Momentum Swings in Syrian Civil War

Momentum Swings in Syrian Civil War

Government forces and their Russian allies recently dislodged U.S.-backed rebels from a strategic town they have held since 2012. The victory is just the latest one in a series of triumphs for Bashar Assad.

The northwestern town of Maaret al-Numan sits on the main highway between Damascus and Aleppo. While rebels occupied Maaret al-Numan, they could significantly inhibit the movement of government forces. Now, that’s no longer possible. Government forces battered rebel defenses for several weeks, backed by large scale Russian airstrikes. “Our armed forces continued operations in southern parts of Idlib with the aim of putting an end to crimes committed by terrorist groups,” remarked Gen. Ali Mayhoub. These operations include the capture of more than a dozen villages in Idlib province.

Thus far, the current civil war has killed some 400,000 people and created over five million refugees.

A Closer Look at the Syrian Civil War

This ongoing conflict is now in its tenth year. But like many other Middle East imbroglios, the roots of the Syrian Civil War reach back much further than that.

World War I had a number of causes, and nationalism (or jingoism, depending on your perspective) was near the top of the list. The Great Powers of Europe often exploited nations in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere for their own purposes. In 1905, less than 10 years before the Great War began, German Kaiser Wilhelm openly encouraged the Moroccans to resist French incursions on their sovereignty. The First Moroccan Crisis drove an even deeper wedge between the Germans and the French.

Unfortunately, it seems the Great War did not convince these nations to change their behavior. In May 1916, while the fighting still raged in Europe and Asia, the British and French secretly agreed to divide the holdings of the decaying Ottoman Empire. The Sykes-Picot agreement was designed to give oil-rich Iraq to Great Britain and the more prosperous areas of the Middle East to the French.

The negotiators cared nothing about the people who already lived in these areas. Most significantly for purposes of this blog, the line Messrs. Sykes and Picot drew almost directly bisected what later became Syria. So, in a sense, the current Syrian civil war is over a hundred years old.

2010’s Arab Spring was probably the immediate cause of the current flare-up. Popular movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and other places either deposed longtime dictators or at least secured additional freedoms for the people. These protests also affected Syria, but longtime strongman Assad stood firm, thanks to substantial help from Moscow.

In the early years of the current civil war, rebel groups were able to hold their own. Now, a decade later, it is a dark time for the Rebellion. Although the Death Star has been destroyed, Imperial troops have driven the Rebel forces from their hidden base and pursued them across the galaxy. At least in a manner of speaking.

All civil wars are total wars. The dividing line between combatants and civilians vanished a long time ago. When the conflict finally ends, the “winner” of the Syrian Civil War will inherit a country largely in ruins.

Combat Contractors in Syria

In the early years of the current civil war, some U.S. decisionmakers wanted to support the rebels in their fight against Assad, who was a longtime Washington nemesis. But large-scale troop commitments were unthinkable, especially as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq dragged on.

At the same time, rebel groups welcomed any assistance they could get from the United States. After all, the U.S. has backed several Middle East rebel groups in the recent past. The early Cold War conflict in Iran and the late Cold War conflict in Afghanistan spring immediately to mind. However, the U.S. has a rather poor reputation as an imperialist. So, no one wants to be perceived as a puppet of the Americans.

Private military contractors were an ideal solution for both parties. These deployments do not count in official DoD statistics. Additionally, when pressed, military officials often refuse to disclose private military contractor figures, citing security concerns. Meanwhile, rebel groups could accept U.S. assistance without raising eyebrows. Private military contractors know how to blend in quietly.

There are other advantages, as well, especially behind the lines. Private military contractors are adept at training and assisting combat forces. Remember those “advisors” who were in Vietnam before combat troops arrived? Today, those people would probably be private contractors.

Additionally, many contractors do not carry rifles. Instead, they carry wrenches or laptops. They maintain sophisticated systems and keep rebel armies in top condition.

Injury Compensation Available

During wartime, all contractors risk injury. Therefore, the Defense Base Act applies broadly to any private military contractor in-country. Additionally, contractors need not sustain injury while they are on the clock in order to obtain compensation.

This 1941 law applies to any foreign contractors who are injured in a war zone. Both these key concepts deserve additional explanation.

Private military contractors in one of the 50 states are not eligible for DBA protection. But pretty much anyone else is. That includes contractors who are injured on U.S. foreign soil, such as Guam. That also includes contractors who work at U.S. embassies or consulates abroad.

In the everyday world, a “war zone” usually means a place where bullets whiz past one’s head. But in the DBA context, a “war zone” is any country which has any official U.S. military presence. That could be anything from a sprawling Army base to a single military attache in a nondescript government office.

Furthermore, as mentioned, there need not be a direct relationship between the injury and the contractor’s deployment. Assume a Syrian contractor goes on daily runs to stay fit. During one such run, he accidentally steps in a shellhole. That injury could have happened to anyone, but because the victim was a military contractor and there is a nexus (indirect relationship) between the deployment and the injury, DBA benefits are probably in order.

These benefits usually include two-thirds of the contractor’s lost wages for the entire duration of a temporary disability. DBA benefits also include the payment of all reasonably necessary medical expenses, such as emergency care, follow up treatment, and physical therapy.

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