in Syria. The exact number is unknown, but it is almost certainly significant and growing.

Contractors face the same hazards that regular servicemembers face. In fact, if one boards a helicopter in a place like Iraq or Afghanistan, it is hard to tell the difference between regular servicemembers and private military contractors.

Until the 1980s, these operatives were essentially illegal. But then, the General Accounting Office announced it would no longer strictly interpret the nineteenth century Anti-Pinkerton Act. This obscure law forbade the federal government from employing paramilitary forces. Because of that change, the number of in-country private military contractors often outstrips the number of regular servicemembers.

Private contractors create deniability on both sides. Friendly foreign leaders point to the low number of U.S. troops as evidence of independence. Washington politicians do the same thing to minimize U.S. involvement.

Additionally, contractors are much cheaper than servicemembers. Once a contractor’s deployment ends, the government’s financial commitment ends. Servicemembers, on the other hand, are usually entitled to lifetime benefits. On a similar note, an Army unit must receive months of pre-deployment training. Contractors like KBR can often have boots on the ground after one phone call.

There is a difference between contractors and mercenaries. Contractors are limited to defensive operations and are loyal to the sponsoring country. Mercenaries have no such operational limits. ANd, they only care about money.

Compensation Available

When private military contractors are injured overseas, the Defense Base Act works in much the same way as the VA disability system. Injured contractors are entitled to compensation for their economic losses. That includes lost wages, as follows:

  • Temporary Total Disability: If the victim is unable to work because of a trauma injury or occupational disease, the DBA usually pays two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage for the duration of the TTD.
  • Temporary Partial Disability: Some recovering victims are able to work. But they must accept a lower-paying light duty assignment or they must reduce their hours. So, in these cases, the DBA pays two-thirds of the difference between the old and new incomes.
  • Permanent Total Disability: If the victim is unable to return to work, an alternative payout is usually available. “Disability” is not just a medical term. The word also has vocational, educational, and economic implications.
  • Permanent Partial Disability: Partial physical recovery is quite common. If the victim regains most, but not all, of the lost functions, an alternative payout might be available, depending on the nature and extent of the PPD.

The DBA also pays reasonably necessary medical expenses. That usually means everything from the ambulance ride to the hospital to the last day of physical therapy.

Contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A. for more information about DBA eligibility.