Syrian Civil War Drags On

Although government forces have asserted control over most of the war-torn country, fighting continues in Syria. Between October and December 2023, American troops repelled over 100 attacks.

Most of the attacks either did not reach bases or were shot down by U.S. defenses, according to a DoD official. The small number that did, however, have resulted in 66 injuries to U.S. troops, a number that has held steady since Dec. 7. The Pentagon has characterized the injuries, including dozens of traumatic brain injuries, as “non-serious.” All of the troops have since returned to duty, the defense official confirmed.

In response, the U.S. military has carried out three strikes on facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in Syria in response to the ongoing attacks, in addition to running down at least one group of perpetrators following an attack in Iraq.

The Syrian Civil War

The immediate roots of the Syrian Civil War, which now fits the profile of the “forever wars” so common in this part of the world, began with the Arab Spring protests in 2011. When civil demonstrations failed to oust longtime strongman Bashar Assad, his opponents turned to armed conflict.

But the real roots of this civil war and this conflict go back to the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, a little-known episode of World War I.

At that time, the war had become a bloody stalemate, with neither side having an advantage, at least on most fronts. But that didn’t stop the Allied Powers, mostly Great Britain and France at that time, from dividing the future spoils of war.

The agreement effectively divided the Ottoman Empire’s provinces outside the Arabian Peninsula into areas of British and French control and influence. The UK received a “sphere of influence” in all territory south of the Sykes-Picot line, including Palestine, Jordan, southern Iraq, and an additional small area that included the ports of Haifa and Acre to allow access to the Mediterranean. The Iraqi oil fields were the major prize. France, the junior partner in this arrangement, was to control southeastern Turkey, most of Kurdistan, and Lebanon.

Note that Syria isn’t on this list of nations and future nations. That’s because the Sykes-Picot line essentially bisected what would biome Syria. The nation began as a house divided and occupied by two foreign armies. That’s not a good start.

Sykes-Picot also cut Kurdistan in half. Today, the Kurds live primarily in Syria, Turkey, and Iraq. The Kurds, who have a different language and culture than other Arabs, are the largest stateless people in the world.

Combat Contractors in Syria

Mercenaries assisted Allied armies during World War I, and private military contractors assist American armies today.

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Légion étrangère (French Foreign Legion) changed its recruitment pattern. Soon, pro-French people from all over Europe joined.

Swiss novelist and poet Blaise Cendrars, who joined the Legion and lost his right arm in September 1915, led the way. Followers included Italians, Russian expatriates, East European Jews who had fled to France in the 1890s, nationals of neutral countries (including the American poet Alan Seeger), members of minorities of the Habsburg Empire, and allegedly even 800 Germans and Austrians.

These people had mixed motives. Some wanted to fight for France because they believed in its system of government. Others needed a job after mobilization orders shut down factories. Altogether, nearly 43,000 foreigners enlisted in the French army during World War I.

Likewise, modern private military contractors often serve with mixed motives. Some want or need the money. Others want to fight for the American system of government and the values they believe in.

By law, private military contractors can only serve in defensive capacities. They usually patrol markets, escort supply convoys, and verify IDs at checkpoints. This restriction separates contractors from mercenaries.

Oversight is another key difference. People joined the French Foreign Legion to disappear. Private military contractors are subject to ongoing supervision and accountability.

Rebuilding Contractors in Syria

Some civil wars, like the Syrian Civil War, never end. The fighting might pause for a few months or years, and the cast of characters might change slightly. But the struggle between the two sides continues.

Rebuilding contractors establish goodwill for the next round of fighting if the U.S. chooses to participate. Locals know who rebuilt schools, hospitals, and other neighborhood infrastructure, and they know it was not the government. They do not forget who did what when fighting resumes.

Contractors must have a plan. They cannot simply move in and order construction crews to work. That’s just another form of imperialism. So, contractors work with local laborers whenever possible. This division of labor allows contractors to control the project and local residents to participate in it.

Security is part of that plan. Division of labor helps in this area. Locals are less likely to sabotage projects they are invested in. They are also more likely to provide valuable intelligence about those who wish to do harm.

Live security is important as well. In fact, many construction projects, such as large dams, require almost as many security contractors as construction contractors.

Injury Compensation Available

Construction work, like security work, is dangerous. That is especially true in overseas countries whose governments do not have strong labor laws and watchdog agencies. The four most common construction-related trauma injuries are:

  • Falls: Loose objects and debris are very common at construction sites. A slip-and-fall could easily cause a serious or fatal injury, especially if the victim has a pre-existing condition. Speaking of fatal fall injuries, a fall from four stories above ground is usually fatal.
  • Electrocution: These injuries often overlap with falls. Arc blasts normally throw victims through the air. There is no telling where they’ll land. Alternatively, the electrical surge triggers involuntary muscle contraction. Because of the no-let-go response, victims are exposed to energy that’s hotter than the sun’s surface temperature.
  • Struck By: One drawback of inexperienced construction crews is that they are, well, inexperienced. They do not know basic rules, like never pulling out a hammer or other object unless you intend to use it immediately. If someone drops a tool from above, the impact could seriously injure someone at ground level.
  • Caught Between: Inexperienced workers also have problems driving large construction vehicles at busy construction sites. As a result, workers are often “caught between” a heavy vehicle, like a cement mixer, and a fixed object, like a retaining wall. Serious injuries are very common in these cases.

Construction workers also risk occupational diseases, such as hearing loss. Frequently, construction sites are not loud enough to trigger ear-ringing and other such red flag symptoms. But they are loud enough to damage hearing over time.

Defense Base Act benefits replace lost wages and pay medical bills in these situations. These benefits are available to citizens and noncitizens alike.

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