Fighting Continues in Syria

Fighting Continues in Syria

The Islamic State’s attempt to overrun a major prison in Northeastern Syria may have been a springboard for further and more intense military action from a group many people thought was defeated.

About 120 Syrian Defense Force fighters were killed during an intense 10-day battle at al-Sinaa prison. IS forces tried to free some 3,000 prisoners in the organization’s largest operation since 2019. The SDF broke the siege with assistance from American combat forces, including Bradley armored personnel carriers and several airstrikes. According to captured documents and prisoner interrogations, IS planned similar attacks against other neighborhoods in Shaddada, Hassakeh, and Deir el-Zour, all of which are in eastern Syria. The group’s “desperate and violent tactics are a grave reminder to the world that the terrorist group remains a threat that can and must be defeated,” the State Department remarked in a statement.

Eastern Syria is one of the few remaining strongholds in the war-torn country for rebels, along with their U.S. military and American contractor allies.

Syria: How We Got Here

The current Syrian Civil War began in 2011. Around that time, Arab Spring protests toppled long term dictators in Libya, Egypt, and several other countries. Syrian strongman Bashar Assad survived the initial protests. But he was unable to suppress these protests, which morphed into a civil war. The United States quickly backed rebel groups and Russia quickly expressed support for Assad, whose family is a longtime Soviet and Russian friend. 

Soon, diplomatic support transitioned to military support on both sides. For a while, it looked like Syria could be the spark which ignited a superpower conflict. But cooler heads prevailed. Additionally, ISIS forces soon intervened and Turkey occupied much of northern Syria. Because of this instability, and also because of some military setbacks, the U.S. got cold feet and largely withdrew. However, American private military contractors remain in Syria to this day.

The big picture, however, reveals a civil war that was about a century in the making. In fact, the roots of this war go back to when Syria was an obscure province in a decaying Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I.

Not many Americans are familiar with the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916. At that point, Germany and her allies still very much had the upper hand in Europe. Nevertheless, Great Britain and France asked two diplomats to develop a plan for a “what if” scenario that looked like it might never happen.

During secret negotiations, Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot agreed to divide the non-Turkish portion of the Ottoman Empire into spheres of influence. At that time, this territory, which was still firmly controlled by the Turks, included what later became Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, and most of the Gulf Coast Countries (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates). 

Sykes and Picot drew an imaginary east-west line that basically split this territory in two. In much of the world, Sykes-Picot is infamous for destroying Kurdistan. Today, the Kurds, whose land is divided between Iraq, Turkey, and a few other countries, are the largest state-less people group on the planet. Additionally, the Sykes-Picot line basically bisected modern-day Syria. So, ever since its founding, the country has almost literally been a house divided.

What Contractors Do

As they do in most other overseas countries, American contractors have both military and non-military responsibilities.

Militarily, contractors focus on three main tasks: logistical support, combat support, and combat training.

Logistical support relates to a shift in military philosophy. For much of history, manpower has been more important than firepower. In World War II, most commanders, be they American, German, Soviet, or whatever, believed that if enough bombers flew over a target, one of them was bound to score a hit. In the latter half of the twentieth century, as military technology advanced rapidly, that idea changed. 

The sophisticated jet fighters and other weapons that most countries use require a lot more maintenance than a World War II-era bomber. Contractors normally provide this logistical support, giving combat troops an edge.

Speaking of combat troops, U.S. law restricts private military contractors to support roles. Contactors man checkpoints and guard perimeters. These functions are vital. When contractors cover such tasks, more regular servicemembers are available for offensive operations.

Training might be the most important contractor function. Friendly governments in places like Iraq usually have access to substantial manpower. But these soldiers are usually conscripts whose devotion to the cause is suspect. As a result, military training in many countries is little more than political indoctrination.

Contractors focus not on political motivation but on practical skills. Many contractors are former law enforcement officers. These individuals share their knowledge in areas like intelligence gathering, relationship building, and physical deterrence. Additionally, most contractors have experience in anti-insurgency operations. Military trainees badly need such experience.

Non-combat operations usually include rebuilding projects. Experiences like Vietnam in the early 1970s and Afghanistan in the early 1990s have taught American planners that winning the peace is as important, if not more important, than winning the war. Winning the peace usually involves rebuilding bridges, roads, hospitals, power plants, and other infrastructure items.

Contractors, who usually work as site managers at these projects, know what it takes to complete the work on time and under budget. The budget aspect is especially important to Syrian reconstruction. Many pundits estimate that reconstruction will be more costly than the war.

Usually, there is some overlap in these two areas. For example, large construction projects typically require armed security. These projects are tempting targets for militants who are anxious to attract recruits and destabilize the existing government.

Injury Compensation Available

These activities are equally dangerous. High-profile security missions also involve high risk. Furthermore, the working conditions in places like Syria are often not very safe. A trauma injury, like a fall, or an occupational disease, like hearing loss, could easily trigger medical bills in the tens of thousands of dollars.

If contractors are injured overseas, and their injury is connected to their deployment, Defense Base Act benefits apply to reasonably necessary medical expenses, such as:

  • Transportation costs,
  • Emergency treatment,
  • Follow up care,
  • Prescription drugs,
  • Medical devices, and
  • Physical or occupational therapy.

Generally, the DBA insurance company pays these costs directly. If the insurance company drags its feet, attorneys usually send letters of protection to medical and other providers. Because these letters guarantee payment when the case is resolved, the providers defer billing until that time.

For more information about other DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.