The Syrian conflict since 2011 is a constellation of overlapping crises. Each of its global, regional and sub-national dimensions demands a tailored response set within an overarching framework. Instead, chronic violence and worsening suffering have killed more than 250,000 people, fueling radicalisation, refugee flight and a self-sustaining war economy. Outside stakeholders must learn from the way the Syrian conflict has repeatedly dashed unrealistic expectations on all sides. Crisis Group pursues a comprehensive approach for achieving a sustainable decline in violence and, ultimately, a political settlement. We also seek to correct dominant narratives that focus on jihadism and migrant flows, which are the symptoms, rather than the causes, of the problem.
Since the Syrian uprising began in 2011, Ankara has been drawn ever deeper into the crisis. Its approach will likely hold steady for now. But the choices it makes next matter for the fate of millions of Syrians.
Hostilities escalated as Iran-backed groups traded blows with U.S. forces, Israel killed Hamas and Iranian commanders, and Türkiye intensified attacks in north; killing of U.S. soldiers in Jordan could provoke retaliatory strikes in Syria.
In east, Iran-backed groups and U.S. exchanged tit-for-tat attacks. Iran-backed militias launched nearly 30 attacks on U.S. bases during Jan: notably, Islamic Resistance in Iraq 2 Jan announced attacks on Al-Shaddadi, Al-Rumaylan, Al-Malikiyah bases housing U.S. personnel in Hasakah province; 14 Jan attacked U.S. Kharab Al-Jir base in Hasakah province and Conoco base in Deir ez-Zor province. U.S. retaliatory attacks on 7, 8 and 14 Jan targeted Iran-backed groups in Al-Bukamal, Al-Mayadeen, and Deir ez-Zor cities. In major escalation marking first fatal strike on U.S. forces since Gaza war, Iran-aligned Iraqi militants – likely operating in Syria – 28 Jan killed three U.S. personnel in Jordanian base on Syrian-Iraqi border (see Jordan), raising prospect of imminent U.S. retaliation in Syria.In south, Israel targeted Hamas and Iran, Jordan continued airstrikes. Iran-backed fighters 1 Jan reportedly launched rockets at Israeli-occupied Golan Heights; Israel next day struck Kanaker village in southern Damascus countryside. Israel 8 Jan killed Hamas commander Hassan Akasha in Beit Jinn village, Rif Dimashq. Israeli airstrike 20 Jan struck capital Damascus, killing five Iranian military personnel, including Iran’s head of intelligence in Syria, and several civilians; Iran vowed to respond. Presumed Israeli missile targeting IRGC base in Damascus 29 Jan killed seven, including three IRGC members and civilians. Israel 31 Jan struck army positions in Deraa city. In Suwayda province, Jordan continued airstrikes targeting trafficking.In north, Türkiye intensified shelling as part of strikes on Kurdish militants. In response to killing of over a dozen Turkish soldiers in Iraq (see Iraq), Turkish military announced it 12-16 Jan conducted 114 airstrikes targeting Kurdish forces in Syria and northern Iraq; notably, Turkish drone 14 Jan killed three regime soldiers in Qamishli, Hasakah province. In north east, intensified Turkish shelling cut over 1mn off from electricity. In north west, hostilities persisted between regime and opposition. Deadly clashes between regime forces and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)/National Liberation Front 3, 9, 10, 18 and 19 Jan erupted along frontlines in southern Idlib province; shelling 1 Jan killed eleven civilians near Aleppo city. Meanwhile, Iran 15 Jan launched direct attack on alleged ISIS target in Idlib, in retaliation for deadly bombing (see Iran).
Turkey is highly unlikely to compromise on troop withdrawal [from northern Syria].
It's important to remember that [Syrian president] Assad's return to the Arab League is a symbolic measure to begin the process of ending his regional isolation.
The U.S. and Europe have made it clear that they do not agree with Arab states normalizing with the Assad regime, but there doesn’t seem to be much they can do about it.
The UAE has, since 2021, embarked on a policy of diminishing tensions with other countries in the region, and normalizing with Assad is part of that.
If the UN fails to extend its operation [in Syria] via these [Turkish border] crossings, donor states should bypass the UN and do bilateral assistance themselves.
Whenever the American forces there [in Syria] are attacked, the question arises again: Why are they there?
The League of Arab States welcomed President Bashar al-Assad to its May summit, reinstating Syria’s membership, which it had suspended in 2011. The regime may look to have shrugged off the international opprobrium it earned for its brutality in repressing its opponents. But has it?
The rebels who control north-western Syria are dealing harshly with ISIS cells but have not yet crushed them entirely. The best way to stop jihadists from rebounding is to consolidate the area’s ceasefire. Outside powers can also help by sending more humanitarian aid.
Its self-declared caliphate is gone, but ISIS continues to stage attacks and intimidate the public in much of its former domain. The forces fighting the group need to hinder the militants’ movement between Syria’s regions – and, above all, to avoid debilitating conflicts with one another.
To prevent ISIS from resurging, forces fighting the group should stop it from moving across regions and avoid conflict with one another. This timeline catalogues some of the major ISIS attacks and counter-ISIS operations from 2017 to February 2022.
The UN Security Council is considering renewing an understanding whereby UN agencies transport aid to Idlib, an area held by Syrian rebels. In this Q&A, Crisis Group experts Richard Gowan, Dareen Khalifa and Ashish Pradhan explain why the arrangement remains essential.
This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood talks to experts Dareen Khalifa and Jerome Drevon about ISIS in Syria after the death of its leader Abdullah Qardash, the precarious calm that prevails across the country and the evolution of al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in the north west, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
Aleppo was devastated by bombing and shelling during the Syrian war. It remains unsafe, with residents subject to shakedowns by the regime’s security forces and various militias. Damascus and its outside backers should curb this predation as a crucial first step toward the city’s recovery.
Turkey is increasingly relying on airpower in its fight against the PKK. New parties have been drawn into the conflict as it spreads to new theatres in Iraq and Syria, which, for now at least, complicates potential efforts to settle things down.
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