IW Roundup — March 18, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

March 8 – March 17

Welcome to the third installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest on Irregular Warfare and Special Operations. We hope you’ll find this collection to be interestingly broad in its scope in addition to bringing you the stories most relevant to U.S. readers. To that end, we’ll be updating the format as we go in order to make this product as useful and informative as possible. Now on to the roundup:

Secretary of Defense faces a choice on SO/LIC reforms: Defy Congress or stand up to the Generals

Former Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (ASD(SO/LIC)) Mark Mitchell has called out Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on his first bureaucratic dilemma. According to recent reporting, Secretary Austin is considering at least partially reversing reforms made by his predecessor, Acting Secretary Christopher Miller. Miller had instituted changes required by the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act which sought to rebalance the relationship between the ASD (SO/LIC) and Commander of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) by placing more power and responsibility in the ASD(SO/LIC). However, as with any change in power balances, the change has upset those who stand to lose in the deal. Mitchell says Austin has a “clear choice: eliminate the legally mandated Miller reforms and eviscerate civilian control of USSOCOM or stand up to his erstwhile colleagues in the general officer ranks.” [Will Lloyd Austin stand up to the generals? | Opinion | The Hill]

And it’s not just USSOCOM that is set against the changes. The powerful Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (USD(P)) also stands to lose. Until the recent reforms, ASD(SO/LIC) was subordinate to USD(P), and reported to the Secretary through USD(P). Upending the recent reforms could return the ASD(SO/LIC) to this subordinate position, weakening advocacy for SOF-related issues. [SECDEF Needs to Obey Congress and Not Undermine Special Operations | Opinion | SOFREP]

US has more troops in Afghanistan than it officially declared

As the Afghan Peace Process enters crunch time, new facts are uncovered about the number of US troops on ground. A special report of The New York Times stated that the disclosed number of troops on ground is less than those actually present. The officially declared number of troops is 2,500. However, the report establishes that there are 3,500 US troops on ground in Afghanistan. The difference reportedly is caused by some special operations forces having been put “off the books.” But the deadline of the withdrawal of troops is getting down the wire, according to the deal signed between Taliban and Trump administration. Under that deal, Washington has to withdraw its troops for the Afghan soil by May 1, New York Time, March 14. [U.S. Has 1,000 More Troops in Afghanistan Than It Disclosed – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

UNSC asks for withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya

The United Nations Security Council has urged states involved in Libyan conflict to withdraw their forces. All 15 parties to the conflict have agreed to implement the ceasefire agreement. This is an important and positive development in case of Libya but the post withdrawal scenario might be the one Libya is not ready for. The vacuum generated due to the withdrawal can aid terrorist entities grow stronger in the state. Al Jazeera, March 13. [UN urges withdrawal of foreign forces, mercenaries from Libya | Khalifa Haftar News | Al Jazeera]

Lacking concrete implementation powers, the United Nations so far seems to plans to lead this effort through the use of monitor teams and advocacy for observance of ceasefire agreements.

International and regional actors strive to bring political resolution to Syrian conflict

New developments are underway in the decade-long Syrian conflict, a hotbed of extremism, terrorism, and war crimes. The major stakeholders of the conflict Turkey, Russia, and Qatar, have come together to discuss how to bring an end to the conflict. Through their “trilateral consultation process” the states will strive to bring peace in Syria through political resolution. The foreign ministers of the three states agreed that the solution to the long-fought conflict is not military but political. They also reaffirmed their support of Syria’s “sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.” Al Jazeera, March 12. [Turkey, Russia, Qatar push for political resolution in Syria | Syria’s War News | Al Jazeera

Despite having these three important international players at the table together, it is important for the sustainability and longevity of peace to include all domestic stakeholders in the process. Otherwise peaceful Syria would remain a dream. 

Bashar Al Assad‘s wife faces possible terror charges in UK

In other Syria-related news, Asma al Assad, wife of the Syrian President Bashar al Assad, faces investigation in UK. The investigation by British police was started in response to a referral by Guernica 37, a conflict-based law firm. The investigation centers on her alleged support for the Syrian army’s war crimes and crimes against humanity including use of chemical weapons. The allegations are supported by Ms. Assad’s own speeches. Ms. Assad is a dual British-Syrian national and as a result of these allegations, her British nationality could be canceled. The Guardian, March 14. [Asma al-Assad risks loss of British citizenship as she faces possible terror charges | Asma al-Assad | The Guardian]

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