a novel by Claude Salhani
get your copy today on Amazon.com and other outlets.
by Claude Salhani
As a new year begins, journalists and analysts often try to project what may lay ahead for the Middle East during the next 12 months. What major changes are likely to occur? Will the conflicts that have darkened the region finally come to an end? Will its countries mature politically and adopt greater democratic reforms, albeit at their own pace?
Alas, one does not need a crystal ball to predict that the outlook for greater change in a positive manner does not bode well for the region.
Considering the numerous conflicts raging across it, one does not need to be a prophet nor have the capacity to read tea leaves to predict that violence will feature high in the forecast for 2017.
Starting with Syria and the devastating war that has been ripping the country apart for nearly six years, there appears to be no end in sight or any immediate relief for the Syrian people. The probabilities are therefore high that 2017 will be another bad year for Syria and that despite the fact that it may very well be the year in which the Islamic State (ISIS) is defeated.
Even the total defeat of ISIS will not come without serious repercussions for the region and even for countries beyond the Middle East. Several European countries and the United States could feel the fallout effect of ISIS’s demise.
One immediate concern is what is likely to happen to the thousands of young jihadi fighters who left their adopted countries in the West and in the East, too, to join ISIS? How likely is it that they could ever be reintegrated into normal society without raising problems of one sort or another?
And what of the fate of the millions of refugees who have unwillingly created new cities on the outskirts of normality across the region and beyond? Jordan’s second-largest city is a refugee camp.
Is it at all reasonable to plant millions of people in makeshift camps, often amid crime, drugs and prostitution, and expect the results to yield the makings of normal society? These camps are the perfect breeding grounds, the incubators of tomorrow’s problems.
If by some miracle the war in Syria were to end overnight, the country would face new challenges in 2017 as it tries to rebuild. Indeed, this war and the refugee crisis it has created have presented the region with a whole new set of problems.
Lebanon has weathered the war next door and successfully thwarted advances of ISIS. At the same time, the Lebanese have finally agreed on a new president after a more than two-year hiatus. Of course, their choice, much like the American people’s choice for president, leaves much to be desired but that is another story.
Violence continued in 2016 and again very likely to continue in 2017 in the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula as another civil war and proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran goes on and on interrupted by ceasefires and attempts to reinstall calm. Efforts to bring peace to Yemen have been as successful as the attempts to stop the war in Syria.
On the other side of the Arab world, conflict continues in Libya where ISIS may also be playing its last card and where concentrated efforts to eradicate the jihadist terrorist group seem to be working.
Political instability in 2017 will very much be the order of the day in Egypt, Sudan, the Palestinian territories and Iraq. The Turks and the Kurds are very likely to go at each other in 2017 as the Kurds continue to aspire for an independent homeland much to the displeasure this may cause in Ankara, Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus.
Is there good news across the region? Well, Saudi Arabia continues to introduce reforms, albeit at a very slow pace. The United Arab Emirates seems to be riding a positive wave of development despite the drop in oil revenues. Morocco appears to have avoided any great crisis this year and it is hoped that in 2017 it will maintain that stability as will Tunisia and Algeria, though greater efforts in the latter would not hurt.
Here is to wishing you all a very happy new year in 2017.
By Claude Salhani
The UN Security Council has voted — unanimously — to dispatch international observers to the beleaguered Syrian city of Aleppo to provide safety to residents wishing to flee combat zones.
There are many reasons this vote is more an attempt to absolve the international community and to allow its members to shed some of the guilt they have been carrying on their shoulders like old rifles, whose function is more decorative than useful.
This resolution, which comes five years late, helps Western powers feel good with themselves rather than meet to the basic needs of the people of that city, one that has become a symbol of this dreadful war.
The reality is that this resolution should have come long ago. Indeed, this vote comes much too late and offers far too little.
Why this scepticism?
Because observation forces have never stopped atrocities or put an end to fighting in the many parts of the world they have been deployed to.
Typically, there are too few observers for the force to be effective. The regions they typically deploy to are large enough that those wishing to commit war crimes without being seen simply go around the corner from where the observers are positioned.
Observers are not peacekeepers nor are they a peace implementation force. In fact, UN observers have no authority on the ground, nor do they have the means to intervene militarily if they had to.
Typically, what UN observers do is precisely as their title indicates: They observe. They observe and report to the Security Council, which files a formal complaint with the offending party or parties.
To put things into perspective, this is what likely happens: Let us imagine that a group of 100-150 civilians — men, women and children of all ages — is trying to make its way out of eastern Aleppo when they suddenly stumble upon armed men who may or may not be members of the Syrian Armed Forces.
As the gunmen round up the civilians, UN observers arrive. They intervene, telling the armed men their actions go counter to conventions of war.
The conversation unfolds in English with a mixture of varying Asian accents on one side and heavy Arabic accents on the other. Both sides have difficulty understanding the other.
Nevertheless, the UN troops succeed in delaying what would have certainly been an execution. Underline the word “delaying”, as it is what transpires. The international observers succeeded only in buying a few more minutes for the ill-fated civilians trying to flee Aleppo and the horror that has developed there.
The UN observers believe they have convinced the gunmen to stand down and lower their weapons.
A few minutes later the observers hear gunfire coming from the area they had just left. They rush to the scene where they find the lifeless bodies of dozens of refugees. The observers write up a report and file it to headquarters in New York.
Headquarters tones down some of the wordage from the original report, replacing language used by the observers with more diplomatic grammar.
The report goes before the Security Council where it is read. In their final analysis, the observers confirm that the massacre was perpetrated by forces loyal to the Syrian president — perhaps but not a certainty — by members of the Syrian Armed Forces. Syria is chastised by the Security Council. The ambassadors of the United States, Britain and France — permanent members of the Security Council — denounce “in the strongest term possible that such actions will not be tolerated” or else.
Or else what?
Precisely. With Russia having the right to veto any Security Council resolution, the Western powers can only go so far.
How are the perpetrators of such hideous war crimes punished when they are backed by a sovereign state? They are threatened with economic sanctions. Syria has been under sanctions for years for its support of terrorism.
There is a threat to sever diplomatic relations but, then again, is it wise to pull out all US diplomatic personnel and leave Damascus entirely to the Russians?
So it goes. Another UN resolution that will be ignored. At least now the blame for the continued violence can be laid entirely on the Syrians and ot
By Claude Salhani
As a US-backed Arab-Kurdish alliance announced the start of what it termed “phase two” of its campaign to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) in its Syrian bastion of Raqqa, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, on tour in the Middle East, said the Pentagon would be sending an additional 200 troops to back the offensive.
Many of ISIS’s higher-echelon personnel as well as scores of rank-and-file fighters have reportedly withdrawn from positions in Mosul, Iraq, to make a firmer stand in Raqqa. ISIS is facing a formidable onslaught from a combined force that alternatively includes US, Russian, Turkish, Syrian, Iraqi, Kurdish and Hezbollah forces. Fighter jets from Saudi Arabia. Jordan and the United Arab Emirates are also participating.
This latest deployment increases the number of US troops in Syria to 500 — about the size of a small army battalion— though, according to the Pentagon, there are no US combat units per se in Syria. Rather, the US Department of Defense says those troops are there in an advisory role only.
ISIS may be taking a beating in Raqqa but they are not to be written off completely. In a surprising move in Syria, ISIS fighters re-entered the historic city of Palmyra months after being expelled and succeeded in retaking most of it, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, said.
It may be worth remembering that the United States’ long and painful military engagement in South-East Asia began much like the United States’ involvement in Syria today. The huge American military operation in Vietnam began with the Pentagon sending dozens, then hundreds of advisers and ended up being drawn into a long and costly war.
Over the past year, Washington has periodically increased the number of US boots on the ground in Iraq as well as in Syria — all while trying to disengage from the conflict.
As a superpower, the United States is in somewhat of a bind when it comes to the question of what to do about the war in Syria. It is a damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t situation. The American people are tired of being involved in wars in the Middle East and they will not stand for, nor support, yet another major engagement of US forces overseas.
Neither can Washington — both from a diplomatic and a military point of view — ignore Russia’s military expansion into Syria and continue to be taken seriously as a superpower.
What is likely to be Donald Trump’s policy towards Syria, as the conflict becomes more complex and the situation on the ground perhaps even more complicated by the time he moves into the White House January 20th?
Russia’s high-profile involvement in Syria in a manner surpassing even the Soviet Union’s support of the country during the height of the Cold War represents a real challenge for the United States. Russian warplanes flown by Russian pilots go a big step forward from the USSR’s backing of Arab forces by providing them with arms, munitions and military advisers. This time the Russians are committing boots, perhaps not on the ground, but certainly in the air.
Will Trump’s supposed good relations and close connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin help or hinder US policy in the Middle East? Will Trump be influenced by his business and personal ties to Russia and to the Russian president and allow Moscow to continue its current policy without worrying about Americans’ reaction or will the former generals the president-elect has designated to serve in his cabinet influence him to take firm action?
Will we see under the Trump presidency an expansion of US involvement in Syria in efforts to thwart Russian ambitions in the Middle East? Or will Trump allow the Russian a free hand in the region?
Relations between the United States and Syria have always been difficult. Washington and Damascus broke off diplomatic relations in June 1967 and they were only re-established in 1974 following a visit by then-president Richard Nixon to Damascus. However, with the outbreak of the war and the United States joining the countries calling for the departure of Syrian President Bashar Assad, relations soured again.
Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.
By Claude Salhani
A group of lawyers in Germany is planning to launch a case against Syrian President Bashar Assad for alleged war crimes committed by his forces and his foreign allies in the Syrian province of Aleppo.
While all civil wars tend to be fiercely violent, the one unfolding in Syria seems particularly ugly. Indeed, human rights groups say both government forces and opposition groups have committed atrocities against fighters and civilians alike. Both sides in the Syrian war are guilty of human rights abuses.
The Syrian government and its allies, as well as some rebel groups, can just as easily stand accused of carrying out some of the most horrible atrocities as well as general mistreatment of prisoners. There seems to be a general disregard for human decency in this conflict where regrettably reports on the use of torture are all too common.
This particular complaint in Germany, however, focuses on atrocities committed by government forces and their allies in the Aleppo region.
As the lawyers filed their lawsuit, there were reports coming in that government forces in Aleppo bombed a makeshift hospital. Under international law and the Geneva Conventions, targeting hospitals is banned and considered a war crime.
Recent images on internet news sites show Aleppo, once Syria’s main commercial centre, now devastated and ravaged by war. Certain neighbourhoods resemble what Berlin and Stalingrad looked like at the end of the second world war.
The German lawyers presented a criminal complaint against Assad, which they are submitting to federal prosecutors. German law allows international prosecutions on the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, under which countries can pursue foreigners for crimes committed abroad.
Witnesses cited by the lawyers include reports from Amnesty International and individual accounts of asylum seekers in Germany, who reported “overwhelming evidence of multiple atrocities committed by Assad’s forces against civilians in Aleppo between April and November”.
Regardless of the German court’s finding, the outcome of the trial will certainly not carry any real effect in Syria and Assad is highly unlikely to lose any sleep over the findings of a German court. The court’s decision is not going to affect Assad’s relations with his three closest allies: Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.
The legality aside, is this how the president wants to be remembered? As the man responsible for the killing of half a million Syrians, as the man responsible for the destruction of the country’s economic infrastructure and as the man responsible for turning nearly half of his countrymen and countrywomen into refugees?
Is this how the Syrian president wants to be remembered by future generations? When historians look back some years from now at the battle for Aleppo, currently the focal point in the Syrian war, what are they likely to conclude?
One can only hope that by then authoritarian regimes will be a thing of the past and that democracy in one form or another will prevail and then the truth about the atrocities being committed will finally emerge. Regretfully, as the saying goes, truth is the first casualty of war.
While Assad may come out of the trial in Germany with a guilty verdict, the courts will not have any authority to impose a verdict. Possibly the worst-case scenario for Assad will be that he may not be able to visit Germany any time soon.
History will remember him in the same manner that other tyrants before him are remembered, though Assad remains something of a novice when compared to tyrants such as Stalin, Hitler or Pol Pot.
While some leaders are remembered for their great accomplishments, Assad will go down in history as the man who brought about the physical destruction of his country, who was ultimately responsible for the carnage that killed close to 500,000 Syrians and displaced millions of others.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al- Hussein said in October that the government’s siege and bombing of rebel-held eastern Aleppo constituted “crimes of historic proportions”, which have caused heavy civilian casualties amounting to war crimes.
He said the case should be referred to the International Criminal Court.
They are supposed to be on the same side, fighting a common enemy. Still, given that the end game for each side is a very different map of what post-civil-war Syria should look like, there are frequent clashes between Kurdish forces fighting the regime of President Bashar Assad and other rebel forces.
Earlier this month, Syrian rebels fighting to capture Islamic State-held al-Bab said they clashed with Kurdish forces also attempting to seize the city. The fighting occurred in the village of Sheikh Nasser, which was only recently taken from ISIS by the Turkish-backed rebels.
Yet Ankara views the Kurdish forces, part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters, as an enemy and looks at any territorial gain by Kurdish forces with suspicion, afraid that it would contribute to the hope of eventually creating an independent Kurdish state.
History has not been kind to the Kurds as, time and time again, they found themselves short-changed by Western politicians who promised them that they would help establish a Kurdish homeland only to renege at the last minute.
And if history has been unkind to the Kurds, geography has been even more unkind, placing the Kurdish area and people between Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. Talk about bad neighbourhoods.
The Iraqis gassed them, wiping out entire villages. Saddam Hussein’s henchman, his first cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, notoriously known as “Chemical Ali” for his use of chemical weapons against the Kurds, deployed chemical agents regardless of the women, children and elderly present.
The Iranians hanged and executed by firing squad hundreds of Kurds. Kurdish militants in Syria were arrested and jailed without trial. And in Turkey, the Kurdish parties are considered terrorist organisations.
Since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iraqi Kurdistan, officially known as the Kurdish Autonomous Region, has fared far better that the rest of the country from a security and an economic perspective.
The region has enjoyed relative calm and has prospered greatly, with a number of international hotels setting up branches in the capital, Erbil. Baghdad, while it has no great love for the Kurds, nevertheless will fight tooth and nail to maintain the region well inside the frail and fractured republic of Iraq given that the majority of Iraq’s oil comes from wells in Iraqi Kurdistan. Losing the oil revenues from the Kurdistan region would be disastrous for Baghdad.
Protected by the US Air Force, which turned the entire Iraqi Kurdish region into a no-fly zone for the Iraqi military after the 1991 Gulf War, today Iraqi Kurdistan is as close to being an independent state as it is likely to get, at least in the near future.
As the former representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) told this reporter when the Kurds inaugurated the KRG’s representative office in Washington just a few blocks from the White House: “This is as close to an embassy we will get without seriously upsetting Baghdad.”
The Kurds seem to go out of their way to appease the West, particularly the United States. This is something of an anomaly in a part of the world where animosity to America seems to be the order of the day.
Since the outset of the Syrian civil war the Kurds have sided with the anti-regime forces. The peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters, have assisted US forces since the first Gulf War.
They have proven to be an effective force in fighting the Islamic State (ISIS). Although they are in large part Sunni Muslim, they opposed their fellow co-religionists in ISIS. Upon liberating a town from ISIS, Kurdish fighters scrambled atop an old church to restore the heavy stone crucifix that ISIS had taken down.
So far the Kurdish interaction with Western powers throughout the current Middle East conflict has been quite positive.
But will this honeymoon stand the test of time and Middle East geopolitics?
What is likely to happen if and when Ankara decides to launch an all-out assault on the Kurds? What will be the US position given the close relationship between Washington and Erbil and the fact that Turkey is part of NATO?
Will a battle-tested and largely successful Kurdish military force represent a new military reality to be dealt with in the region?
Change is under way in Iraq where the Islamic State is losing ground in the battle for Mosul to the U.S.-backed coalition supporting government forces. That is the good news. The bad news is what comes next.
Various intelligence reports indicate IS has indoctrinated and trained about 4,000 people to carry out suicide attacks throughout the region and in Europe. It is a frightening thought when one considers the damage even a single such attacker can cause.
There is no concrete evidence to that report however; if there is any truth to it, probably a small percentage of the 4,000 would actually carry out attacks. It is hard to imagine an army of several thousand jihadists marching through Europe undetected but even if only 5 percent reach their intended targets, that is still 200 bombs.
Perhaps just as worrisome as the hundreds of suicide bombers roaming around Europe is the uncertainty of what is likely to replace the void created by the IS defeat.
It is hard to imagine something that does not exist. Imagining the future, be it in politics or other domains, requires much creativity. Who could have predicted the fall of communism and the rise of extremist religious fanatics? Indeed, when the Iron Curtain fell and many countries wasted little time in joining free market economic systems, radical Islamism rose to fill the socioeconomic-political void created by the absence of an ideology.
Political voids come with uncertainty. It cannot be known what will replace what has been pushed aside. Change can be for the better or it can create chaos and violence.
As recent history demonstrates, trends in the Middle East have followed a consistent path: Every period of violence in the Middle East wielded a crop of more radicalized and more violent groups.
What can we expect this time?
A rare message from IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reveals the self-proclaimed caliph’s preoccupation with defections from IS ranks with large numbers of militants abandoning the battlefield in the face of the assault on Mosul by Iraqi government forces and the U.S.-supported coalition.
Baghdadi, in his first audio address to followers in more than a year, called on his fighters to show discipline in battle. This “suggests that the group’s leadership is increasingly concerned about defections,” wrote Ludovico Carlino, senior analyst at IHS Country Risk.
Carlino reported morale among IS troops in Mosul is very low. The troops are reluctantly forced to fight by a hard core of more ideologically committed fighters. Ironically, senior leaders of the IS have been leaving Mosul for Raqqa for some time.
As IS fighters retreat from the battlefield, they are expected to punish Western countries that participated in their forced exit from Iraq. To that effect, U.S. intelligence sources alerted security officials in New York, Texas and Virginia. No specific targets were mentioned but the FBI warned those states to be extra vigilant.
What is far more worrisome than a crop of passing suicide bombers is what will fill the political void left by departing IS.
Just as al-Qaida appeared after the Afghan wars and IS made its appearance following wars in Iraq and Syria — each was a notch more radical than the previous group — so, too, will there very likely be some new wave of fanaticism that will rise from the ashes of IS.
Unless there is serious undertaking by the Iraqi government in a massive reconciliation program to help the warring parties realize that there is no future in fighting.
The antagonists need to realize that if they want to ensure the future for their children, they must get beyond the point of seeking to settle every score with blood.
This article originally appeared at The Arab Weekly.
Many Lebanese remain divided over the country’s former army commander Michel Aoun, who after vying for the presidency for nearly two decades was finally voted to the top job. Just getting all of Lebanon’s opposing political parties to agree on the candidate after two years without a president is quite an accomplishment.
Getting those of varying political agendas such as Hezbollah and conservative Christian parties to agree to sit at the same table requires a certain degree of political know-how.
A former Lebanese army general, Aoun was forced into a 14-year exile in France because he opposed Syria’s presence in Lebanon but has now won the presidency with Syria’s support. But does that make him Niccolo Machiavelli’s Prince or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince?
After numerous attempts to find a president acceptable to all political factions, foreign and domestic, the Lebanese parliament has made Aoun proud with his unexpected last-minute political alliances. The result placed him ahead of his rivals for the post, which under Lebanon’s sectarian system is awarded to a Christian.
Some Lebanese see Aoun as the leader who will take the country out of its years of political wilderness. Others regard him as a renegade officer and loose cannon who could well reignite the civil war. If nothing else, Aoun is a highly controversial, if not somewhat enigmatic figure. But is he the Prince or the Little Prince?
While Saint-Exupéry, who served as a French military aviator during the second world war and ultimately disappeared in the southern Mediterranean when his aircraft crashed, may have had more in common with the Lebanese military officer, Aoun picked up more on the practicality of politics from Machiavelli.
Despite his political shortcomings, Aoun promised to change Lebanon’s stagnating politics and do away with corruption and sectarianism. This alone has given the 83-year-old military officer-turned politician a head start in the race to the presidency.
The retired general claims much credit for Syria’s rapid exit from Lebanon.
This is worrying many Lebanese who view Aoun with suspicion, if not outright revulsion. Others see in him new hope.
“We have to put the past behind us,” said Tony Haddad, a close aide who lobbies for the general’s interests in Washington.
This might not be as easy as it sounds. Before his exile, Aoun made many enemies when he took on the Syrians, then the Christian militias in one of the final, but harshest, stages of the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war.
So how do you put the past behind you? First, you forgive your enemies, hoping they will forgive you. Second, you try to introduce reconciliation — a relatively little-tested concept in Lebanon. Third, you try to win the people’s trust.
“Transparency is going to be the key,” Haddad said. “People trust him, they want a clean leadership.”
Haddad said some of the antipathy felt by many Lebanese towards Aoun was the clash of “reformers versus traditionalists”. Haddad called Aoun a “reformer” who wants to change things. Indeed, his uttering this one word, “change”, was enough to ensure Aoun the support of hundreds, if not thousands, of followers.
“I think his vision is beyond what most people can comprehend in this region,” said Haddad.
It is, however, precisely this vision that is being questioned. A vision many accuse of being rather blurred and quick to forget the past.
“Ask him about the millions of dollars he received from Saddam Hussein,” suggested a Lebanese friend. I did ask.
“The general got help from Saddam but he gave him nothing in return,” said Haddad, adding even former US secretary of Defense met with Donald Rumsfeld had, in the past, met with the now executed Iraqi president.
“The help from Iraq was unconditional,” said Haddad. “We gave nothing in return.”
“Ask him why is it that he has allied himself with the most avid supporters of Syria,” said the same Lebanese friend. I did ask.
In politics, things change, alliances change, explained Haddad, adding all Lebanese politicians, including opposition leader Walid Jumblatt, have in the past dealt with Syria.
It was late at night as I sat down to write these words and caught sight of Machiavelli’s ghost as it floated over my desk.
“Niccolo, is this correct? Is it true?” I asked.
Looking somewhat ashen and in a great hurry to escape Levantine politics, Machiavelli replied, “Certo, certo,” (sure, sure) before quickly disappearing into the night.
But if Machiavelli’s ghost ran away, my friend persisted.
“Ask him how come he has given the Syrians a clean bill of health by announcing they are no longer in Lebanon under any guise when the United Nations hasn’t yet? What was his hurry to do so?” added my friend.
I did ask.
“The general carries no grudges against his former enemies,” replied Haddad.
The general may carry no grudges but some of the people he shelled during the “war of liberation” find it hard to forget. Summing up the feelings of many Lebanese who fall into that category, another friend from Beirut simply said: “Ask him when he is going back to Paris?”
Alas, the ghost was gone before I could get an answer to that last question.
by Claude Salhani –
Fierce fighting between a US-backed coalition, which includes support from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, is under way to oust the forces of the Islamic State (ISIS) from the Iraqi city of Mosul.
The United Nations said it is expecting about 150,000 people displaced by the fighting to seek shelter in makeshift camps.
In all probability, those numbers are likely to grow when equally heavy fighting follows once the battle for control of Raqqa, the main stronghold of ISIS forces in Syria, begins, creating a second front against the extremist jihadist group.
With winter weeks away, there are good reasons to fear for the well-being of these displaced people. They will most certainly spend at least the coming winter under UN tents.
By Claude Salhani
One of the many facets of the civil war in Syria is what appears to be ironic role reversals between Russia and the United States.
Russia’s military participation in the Syrian conflict comes in the form of help for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. It should not be overlooked that some analysts are trying to spin this off as Russia standing up for the defence of Christianity as it takes on the forces of the Islamic State (ISIS).
The United States and its European allies are trying to come up with a comprehensive strategy on how to fight the jihadist extremists.
Politics and what motivates political trends in the region can be confusing in the best of times. Throw in the complexity of the Syrian civil war with its multitude of political alliances, the plethora of armed factions — foreign and domestic — and the general perplexity that surrounds the Syrian conflagration and it is easy to understand the West’s reluctance to commit boots on the ground. Continue reading