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.
While Islamist insurgents around the world are inspired by the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, the question of whether and how they will benefit as a result is more complicated, as Crisis Group experts explain in this 360-degree view.
Govt forces struck deal with rebels to end fighting in south west, Russia stepped up attacks in Idlib, and clashes continued between Kurdish and Turkish-backed forces in north east. In Daraa governorate in south west, tensions cooled following months of hostilities after new deal 1 Sept came into force requiring total surrender of rebel weapons, house-by-house search of each Daraa al-Balad neighbourhood by regime forces and mandatory “settlement of status” process for all residents; at least 2,300 people across Daraa governorate struck deals with govt during month. Regime 4-5 Sept resumed shelling, killing three, after deal 3 Sept temporarily collapsed; agreement however held from 6 Sept. Insecurity in Daraa countryside prevailed, with at least 18 reportedly killed by unknown gunmen, regime fire and IED explosions 1-22 Sept. Jordan 27 Sept announced Jaber-Nassib border crossing with Daraa governorate would open 29 Sept. In north west, March 2020 ceasefire held despite reported clashes and artillery shelling throughout month and Russia escalating attacks in Idlib governorate, with increase in airstrikes in Sept. Notably, govt shelling 7-8 Sept reportedly killed five civilians in Idlib city and Jabal al Zawiya area. Attack 11 Sept killed three Turkish soldiers, prompting Ankara 13 Sept to send military reinforcements to Idlib. International coalition airstrike 20 Sept reportedly killed two senior figures of al-Qaeda-affiliated group in eastern Idlib. Russian airstrike 26 Sept reportedly killed at least 11 Turkish-backed militants near Afrin city in Aleppo governorate; Turkish-backed militants reportedly responded by firing guided missile that killed two Syrian regime soldiers. In central desert, Russia continued airstrikes against suspected Islamic State (ISIS) targets. Notably, in Homs governorate, clashes between ISIS and regime-backed forces 7 Sept reportedly killed six pro-regime fighters in al-Sukhnah desert and ISIS attack 18 Sept in Palmyra reportedly killed five others. ISIS same day claimed attack previous day south east of capital Damascus that temporarily suspended energy provision to parts of country. In north east, Turkish-backed forces and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces clashed throughout month in Hasakah province, notably near Tel Tamr. Unattributed rockets 9 Sept hit outskirts of U.S. base in al-Shaddadi. Israeli airstrikes 3 Sept reportedly struck near capital Damascus.
With the Syrian regime’s offensive in Idlib paused, the time is now for a deal sparing the rebellion’s last stronghold the full wrath of reconquest. The parties should pursue an improved ceasefire including the regime, Russia, Turkey and the Islamist militants entrenched in the province.
Most Syrian refugees in Lebanon have thought many times about going home but in the end deemed the risks too great. Donors should increase aid allowing the Lebanese government to continue hosting the Syrians, so that any decision they make to leave is truly voluntary.
A tumultuous month in north-eastern Syria has left a tense standoff among the regime, Turkey and the YPG, mediated by Russia and, to some degree, still the U.S. All parties should respect the ceasefire as the regime and YPG negotiate more stable long-term arrangements.
Rebuilding war-torn Syria poses a formidable challenge for European governments, which are unwilling to legitimise the Damascus regime by funding reconstruction. Instead, the EU and its member states could consider bankrolling small projects without regime involvement and testing an approach that trades aid for reforms.
Tens of thousands of foreign men, women and children affiliated with ISIS are detained in northeast Syria. The camps where they are held pose a formidable security and humanitarian challenge to the region. Western governments should, at minimum, accelerate the repatriation of women and children.
Once again, the Islamic State may be poised to recover from defeat in its original bases of Iraq and Syria. It is still possible, however, for the jihadist group’s many foes to nip its regrowth in the bud.
Putting the lifeline of three million Syrians up for negotiations every six to 12 months, is an unsustainable situation. And Syrian civilians end up paying the price.
La direction du mouvement [HTC en Syrie] s’efforce désormais de régler ces problèmes. La manière dont elle se comporte vis-à-vis des minorités est en train de changer.
La meilleure des pires options qui se posent aujourd'hui [en Syrie], c'est une impasse prolongée.
The [recent] U.S. [air strikes in Syria were] aimed at a relatively insignificant target in an area where Iran's hands are somewhat tied.
The people who have been released [from detention camps in Syria] are struggling to reintegrate, and the economic situation outside is already very bad.
It seems that what is left of ISIS networks now is that they are getting organized in smaller groups of five or six people who may not be connected to each other even.
Could the seizure of Afghanistan by the Taliban just before the twentieth anniversary of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks be a turning point for jihadist militancy worldwide? (Online Event, 28th September 2021)
As Israeli strikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria continue, there is always a risk that occasional spikes of violence could escalate into a broader confrontation.
Originally published in Middle East Eye
A sudden U.S. troop pull-out from north east Syria could prompt a humanitarian crisis, an Islamic State resurgence and renewed conflict between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces, especially its Kurdish component. The U.S. should commit to an eventual, gradual and conditional withdrawal that protects civilians.
Sanctions on Syria aim to protect Syrian civilians from the regime but may end up hurting them instead. Washington should further clarify humanitarian exemptions, specify benchmarks related to civilian protection and offer temporary easing of sanctions as long as these are met.
A full-blown COVID-19 outbreak may trigger a greater human catastrophe in northern Syria, where ISIS activity persists and Idlib’s peace remains ever-fragile. In this excerpt from the Spring Edition of our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to support a stronger ceasefire in Idlib and increase assistance to health and governance structures to keep COVID-19 and ISIS in check.