The Yugoslav war reappears in Syria

I have long admired the At War column in the New York Times, which looks at conflicts through the prism of arms and materiel rather than political or social trends as is common elsewhere. CJ Chivers had a great piece I wrote about previously that analyzed the state of the war in Syria through the price of bullets; now Eliot Higgins uses video footage of battles in Syria to identify Croatia as a big new arms supplier to the Syrian conflict.  Higgins’s post — and the related Times reporting by Chivers and Eric Shmitt that identifies Saudia Arabia as being the procurer of these Croatian weapons — is worth reading in full but I find two aspects of that story particularly interesting.

The first is that, early in the Syrian war, I wrote about why it was so difficult to find out what was happening on the ground and in a traditional sense that remains true: reporters have had trouble gaining access.  But citizen journalists have been everywhere (I wrote about that too) and now, in a remarkable twist, there are the rebel army and regime fighters themselves, who are recording videos of their great moments in battle and uploading them to YouTube.  These are the videos that Higgins is tracking and, if you know what to look for, there is a tremendous amount of vital intelligence embedded in the images.

The second begins in the former Yugoslavia, where I spent a month in 2007 reporting an article for Travel + Leisure that was only partially a travel story — you can read it here.  When I was in Dubrovnik the small local paper had on its cover a graphic time sequence of closed circuit images of a man pouring gasoline on his children in the back seat of his car and then lighting himself, and them, on fire.  I asked what this was about and the answer, told with an indifferent shrug, was that it was just a guy who had been in a militia during the war, couldn’t adjust to peacetime and ended up a gangster.  That’s the thing about war: it encourages, trains, and rewards skills that are a menace once the war ends.  After the Yugoslav war, most fighters returned to civilian life but others became mafia or mercenaries for hire (as with this Croat I wrote about who fought for Gaddafi) applying their particular talents to perpetrating bad deeds around the world.  The same goes for other wartime specialties: smuggling of black market products and people (to this day, a fair percentage of the traffic to that Travel + Leisure article is searching for ‘Sarajevo prostitutes’ or its variants) and the manufacture of arms.  It should be no surprise the Syrians are buying Croatia-made arms.  Once the Syrian conflict ends, some dictator somewhere will start employing many of the people now fighting it.


As a bonus, check out these photos on the Atlantic of the Syrian rebels homemade weapons.


One Response to “The Yugoslav war reappears in Syria”

  1. don says:

    Assad is still number one !Long may he live! God Bless Syria!

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