Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Long War, Part XX - Civil War

Previous: The Long War, Part XIX - Mirage

Global Flashpoints

By the year 2016 several flashpoints had been identified as having the potential to escalate into a global war. In Asia the rise of China as a superpower clashed with America's 70 year hegemony over the Pacific. Any dispute involving Taiwan, North/South Korea and Japan could escalate into a general war between the two superpowers. In the Middle East the civil war in Syria had been re-purposed into a war by proxy, as US and Russian forces, long time historical antagonists, sought to remake the Syrian political landscape into one in line with their national interests. The close proximity of both nation's armed forces in the backdrop of one of the most turbulent and dynamic conflicts in that region's troubled past also had the potential to escalate catastrophically. In a Europe beset by a massive refugee crisis, Britain voted to leave the European Union while France was racked by civil strife as President Hollande sought to consolidate his newly instituted dictatorial powers. The civil war in the Ukraine had long been displaced by the war in Syria in the world's headlines but it continued to simmer in the background, prompting NATO to refine its readiness and response capabilities as a check to halt further Russian aggression.


The Syrian conflict had proxies from all over the world.


The infighting and scrambling for position came to a brief halt when the world's satellite network was destroyed in late 2015 by the visitors. The lull allowed the creation of X-Com despite opposition from France in the Security Council, and the task force vindicated itself spectacularly in its containment of the chryssalid threat in Ogbomosho in April 2016. Since Ogbomosho the visitors became more and more conspicuous in their absence. UFO sightings dwindled almost down to zero, and X-Com found itself as an organization without a purpose. Skyrangers sat idle in the hangars. Soldiers drilled, caroused, and studied English in Tanegashima. Researchers and engineers poked and prodded captured alien tech for insights. The feared alien invasion of Earth did not materialize. The battle of Ogbomosho, began to be re-interpreted as a disaster brought about by impulsive Nigerian troops inadvertently releasing an organism no one knew about. "In all likelihood," stated CNN's extra-terrestrial analyst David Bolton. "There was only one chryssalid, and the first Nigerian trooper who let it out started a disastrous chain reaction which nearly wiped out Ogbomosho." Such re-interpretations were met by derision by X-Com personnel, but it did not stop the apparent movement in world media to recast the aliens as less than malevolent invaders, and more like misunderstood visitors. Bewildered by the positive spin, Chief Engineer Raymond Shen remarked, "It's almost like there is a conspiracy to rehabilitate their image." Dr. Moira Vahlen was characteristically blunt in her response. "Perhaps there is."

EXALT

By mid-2016 the Syrian civil war had been raging for five long years. The war had a long and torturous history, escalating into a many cornered conflict involving all the major players in the region. US backed rebels fought the Russian backed government forces for control of the nation, while fundamentalist sought to carve out an Islamic state in the greater region of Syria and Iraq. In the midst of the chaos the Kurds, a Middle Eastern ethnic group residing in parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, saw the internecine conflict as an opportunity to create the rump of a Kurdish nation. Turkey, a nominal ally of the US, engaged in brinkmanship with Russia while simultaneously attacking Washington for backing Kurdish rebels, whom they considered as terrorists in the same vein as ISIS and al-Qaeda. Commentators on the conflict have long expressed their deep pessimism as to whether any of the sides could achieve a victory significant enough to allow the country to rebuild. Even the most optimistic forecasts could not envision Syria escaping its fate as another failed state in the region, ruled by dozens of warlords and subject to the whims of the superpowers.

What had been largely forgotten in the scramble for power was the plight of the refugees in the war-torn state. The continuing exodus of displaced Syrians to Europe represented the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. While some nations like Germany and Austria distinguished themselves by throwing open their borders, other nations were not as accommodating. In Macedonia police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse refugees attempting to cross the border. Hungary, overwhelmed by the flood of human traffic, closed its borders and diverted the exodus through its disgruntled neighbors. Turkey, standing on Syria's northern border, bore most of the brunt of housing and care for the refugees. The refugee crisis served to fracture and divide the European Union, serving as a catalyst to inflame nationalistic movements. Britain's withdrawal from the European Union was largely influenced by the refugee problem, and even Austria and Germany, initially very receptive to the influx of refugees, soon began to feel the political backlash of allowing so many people into their respective nations.

In Syria, stranded refugees without the means to escape had fewer and fewer choices. Some could opt to hunker down and hope that the conflict passed them by. These people lived a life fraught with uncertainty, subject to the vagaries of war and the whims of the numerous factions involved in the conflict. Thousands of men fled the combat zones in fear of being conscripted, and women and children faced an existence unsure of whether they would be able to acquire the basic necessities of life. Others, radicalized by the loss of friends or family, chose to pick up arms and join a side in the conflict. For those, the organization known as EXALT was becoming a better and better choice. Despite its apparent roots as a mercenary force in service of the jihadists, the organization had expanded tremendously and was presenting a much more welcoming and moderate stance. EXALT camps accepted everyone regardless of denomination, and strictly policed their zones to ensure that ethnic or religious based conflict was nipped in the bud. Even more impressively, EXALT gave members of the international press unconditional access to their camps, and the reports that came back from the front lines were glowing in the extreme. In addition to press access, EXALT provided humanitarian aid organizations access and escorts to badly hit refugee camps. EXALT's success in opening the supply corridors was in stark contrast to the failure of the UN, whom aid organizations accused of favoring al-Assad's regime. More and more organizations chose to deal with EXALT rather than the UN, which was under increasing pressure to open an inquiry into their Syrian aid program due to allegations that supply contracts worth tens of millions of dollars had been awarded to people closely associated with al-Assad.

Offensive in Syria

On 25 June the Syrian government launched a massive offensive at the rebel stronghold of Aleppo with the aid of Russian air power. Assad's plan was to isolate the rebel enclaves and prevent them from linking up with one another. This was part of his overall strategy of maintaining "an army in every corner" of Syria, in order to forestall any kind of partitioning solution that could be put on the table by the UN or any of the superpowers. The rebels, surrounded and lacking air support, pleaded with the US for aid and succor, but President Obama, wary of being entangled in yet another war, limited the US contributions to the supply of small arms, CIA training and limited air strikes. As hopes for a more decisive US intervention waned opponents of Assad's regime turned to a new ally, one that would turn the tide of the war in the rebels' favor.


One of the aliens' heavy weapons platform - the cyberdisk.

This new ally would be one that X-Com was intimately familiar with. The visitors, having disappeared from the skies of the world, suddenly reappeared with a vengeance. Russian jets carrying out bombing runs were intercepted by UFOs and shot down by the dozen. More UFOs dropped out of the sky and destroyed several Syrian airfields, dealing a crippling blow to government air power. On the ground the rebels were supplemented by squads of genetically enhanced EXALT troops armed with high tech weapons of unknown origin. EXALT squads were also accompanied by an exotic array of extra-terrestrial mechanical units. Floating disks known as cyberdisks glided silently and swiftly above the battlefields flanked by an attendant swarm of drones. Cyberdisks resembled miniature UFOs, but their simple, elegant design belied their ability to metamorphosize into heavy weapon platforms in the blink of an eye capable of destroying armor and fortified positions. They were supported by squads of flying humanoids previously identified as floaters. Unlike other floaters encountered in single UFO raids these floaters appeared coordinated and organized, moving swiftly and decisively over the battlefield to seize objectives and repel government attacks. Finally, there were also several sightings of a mechanical unit which resembled a flying mechanical squid. As with the floaters, drones, and cyberdisks, these squid-like machines propelled themselves through the air through means unknown, and their exact role on the battlefield remained unclear. The skies over Aleppo were frequently darkened by great flocks of these mechanical units, and self-styled alien "watchers" found it difficult to sketch and categorize the bewildering array of flying units on display.


Syrian government soldiers try vainly to stop the advance of a sectopod.

The biggest alien weapons platform spotted in the battle was a mechanical biped which towered over the battlefield. Rebels pinned down by government forces watched in awe as what later became known as the sectopod strode past their positions and shattered enemy lines. Supporting these massive war machines were humanoid robots that appeared completely mechanical in nature, yet possessed the fluidity and grace of biological beings as they navigated the uneven, shell-pocked urban streets of Aleppo. The rebels' initial shock and apprehension soon turned into cheers as the aliens methodically took apart the government forces. The biggest ovation was reserved for a sectopod upon which a Syrian resistance flag was affixed - anywhere the machine went it drew cheers, applause and whistles from the harried rebels. For the government forces it meant death - despite being a large and spindly target it was remarkably durable, shaking off several direct RPG hits and returning fire with a massive cannon that devastated everything in its path. They were not invulnerable - three or four were destroyed during the battle after being subjected to intense fire. The destruction of these war machines brought attention to another phenomenon - fallen sectopods attracted swarms of alien drones, and within an hour the machine would rise again, seemingly as good as new. This was true for any mechanical or quasi-mechanical unit of the aliens. One particularly gruesome video showed a floater with a ghastly head wound moving in formation with the rest of its squadron. The floater seemed dead, but its mechanical components still functioned ably enough to allow it - or to compel it - to keep moving with its compatriots.


The seeker. Their role on the battlefield would not become clear until after the cessation of hostilities in Syria.

The aliens never interacted with the rebels directly. Rather, EXALT forces acted as a go-between for alien and rebel units, summoning reinforcements to wherever they were needed. On the few times when circumstances drew both forces together the aliens were alert but uncommunicative. For some rebels a close up look at the floaters was disconcerting to the extreme. "They never talked," said one rebel Syrian colonel. "They seemed to understand Arabic, and could respond to requests like move out of the way or stop. I was surprised at how much they looked like us - the floaters have two arms, a head with two eyes and a torso - they look like people with their feet removed. They never talked, or initiated conversation, even among themselves. They looked angry, crazed even. We didn't want to provoke them, so we stayed clear of them. But we could see EXALT troops speaking to them, and they seemed to understand them well enough."

The alien intervention was decisive. Assad's goal was to encircle the rebels by cutting off Castello Road, the main supply route into eastern Aleppo. Preliminary Russian air strikes were intercepted and destroyed by the aliens. Government armor columns advancing onto Castello Road were intercepted by marauding UFOs, and soon the desert was filled with the blazing wrecks of tanks and APCs. Assad's infantry ran into several ambushes by alien forces buried in the sand - many platoons were wiped out when cyberdisks rose from the dunes and devastated squads with its primary weapon. Units which made it to Castello Road were met by dug in rebel troops reinforced by EXALT units and supported by alien air power. Even night time gave no respite to the hostilities. The aliens were not encumbered by darkness, and fought at the same level of effectiveness. Furthermore, darkness brought a terrifying hidden enemy which strangled and killed isolated government troops. Men were found at dawn with their chests and windpipes crushed, with no other clue as to what was responsible for their grisly fates. Assad's soldiers soon learned to fear the night, and this, coupled with their losses during the daylight hours, had a debilitating effect on morale. What started out as a decisive push to isolate the rebels in Aleppo swiftly turned into a rout which threatened to upend the existing balance of power in Syria.


Syrian armor burns after being hit by UFOs.

Russian prestige could not permit the collapse of the Assad government, and a flurry of diplomatic activity swiftly culminated in a temporary ceasefire in August 2016. George Sabra, the president of the Syrian National Council and leader of the coalition opposing Assad, made a speech after the defense of Aleppo, congratulating the rebels for their heroic stand, as well as stating his intention to step down as president. The new leader of the opposition would be Emilia Amat al-Maseeh, a hitherto unknown political figure who claimed to be a spokesperson and representative of EXALT. That a woman would lead Syria's opposition was an eye-opener to most in the West, and a monumental insult to fundamentalists clinging to a radical vision of Islam. But the most shocking part of al-Maseeh's ascension as president was her claim that she spoke to the visitors, and that they were now ready to communicate.

5 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes! I'm so glad to see this series return. For a while, I was afraid that it wasn't.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey man,

      Yeah, sorry I just hit a brick wall back in July and couldn't work out where to go from there. Got ideas now, and hoping to develop them over the next few months.

      Delete