It is the new battlefield, the great equalizer, delivered at the speed of light and impervious to bullets, missiles and armor. It is social media. Increasingly social media is being used as a weapons delivery platform in the information war. It is an equalizer between conventional militaries and insurgent forces, providing a sometimes-terrifying mouthpiece for guerillas and freedom fighters.
Weaponized Social Media (WSM for short) is also a source of misinformation and deception, one wielded effectively whether you are showing video of a U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bomber strike, or an ISIL insurgent IED suicide attack. Every combatant on the YouTube battlefield is the same size, 800 x 600. For only a few thousand dollars an insurgency can terrorize the world via YouTube. It is the textbook manifestation of Sun Tzu’s axiom on terrorism in his masterwork, “The Art of War”. Sun Tzu wrote, “Kill one, terrorize a thousand”. The damage radius is limited only by the speed of your internet connection and the size of your monitor.
But there are at least two sides to every story, and often many more. During the last 24 hours, a fascinating textbook example of using Weaponized Social Media surfaced on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.
The country of Turkey is in conflict with the covertly U.S.-backed Kurdish People Protection Units, known as the “YPG”. There is also spill-over tacit U.S. support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, the free-Syrians not under Bashar al-Assad. Bashar al-Assad, as you know, is the Syrian President backed by Russia. As with most relationships played out on social media, it’s complicated.
The gray-area support from the U.S. government of the Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG) started during the administration of former President Barack Obama, and continues under President Donald Trump. Trump is a rough-talking gangster of a politician to Obama’s polished attorney voice.
Under Trump’s administration the SDF forces are now 50,000 strong according to reports- they fight Assad’s regular army Syrian units for control and in combat with their common enemy, ISIL. The authoritative publication “Foreign Policy” described the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and their same-side alliance with the Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG) as, “The most capable anti-Islamic State force in northern Syria.” While Russia may not agree with that assessment, there is no doubt the SDF and YPG guerilla forces amount to more than a series of acronyms formed by a Scrabble game gone wrong.
Get out your notebook because it gets more complicated. Enter the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by several states and organizations including NATO. The short story is, SDF and YPG are aligned with the PKK in the fight against ISIL, but not liked by the TAF, the Turkish Armed Forces. You can also call the TAF the “Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri, or “TSK” if you prefer. The TAF, or TSK if you prefer, are the military forces of the Republic of Turkey. So, the PKK, the SDF and the YPG, backed by the USA, are at odds with the TAF, or TSK if you like.
Before you ask, “WTF?”, just think of it this way for our purposes; The guys in the Blackhawk helicopter in these photos and videos are fighting the guys who launch the rocket at them from the bottom of the mountain.
One video shows the rocket launch from the perspective of the guys firing it. It seems to weave and bob the way rockets do, on its way to the top of the ridge, where a Turkish S-70A helicopter appears. The Turkish Blackhawk dips below the ridge just as the PKK ATGM explodes. The inference is that the guys firing the ATGM hit the Blackhawk.
Click over to the video of the guys up on the ridge with the Blackhawk, being resupplied, it would appear. The wire-guided missile fired from the bottom of the ridge by the first guys videoing, explodes over the heads of the guys on top of the ridge, also videoing. An instant after the rocket explodes the Blackhawk successfully escapes. The point? The one video from the bottom of the ridge suggests the S-70A was hit, a huge victory for those lads. The other video shows the Turkish helicopter flying away, “proof” that it is not a victory, just a near miss and one for the highlight reel on YouTube.
Same attack from a soldier’s camera.
Aynı saldırı, bu sefer de bir askerimizin kamerasından..
— Cemal (@Acemal71) January 17, 2018
The entire episode is proof of another Sun Tzu principle from “The Art of War”:
“All warfare is based on deception.”