The United States and Russia are really in a very awkward place right now.

Russia decided yesterday to start bombing Syria. But Russia is an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. So it's not suprising that Russian airstrikes are targeting the Syrian rebels who challenge the regime.

Many of those rebels are supported by the United States, which blames the Syrian president for the rise of the Islamic State and thinks Assad needs to go if the world's most dangerous terrorist group is going to be defeated.

A spokesman for the Southern Front — an alliance of self-declared moderate rebels groups that has received weapons from the United States — is now calling on America to “stand with the Syrians” against Russian aggression.

“Any power helping the Assad regime for us is an enemy.  We ask the international community or so-called ‘friends of Syria’ to prove their announcements and stand with the Syrians against this Russian invasion,” he told GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Richard Hall.

Does this mean Russia and the United States are effectively at war in Syria? It’s really starting to look like it.


Russia and the United States, of course, are not shy about going into other countries and supporting one side or the other. They are not shy about arming and training certain groups who can support or topple a government that aligns with their political whims. This is what the world’s two long-standing superpowers have done for decades. It rarely ends well.

In Afghanistan, Russia fought a decade-long war on behalf of a like-minded government. And in the background was the United States (and a handful of Muslim-majority countries around the world), arming rebels who could defeat the Russian-backed government. Those rebels won in the end. But the celebrations were short. The various militias proceeded to then fight each other over power for years in what became the country’s devastating civil war of the mid-1990s. It was from the chaos and blood of that conflict that a group hell-bent on establishing order and some semblance of morality took root, and then took over: the Taliban.

The Taliban, of course, made the fatal mistake of allowing one Osama bin Laden to hide out in the mountains of Afghanistan. It was an odd sort of decision since the two didn’t really have much in common. But the Taliban’s refusal to hand over bin Laden led to the US invasion in 2001. And so the Taliban was forced out.

Well, now the Taliban is back. This week the group took over its first major city since being ousted, and it's putting up a real fight trying to keep it.

All of this war in Afghanistan, which has dragged on for close to 40 years now, created one of the world’s largest refugee populations. That is, until the Syrian conflict broke out. Now Syrians and Afghans are competing for space and asylum in places like Europe. In Germany, multiple large-scale brawls have broken out between the two groups in the last week.

It’s hard not to wonder where Afghanistan — and the world — would be today if the United States and Russia had just left it alone.