Since WWI, armies have provided code names for their military operations. Many, however, have been euphemisms to conceal what really stands behind them.
This week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a military campaign against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the enclave of Afrin, situated in northern Syria. Codenamed ‘Operation Olive Branch,’ it has failed miserably from the outset to live up to its name.
First, considering that Ankara views the YPG as a bona fide terrorist organization, it is hard to understand how it could give such a blatantly deceptive codename to what amounts to a full-blown military incursion. But then again, deception is part and parcel of any such enterprises.
More importantly, however, by launching an air and land operation against the YPG, Turkey – like the US-led forces – has grievously violated the territorial integrity of a foreign nation. It also crucial to note that the YPG receives direct US military support in its battle against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), which makes Erdogan’s operation not only a serious risk, but quite far from any olive branch.
It has been reported that dozens of civilians have been killed and around 5,000 displaced since its start.
Operation Enduring Freedom
Perhaps the most misnamed military operation in history came in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States.
‘Operation Enduring Freedom,’ otherwise known as the ‘Global War on Terrorism,’ was launched by then-President George W. Bush against a number of countries, most notably Afghanistan and Iraq. Far from the promise of securing freedom as implied by its glorious namesake, OEF actually did the very opposite.
Beginning with the invasion of Afghanistan – the notorious ‘graveyard of empires’ – in October 2001, the campaign continued on its freedom tour through Iraq and Libya, leaving a trail of senseless death and destruction in its wake. In direct contradiction to its aim, the so-called war on terror has injured, killed or displaced millions of people – the great majority of them Muslims -since its inception.
Operation Freedom Deal
This relentless US bombing operation brings to mind the worlds of Tacitus, the Roman orator, describing an earlier military campaign: “They created a wasteland and called it a peace.”
Starting in May 1970 and going until August 1973, the United States, in an effort to halt the advance of the communist-backed Khmer Rouge, carried out a massive bombing campaign on the entire eastern half of Cambodia, focusing heavily on the city of Phnom Penh.
In just one year (1973) US B-52 bombers dropped some 250,000 tons of ordnance on the country, an amount that far exceeded the 180,000 tons dropped on Japan during World War II.
The campaign produced no freedom, and no deal. The number of casualties have been estimated at 50-150,000, although some historians say the number is much higher.
On May 12, 2004, the Israeli Defense Forces carried out an attack in the southern Gaza Strip that involved the targeting and siege of Rafah, a city of some 150,000 that is overwhelmingly comprised of Palestinian refugees. According to Human Rights Watch, 59 Palestinians were killed from May 12–24, including 11 under age 18.
Despite its feelgood codename, the last thing the citizens of Gaza saw through the smoke and fire was a rainbow.
However, Israel suffered heavily as well, but on the public relations front, which can be almost as disastrous as losing a war. As one commentator told HRW, “the terrible pictures of the demolished houses in Rafah and their pitiful owners among the ruins touched many hearts in Israel as well, and made it clear to the IDF that its scope of legitimacy for drastic actions is limited.”
The operation was begun following the deaths of 11 Israeli soldiers in two Palestinian attacks on 50-year-old US-made armored vehicles inside of the Strip.
Possibly named to confuse more than anything else, nobody seem to know how this operation got its strange name, which sounds more like a trip to the pedicurist than a military campaign.
Operation Toenails, also known as the New Georgia Campaign, was a series of land and naval battles of the Pacific theater during World War II between Allied forces and Japan.
The campaign took place in the New Georgia island group in the Solomon Islands from 20 June through 7 October 1943.
All things considered, it would probably be much more honest of militaries to be a bit more candid about their intentions and not conceal their ulterior motives behind absurd code names.
But then again, Operation Dracula, for example, the name given to an April 1945 air and sea assault on Rangoon by British, US and Indian forces, as part of the Burma Campaign, or Operation Satanic, the name of a secret French bombing operation against the Greenpeace fleet, the Rainbow Warrior, on its way to protest against a planned French nuclear test in the Pacific Ocean, may also lack an appropriate amount of forethought.