Battle of AleppoAleppo, Syria - After six years of intense fighting, the Battle for Aleppo has ended. Dozens of jihadist fighters have been captured upon surrender and BCO forces sweep the occupied buildings for booby traps.
A Syrian soldier stand atop a building days after the battle ended
A Syrian soldier stand atop a building days after the battle ended
Syria has seen warfare for almost twenty years, dating back to the Israeli-Syrian War in 1999. The Lebanese Syrian-proxy, Hezbollah, had attacked and killed the leaders of the South Lebanon Army, an Israeli ally. This sparked an invasion by the Israelis which in turn brought the Syrian military into the conflict. It was in this war that Syria was severely weakened, opening the stage for al-Qaeda to take over.
It was from the start of the war that Russia became involved. The next year, 2000, saw terrorists attack and destroy two Russian auxiliary ships in the Tartus naval base. After weeks of watching security, movements, and testing how close they could get to the ships the terrorist organization struck. The two ships were simultaneously damaged by suicide bombers in row boats who made it up close without being fired upon. Both ships were deemed non-salvageable and scrapped.
But it wasn't until 2001 that the war truly hit a point of no return. While the United States fought a limited-exchange conflict with China and a war in Korean peninsula, Russia was annexing area of Ukraine and Kazakhstan while also eying the former East Russian enemies. It was in this year that al-Qaeda was able to spread and control eastern Syria. Without Russia to back them up President al-Assad was forced to call a cease-fire which led to the formation of the Islamic State.
What restarted the conflict can traced back to 2008 when Russia reopened the Tartus naval base. With the naval base came arms and with arms came the ability for al-Assad to regain his country. In 2011, almost ten years to the date when the cease-fire was signed, Syrian government forces launched an offensive to liberate the eastern half of their country. The war would go on for three years before many of the Islamist fighters would take advantage of the instability in Iraq to invade and gain access to millions of discouraged and oppressed Sunni Arabs. Fallujah and Mosul fell, pushing the al-Sadr government into a corner that they had no chance of surviving.
The creation of ISIS and eventually IS happened that same year. In 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi named himself Caliph of the Islamic State from within Mosul and shortly after the Russian-allied Ba'athists switched sides and pulled Russia into the conflict. 2015 saw the deployment of the first Russian troops. It wasn't long before other BCO allies sent troops and aid. Of the allies only Serbia has made a full commitment to the destruction of the Islamic State.
It's back in Aleppo where many of our journalists have witnessed the carnage of the war. President Vladimir Putin has never been one that we'd call caring or sympathetic, and his ally Vojislav Šešelj would be described as much worse, but the war he is waging has done irreversible damage to Syria and its people. Hundreds of thousands have died so far and millions more have left as refugees. In the last days of the fighting there were reports of chemical warfare and barrel bombs being used against civilians. These were the civilians that had up until the re-ignition of the war actively supported the President. Russian jets have launched strikes against city blocks, knowing the quickest way to root out opposition is to literally level the playing field.
But it's effective. Up until the change in tactics the Syrian government had been losing ground. What started as an offensive war quickly turned defensive and required Russian involvement to prevent the total collapse of the government. At first the Russian and Serbian involvement had no immediate impact. Fighting was almost at a standstill in the cities. Then as if a switch had been flipped, the Serbian and Russian troops went to work like they did in Bosnia and Kazakhstan. They fought with the same intensity as the terrorists without any change in regards to human life; and it worked. In just four months the siege seemed to collapse as the body count rose. Although it seems the Islamic State has hit their first major roadblock in the Middle East it did come with a price for the BCO. Serbian troops took the hardest toll in the battle. The equivalent of a military unit was lost in the fighting, mostly due to the harsh urban combat. How the BCO plans to combat the challenge of losing just as many soldiers we do not know. What we do know is that whatever they choose to do it will only lead to more loss of human life and possibly ending all chances of a peaceful solution.
Turkey: The Lost NationPseudo-government forces conduct a raid outside the city of Erzincan, rounding up children age 10-16 to serve in their militias
Erzincan, Turkey - In 1915 the Turkish led a genocide against the Armenians in this region. Over 100 years later they commit a similar genocide, this time against their own people. Erzincan, the former headquarters of the Turkish Third Army, is a battleground led by self-appointed Major-General Uygun. When he accepted my request to visit his office I was both shocked and fearful about it. No journalist has entered Turkey and been able to meet with a major leader in the country.
General Uygun served in the Turkish military on the eastern front against Armenia. Entering his office is a giant picture of Enver Pasha and his reasons for revering this former Turkish leader is not subtle.
"He is responsible for killing almost 2 million [Armenians]," he points up to the picture with a grin. "I hope to kill as many enemies as him." His definition of "enemies" is extremely loose considering the main opposition he's facing are unarmed civilians. "When Ankara went dark our last orders were to enforce the curfew. Under no circumstances are people to be outside after the sun sets. To this day we still catch criminals breaking this order."
Our host references the fall of the Caliph in 2011 when the military overthrew the last of the Islamists who saw to the failed Turkish Caliphate. Reporters first entered Turkey in 2013 and saw the current state of the country. While General Uygun is the first Turkish warlord (because that is all he truly is) to give any incite to the timeline of events even his dates do not seem to match up. I gather that the military coup was not able to unify and caused infighting which eventually led to the anarchy we see today. 2013 was probably the year that things collapsed enough for their security to not actively stop people crossing the border to report.
I ask the General what his plans are, considering he's amassed the largest army in eastern Turkey (his words).
"It would be nice to take back the lands from the Kurds and Armenians but first I must unify Turkey." Despite his obvious position as leader of his men I find that his answers are neither inspiring or deep. Upon further prodding he grows agitated and admits that he is unaware of the situation in other regions of Turkey or if he even has the largest army. He claims anywhere between 5,000 men and 20,000 depending on the conversation. Even more disconcerting is his lack of knowledge of foreign events. General Uygun was surprised when I informed him that Gaziantep was captured two years ago by the Islamic State and that their numbers are large enough to span multiple continents and contend with the major powers.
Before I left he recalled some war stories of his including a battle where he fought off a gang of two hundred raiders who thought his military base was abandoned. For once I find some truthfulness in his words. Perhaps his bravery in that battle is why his men still follow him.
The future of Turkey is unclear. In a world in constant war it is difficult to say which country has suffered the worst. If the world was in a Cold War prior to the fall of the Soviet Union then we definitely live in a Hot War.