Super Bowl LIII was the stuff of… well, not legends, exactly — even though the Patriots did become only the second team in NFL history to win six Super Bowls. Whether you were rooting for Brady to cement his GOAT status or hoping the Rams could headbutt him into history, fans from both sides were a little disappointed by the early action in the game.
Here are some of the best memes to come out of the wait, the 4th-quarter fireworks, and the Super Bowl ads:
On the ad side, Bud Light had a few great ones, Stella Artois had an awesome one with Jeff Bridges as The Dude, Harrison Ford and his dog taught everyone about failed Alexa prototypes, and Microsoft showed off their adaptive controllers.
Kia’s ad debuted their swimming SUV, for some reason.
To be clear, no, Kia isn’t releasing a swimming SUV. But their ad about the Kia Telluride showed the small town in Georgia that makes the car and then showed someone driving the car into a river like they didn’t want it anymore (and, yes, it more likely be the Coast Guard than Navy).
It’s a well-known fact that the United States and the Taliban are at the negotiating table, hammering out the groundwork for peace after some 18 years of constant conflict. The U.S. first went to war in Afghanistan to defeat the al-Qaeda terrorist fighters the Taliban refused to give up in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on American soil.
The Taliban swears it would never again harbor terrorists.
In 2001, the Taliban were the recognized rulers of Afghanistan and had been since the early 1990s – for better or for worse. Until that point, the worst crimes committed by the Taliban were on Afghanistan’s female population and the cultural history of the region. During that ten-year span, Osama bin Laden and his followers established bases and training camps in the Taliban’s backyard, and the Afghan rulers did little about it. After Sept. 11, the United States began bombing the country in earnest.
Afghanistan’s leadership demanded evidence of bin Laden’s guilt while demanding the United States stop bombing their country. Then-President George W. Bush said the bombing was non-negotiable until the Taliban handed over the terrorist leader. The Taliban refused, but that didn’t matter – U.S. special operators were already in the country by that time. The rest is history.
Nearly two decades later, Zalmay Khalilzad an Afghan-American diplomat who represents the United States at the negotiating table, is content with the Taliban’s assertion that they would never allow Afghanistan to return to its former status as a “hotbed” for international terrorism.
“The world needs to be sure that Afghanistan will not be a threat to the international community,” said Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. “We are satisfied with the commitment that we have received on counterterrorism.”
Not everyone agrees, including U.S. lawmakers, Afghan government officials, and even the UN Security Council who, as late as 2018, declared that al-Qaeda militants were still very much embedded within the Taliban command structure, along with other terror groups, operating forces numbering into the thousands.
For Khalilzad, the U.S. military’s withdrawal can only be linked to the promises of the Taliban. The Taliban promised the counterterrorism guarantees will be written into its laws as soon as the United States leaves Afghanistan. The State Department is also working on ways to verify Taliban compliance with the agreement.
The new weapons would render NATO’s US-led missile defense “useless,” and is a testament to the international community’s failure to contain Russia’s military development, the Associated Press reported Putin as saying.
I want to tell all those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed to contain our country’s development: All what you wanted to impede with your policies have already happened. You have failed to contain Russia.
Three of Australia’s warships were “challenged” by the Chinese navy in the South China Sea early April, 2018, according to an ABC report.
Defense sources told ABC that Australia’s navy was en route to Vietnam when it encountered polite but “robust” challenges from the People’s Liberation Army, but the specific nature of the challenges is not described. HMAS Toowoomba had departed from Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, while HMAS Anzac and HMAS Success travelled through the South China Sea after leaving the Philippines.
It’s believed the interaction happened around the same time China was conducting its largest-ever naval parade on April 12, 2018. The massive show of force involved 10,000 naval officers, 48 naval vessels, submarines, the country’s only aircraft carrier.
During the event President Xi Jinping was on board one of the destroyers, overseeing the parade.
When questioned about the incident, Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wouldn’t reveal any details.
“All I can say to you is we maintain and practice the right of freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the world,” Turnbull said. “In this context, you’re talking about naval vessels on the world’s oceans including the South China Sea, as is our perfect right in accordance with international law.”
Numerous countries — including China, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines — have territorial claims, making the South China Sea one of the most disputed places on the planet. For its part, China has been criticized for building artificial islands in the region and militarizing them with missile sites and air bases.
This isn’t the only problem Turnbull has faced with China of late.
At the heart of Arlington National Cemetery lies one of our nation’s most magnificent displays of honor and respect to our fallen troops. Three unnamed graves are tended to by some of the most disciplined soldiers the military has to offer. The soldiers tirelessly guard the monument. Every hour (or half hour, during the spring and summer months), the guard is changed with an impressive, precise ceremony.
Each year, these three fallen soldiers receive up to four million visitors — but it’s not about honoring the specific individuals contained within the tomb. In death, these three fallen soldiers have became a symbol, representing each and every troop who gave their last breath in service of this great nation. Every step taken by the sentinels, every bouquet of flowers offered, every wreath laid, and every flag placed is for every American troop who has fallen.
This is exactly what was intended when the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated almost one hundred years ago, on November 11, 1921.
The King of England is also the head of the Church of England, so he chose to place the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, where all future kings and queens would be crowned, married, and buried.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
The tradition of honoring a fallen but unknown troop actually originated as a joint effort between France and the UK.
In 1916, David Railton was a chaplain in the English Army serving on the Western Front of World War I. Near Armentières, France, he discovered a rough, wooden cross planted in the middle of a battlefield. It read, simply, “an unknown British soldier, of the Black Watch.”
David Railton would go on to join the clergy after the war, but the image of that cross never left his mind. It took years, but after many attempts, he finally got the ear of Bishop Herbert Ryle, the Dean of Westminster. Railton wanted to repatriate the remains of this fallen soldier and give him proper honors, despite not knowing his identity. Bishop Ryle was moved by Rev. Railton’s passionate words and went directly to King George V with his proposal.
“How that grave caused me to think!… But, who was he, and who were they [his folk]?… Was he just a laddie… . There was no answer to those questions, nor has there ever been yet. So I thought and thought and wrestled in thought. What can I do to ease the pain of father, mother, brother, sister, sweetheart, wife and friend? Quietly and gradually there came out of the mist of thought this answer clear and strong, “Let this body – this symbol of him – be carried reverently over the sea to his native land.” And I was happy for about five or ten minutes.”
The soldier was buried at Westminster Abbey, London on November 11, 1920, thus creating what’s now known as The Tomb of The Unknown Warrior.
It’s fitting that the Arch built in honor of the French victory in WWI would also be the final resting site for her unknown soldier.
(Photo by Jorge Lascar)
Meanwhile, across the English Channel, in France, a young officer in the Le Souvenir Français, an association responsible for maintaining war memorials, had better luck. He argued for bringing an unidentified fallen soldier into the Pantheon in Paris to honor of all fallen French soldiers from the Great War — and his proposal garnered support.
Both England and France decided to share the honors. They buried France’s Unknown Soldier underneath the Arc de Triomphe on the same day as The Unknown Warrior was laid to rest at Westminster.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Cody Torkelson)
The next year, as the United States began the process of repatriating remains from the European battlefield, plans for an American Tomb of the Unknown Soldier began to take shape. The originator of the idea remains unknown to history, but the selection process was public. On October 24, 1921, six American soldiers were asked to come to Châlons-sur-Marne, France. Each soldier was a highly decorated and highly respected member of their respective units. They were selected to be pallbearers for the remains as they made their way back to the States.
While there, the officer in charge of grave registrations, Major Harbold, randomly selected one of the men. He gave Sgt. Edward F. Younger a bouquet of pink and white roses and asked him to step inside the chapel alone. There, four identical, unmarked coffins awaited him. He was told that whichever coffin he laid the roses on would be laid to rest in the National Shrine.
Younger said of the event,
“I walked around the coffins three times, then suddenly I stopped. What caused me to stop, I don’t know, it was as though something had pulled me. I placed the roses on the coffin in front of me. I can still remember the awed feeling that I had, standing there alone.”
The remains were brought to the Capital Rotunda and remained there until November 11th, 1921. President Warren G. Harding officiated a ceremony in which he bestowed upon the Unknown Soldier the Medal of Honor and a Victoria Cross, given on behalf of King George V.
Since that day, the entombed soldier has been guarded every moment of every day, rain, shine, hurricane, or blizzard.
Amazon is planning to make a foray into delivering ready-to-eat meals based on a technology program pioneered by the Army to improve the infamous MRE field rations.
According to a report by Reuters, the online retailer currently trying to acquire Whole Foods is also looking to sell food items like beef stew and vegetable frittatas that would be shelf stable for at least a year.
This is done using a preparation technique called microwave assisted thermal sterilization, or “MATS,” which was developed by 915 Labs, a start-up in the Denver area.
MATS came about as the Army was seeking to improve its Meals Ready to Eat for troops in the field. Traditional methods of preparing shelf-stable foods involve using pressure cookers, which also remove nutrients and alter the food’s flavor and texture. This requires the use of additive, including sodium and artificial flavors, according to reports.
The new technology involves putting sealed packages of food into water and using microwaves to heat them. Currently, machines can produce about 1,800 meals per hour, but some machines could produce as many as 225 meals a minute.
The shelf-stable foods would be ideal for Amazon’s current delivery system, which involves warehouses to store products that are later delivered to customers. Shelf-stable food that is ready-to-eat is seen as a potential “disruptor” in the industry.
“They will test these products with their consumers, and get a sense of where they would go,” Greg Spragg, the President and CEO of Solve for Food, told Reuters. The company is based in Arkansas, near the headquarters of Wal-Mart.
One bottleneck had been getting approval from the Food and Drug Administration for dishes prepared with MATS. 915 Labs has developed dishes, but is awaiting the go-ahead. Meanwhile, the Australian military has acquired the technology, and several countries in Asia that lack refrigerated supply chains are also purchasing machines.
Oh, and MATS could also be used on MREs, providing the same five-year shelf life that the current versions get as well.
North Carolina National Guard soldiers escorted four WWII veterans and their families to 75th-anniversary liberation celebrations Sept. 11-17, 2019.
The veterans served in the 30th Infantry Division, known as Old Hickory, and helped to liberate Belgium and the Netherlands from German occupation in September 1944.
Throughout the week, the Old Hickory veterans were honored with ceremonies, dinners, hugs, and a parade through Maastricht in the Limburg Province.
The soldiers and WWII veterans enjoyed the festivities, as well as the smaller, more personal moments.
“The most emotional part for me was when George Ham visited the spot where his battle buddy was killed,” said Maj. Kevin Hinton, deputy commander for the NCNG’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion. “George served in Charlie Company, 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division, and that’s who I served with in Iraq in 2004.”
WWII Veterans who served in the 30th Infantry Division, and North Carolina National Guard soldiers visit the graves of 30th Inf. Div. soldiers buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, the Netherlands on Sept. 12, 2019.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Mary Junell)
Hinton, vice president of the 30th Infantry Division Association, said he felt a connection to what the WWII veteran was going through.
“Part of George’s emotion is that he was supposed to be that guy, but he switched positions,” Hinton said. “There’s probably some survivor’s guilt on his part, and I’ve been there. I understand that feeling.”
The N.C. Guard soldiers were all veterans of the same unit, having served in Iraq with the now reorganized 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, and acted as representatives of the Guard and the 30th Infantry Division Association, a membership group for veterans of the unit.
The trip affected not only the 30th Infantry Division veterans but also currently serving soldiers who were part of the liberation celebrations.
“It gives value to my own sense of service and what I’m doing now by serving,” said Col. Wes Morrison, the North Carolina Army National Guard chief of staff. “I see that folks appreciate, across the world, what the United States Army has done for the world at different times. Your service means something and it means something to not just Americans, but people across the world.”
WWII Veterans who served with the 30th Infantry Division were honored with a ceremony and parade through the City of Maastricht in the Limburg Province of the Netherlands that ended in a festival on Sept. 14, 2019, in celebration of 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Limburg Provence by 30th Inf. Div. soldiers in September of 1944.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Mary Junell)
The group was able to visit the same places where the 30th Infantry Division fought back the German occupation and other places where they were able to rest after almost 90 days of being on the front lines.
One of those places was the Rolduc Abbey in Kerkrade, a rest center for soldiers after the liberation. While there, some of the current Soldiers took a photo in the same courtyard where a formation of Old Hickory soldiers took a photo 75 years ago.
Hinton hoped this trip would help build a bond between the new generation of Old Hickory veterans and the people of the Limburg province to continue the tradition.
“It’s a part of the history of the 30th and the North Carolina National Guard,” Hinton said. “We need to educate our young soldiers on the history of what the 30th has done. When the WWII veterans are long gone, the U.S. and the Netherlands will still exist, and we have to maintain this and remember what they did. Like someone said in one of the speeches, the beginnings of the European Union started with the liberation and the desire for Europe to never go through that again.”
WWII Veterans who served with the 30th Infantry Division, visit the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium on Sept. 15, 2019, where more than 300 Old Hickory soldiers who died during WWII are buried.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Mary Junell)
As the soldiers, veterans, and their families prepared to travel home, many were heard to say “see you in five years,” anticipating the 80th anniversary of the liberation.
Even though the WWII veterans may no longer be able to make the trip, Morrison thought it was important the tradition continues.
“If we honor the veterans of the past, we bring more value to the service that we have today,” Morrison said. “You wear the uniform in the current unit, you’re wearing Old Hickory. You now have the responsibility of that lineage and history of that unit on your back. We can’t let them down. The history they created here, the high bar, high standard for performance of duty and what they did here, 75 years ago is something we have to keep in the back of our minds all the time.”
As the last ISIS stronghold in Syria crumbles, it’s clear that the leadership of the terrorist organization had no intention of fighting to the death with their devoted fighters. The whereabouts of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have been unknown for some time, and those in his inner circle have been just as absent, from either the battlefields or the media.
Until now, that is.
“Guys, we’re totally coming to help you. Just keep fighting. We’ll be there in, like, two days. Pinky swear.”
It’s been six months since the world last heard from Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, the Islamic State’s official spokesperson. But on Mar. 18, 2019, the terrorist group released a 44-minute audio recording in the wake of the mosque shootings in New Zealand.
That shooting killed some 50 muslim worshippers while they were at prayer in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. The perpetrator was a white nationalist extremist from Australia, who broadcast the event all over social media. ISIS is trying to rebrand it as part of the Islamic State’s global struggle against the West.
“Here is Baghuz in Syria, where Muslims are burned to death and are bombed by all known and unknown weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
We’re pretty sure he meant to say “There is Baghuz…” because he is definitely somewhere else.
ISIS Is implying that muslims are being killed indiscriminately in Syria because of their religion. The truth of the matter is Baghuz is under attack from the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who are fighting to take the town because it’s full of only ISIS fighters and their families. Those same ISIS fighters attempted a genocide against several Iraqi minorities at the peak of their power.
Despite what ISIS would have anyone believe, the global community of muslims has little to do with ISIS or its worldview.
Imam Alabi Zirullah warned his worshippers before the gunman could open fire on the group.
Alabi Lateef Zirullah is an imam at the Linwood mosque. He saw the gunman enter the mosque and warned the crowd to take cover. Linwood was one of two Mosques targeted and where seven people died.
“The heroes are those people who passed away, not me,” Zirullah said. “But I thank God Almighty for using me to save the few lives that I could.” The imam also had words for the attacker who stormed the mosque – words very different from ISIS’ message.
“I don’t hate him. He may have gone through a lot of bad experiences in his life. But that is no excuse to kill. We must overcome what has happened and be strong for the families of those who died. Hate cannot be the victor.”
Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro on Feb. 27, 2019, tweeted a 40-minute-long livestream on Periscope about the government’s carnival preparations as the country further spirals into crisis.
Carnival — or “Carnaval” as known in Venezuela — is a big celebration celebrated before Lent every year, in which people dress up in costumes, dance, and attend parades with floats.
Maduro’s video came after a weekend of violent clashes when state forces barred activists from bringing in aid through the Colombian and Brazilian borders.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro discussed plans for Venezuela’s upcoming Carnaval celebrations while the country continues to crumble.
Police fired tear gas and pellets on protesters, killing at least two and injuring at least 300, The Associated Press (AP) reported. More than 300 Venezuelan soldiers defected and fled to Colombia after the unrest, the AP added.
But in his lengthy stream, Maduro primarily focused on his plans for a “safe carnival” in 2019. The video showed Venezuelans in costumes dancing and celebrating, as the president calls on ministers, governors and mayors to explain how the government will ensure smooth festivities.
Maduro then mused about cute children in costumes before announcing that he will also dress up and join the celebration.
The leader is often criticized for organizing big celebrations and performances, like salsa dancing, as a distraction from the humanitarian and economic crisis plaguing the nation.
Feb. 23, 2019, he was slammed for dancing at a concert while government forces blocked the entry of food and medicine at the borders.
Maduro addressed his critics in his Feb. 27, 2019, livestream, saying: “The imperialists were mad that I was dancing. We [Venezuelans] always dance because we are a happy people and this is a revolution of joy.”
The video also showed images of pro-government rallies, with Maduro saying that the majority of Venezuelans oppose international intervention.
Maduro and his allies around the world — like Russia, China, and Syria — have opposed foreign support for his opponent Juan Guaidó, who declared himself Venezuela’s interim government in January 2019.
Maduro also mocked Guaidó’s slogan while discussing Carnaval plans. “Vamos bien,” he said — Spanish for “we are making progress.”
Venezuelan “interim president” Juan Guaidó.
Guaidó is currently exiled in Colombia, and has met with US Vice President Mike Pence and the Lima Group, a regional bloc established to end the Venezuelan crisis.
Guaidó told his supporters via video on Feb. 26, 2019, that he is currently planning his return to the Venezuelan capital of Caracas to mobilize his supporters. The exact date of his arrival and next steps will be made public in the coming days, he added.
He said he refuses “this compromise of having to fight from abroad,” referring to Colombia, and said that Maduro is “alone and desperate.”
Guaidó also posted an audio message, urging his supporters to keep mobilizing and and announcing unspecified actions to garner support from military and government workers.
Let’s be honest – the War on Terror hasn’t seen a lot of air-to-air combat.
In fact, since the start of the millennium, the U.S. military has a grand total of two air-to-air kills — both were UAVs, and one was an Air Force MQ-9 Reaper that went rogue.
But the real air-to-air action is taking place south of the border. In Central and South America, the Air Combat Information Group noted at least five planes have been shot out of the sky. In a June, 2016 report, WarIsBoring.com claimed that Venezuela had shot down 30 drug flights in 2015 alone.
That’s right, folks – the A-37 and AT-27 have over twice the kill total that the U.S. Air Force has notched since Desert Storm. Here’s a video showing one of the shoot downs in South America.
The Zumwalt-class destroyer, the largest and most advanced surface combatant in the world, was built to be a silent killer, but the revolutionary warship has faced a string of setbacks during development — including the embarrassing problem that its supergun still does not work right.
The two 155mm guns of the Advanced Gun System on the Zumwalt, intended to strike targets farther than 80 miles away, are ridiculously expensive to fire, as a single Long Range Land Attack Projectile costs almost $1 million. Procurement was shut down two years ago, leaving the Zumwalt without any ammunition to fire.
“We just cannot get the thing to fly as far as we want,” Vice Adm. William Merz, the deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems, told the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee Tuesday, explaining that the Navy may do away with the guns entirely if it can’t develop effective and cost-efficient ammunition, according to Breaking Defense.
The Navy “will be developing either the round that goes with that gun or what we are going to do with that space if we decide to remove that gun in the future,” he continued.
“The ship is doing fine, on track to be operational in 2021 in the fleet,” he said, adding that the Zumwalt-class destroyer remains a “very capable platform with or without that gun.”
This is what would happen if the USS Zumwalt fought a Russian battlecruiser
The Zumwalt-class destroyers were expected to serve as multi-mission ships, focusing primarily on land-attack and naval gunfire support missions with secondary anti-ship and anti-aircraft mission capabilities.
The Navy saw the ship operating in coastal areas and supporting ground troops, but that mission was changed late last year, according to The Diplomat.
The destroyer will now serve as a surface strike combatant, relying on a diverse arsenal of anti-ship and anti-air missiles capable of being launched from 80 Mk 54 Vertical Launch System cells, which Merz said were larger than those of other surface ships, creating more options for armaments.
The Zumwalt, however, has fewer missile cells than the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and the Ticonderoga-class cruisers, which have 96 and 122 missile launch cells that can carry interceptors, cruise missiles, and rocket-launched torpedoes.
It appears that the Navy intends to force the Zumwalt through the development process and then sort the rest out later.
“We determined that the best future for that ship is to get it out there with the capability that it has and separate out the Advanced Gun System, leaving everything else in place,” Merz said, according to Breaking News.
But the gun is apparently not the only problem when it comes to the Zumwalt.
The ship has been steadily becoming less and less stealthy as the Navy settles for bolt-on components — including satellite communication antenna systems mounted on the sides and the high-frequency vertical antenna bolted on the top — amid efforts to cut costs.
The Drive spotted these problems on one of three Zumwalt-class destroyers in the works. (There were initially supposed to be more than 30.) The publication speculated that these non-low-observable features would negatively affect the stealth capabilities of the ship, which was initially built to be as stealthy as a fishing boat.
These potential detriments were not visible on earlier versions of the Zumwalt-class destroyers.
The Zumwalt-class destroyers have also experienced serious engine and electrical problems during development. Nonetheless, the ship’s twin Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbines and advanced technological systems make it a candidate for future railgun and directed-energy weapons.
“She is going to be a candidate for any advanced weapon system that we develop,” Merz said Nov. 27, according to Breaking Defense.
The Zumwalt’s primary competitor is China’s Type 055 Renhai destroyer.
Though the Chinese warship is not as technologically advanced as the Zumwalt, which remains unmatched, the Renhai destroyers are equipped with 112 VLS cells able to fire HHQ-9 surface-to-air missiles, YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missiles, CJ-10 land-attack cruise missiles, and missile-launched anti-submarine torpedoes, according to the South China Morning Post.
The missions vary a bit, as the Type 055 is expected to serve as an air-defense and anti-submarine warship, one that could escort Chinese aircraft carriers.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Following their meeting in Helsinki, Donald Trump hailed Vladimir Putin as a potential partner in Syria, who can provide humanitarian relief and preserve Israeli security. But if the United States hopes to deny Iran “open season to the Mediterranean,” as the President previously said, Russia is anything but an ally. Putin has no interest in pushing out the Iranian forces that defend the Assad regime by taking heavy casualties on the ground while Russia fights mainly from the air. Rather, the most recent offensive by pro-regime forces — a sprint towards the Israeli and Jordanian borders — demonstrates that Russia enables Iranian operations in Syria.
In late June 2018, Russia began to unleash hundreds of airstrikes on Deraa, a flagrant violation of the U.S.-Russian ceasefire agreement that Trump and Putin personally endorsed November 2017. While Russia struck from the air, forces nominally under the control of Damascus conducted a major ground offensive.
Closer examination shows that the dividing line between Assad’s military and Iranian-aligned forces has become ever blurrier. Before the offensive began, Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias staged apparent withdrawals from the region, only to return after donning regime uniforms and hiding their banners and insignia. Tehran is also directly involved. On July 2, 2018, a senior commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) died in Deir al-Adas, a village in northern Deraa province along the strategic M5 highway. Persian sources describe him as the commander for Deraa province.
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps tank in 2012 in Tehran.
Two Iranian-aligned militant groups comprised of Iraqi Shias, Liwa Abu al Fadl al Abbas (LAFA) and Liwa Zulfiqar, have also participated in the offensive. LAFA was one of the original foreign Shia militias to deploy to Syria in 2012, ostensibly to defend the Sayyida Zainab mosque in Damascus, a major Shiite religious site. Since then, however, the group has integrated into the Syrian Republican Guard, even to the point where it openly identifies as a Republican Guard unit. LAFA’s trajectory illustrates how forces nominally under the control of Damascus are permeated with troops that are at least as close to Tehran.
Since the current offensive began, LAFA has posted numerous photos and videos on its Facebook page showing its men alongside regime troops in Deraa. Its leader, Abu Ajeeb, has also been pictured with Syrian military officers in several of the photos. Opposition sources report that a LAFA commander met with Russian military officers in Deraa.
Liwa Zulfiqar has also confirmed its involvement in the offensive, as well as its integration into the regime’s military. The militia, which has been fighting alongside Syrian regime troops since 2013, posted several photos from the town of Busra al Harir in which it asserted it was participating in the offensive. The militia’s leader, Haidar al Jabouri, appeared in a video shot inside the Syrian 4th Division’s military operations command room, demonstrating Zulfiqar’s integration into the Syrian command structure.
Reports have also suggested that other militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, have been taking part in the offensive, sometimes disguised as Syrian troops. In late June 2018, the Washington Postbriefly noted Hezbollah’s participation. Quoting an official in Damascus, Reuters reported that “Hezbollah is a fundamental participant in planning and directing this battle.” Another pro-regime source reportedly confirmed the use of Syrian military uniforms by Hezbollah and other militias to the wire service.
Hizbollah flag in Syria.
It’s also becoming clear that Russian aircraft are supporting the efforts of Iranian-backed units nominally under the control of Damascus. On June 24, 2018, Russian warplanes conducted at least twenty strikes on Busra al Harir, spurring on a stalled regime offensive. Within two days, Liwa Zulfiqar announced its participation in operations there. On July 4, 2018, Russia hit Saida and Tafas, supporting offensives involving Zulfiqar and LAFA, respectively. Russia has also now deployed military police to hold terrain captured by Iranian-aligned forces, demonstrating a level of coordination as well as Russia’s unwillingness to use its forces for more dangerous offensive operations. These terrain-holding forces free up Iran-aligned actors to continue undertaking offensives toward the Golan.
Reported meetings between militia commanders and Russian officers suggest these operations are coordinated. But even without formal coordination, Russian air cover and Iranian ground offensives are mutually dependent and reinforcing. Iran can’t be in the sky, and Russia refuses to put significant forces on the ground, lest too many return home in body bags. Thus, Putin requires Iran’s forces on the ground to secure his ambitions in Syria.
Trump should remain highly skeptical of Putin’s interest and ability to serve as a partner in Syria. The humanitarian relief Putin proposes is designed to fortify the regime, not rehabilitate children brutalized by Assad. Putin also has limited interest in curtailing Iran’s deployment. Russia itself admits that Iran’s withdrawal is “absolutely unrealistic.” Trump should not concede American positions, notably the strategic base at Tanf which blocks Iran’s path to the Mediterranean, for empty promises from Russia. Putin can afford to lie to America, but he can’t afford to control Syria without Iranian support.