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.
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.
Türkiye intensified attacks against Kurdish-led forces after deadly Istanbul bombing, threatening ground offensive in north that could trigger displacement and fuel escalatory cycle of violence.
Türkiye stepped up strikes against Kurdish-led forces, threatening ground incursion. Following 13 Nov bombing in Turkish city Istanbul that killed six, which Türkiye blamed on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and People’s Protection Units (YPG), Turkish forces 20 Nov launched “Operation Claw-Sword” in northern Syria and Iraq (see Türkiye); Turkish defence ministry claimed strikes targeting Kobani and Tal Rifat in Aleppo province, Cizire and Derik in Hasakah province and northern Iraq 20-21 Nov killed 184 militants. Turkish President Erdoğan from 21 Nov repeatedly signalled possible ground invasion into north as Ankara reportedly negotiated with Russia on possible offensive west of Euphrates River; potential ground operation in coming weeks – fourth since 2016 – would risk large-scale displacement, civilian casualties and escalatory cycle of violence with YPG. U.S. 23 Nov said Turkish strikes in Syria threatened safety of U.S. personnel and progress of anti-Islamic State (ISIS) operations. Meanwhile, retaliatory cross-border attacks into Türkiye increased: notably; rocket attack 21 Nov killed three civilians in Gaziantep province.
Russia continued strikes in Idlib, while Israel attacked regime bases. Russian aircraft 6 Nov bombed IDP camps near Idilb city, reportedly killing at least nine civilians and injuring over 70. Syrian military claimed Israeli missiles 13 Nov hit Shayrat air base in Homs province, killing two servicemen; Syrian state media reported Israeli airstrikes 19 Nov killed four soldiers and injured one in military bases in central and western Syria.
Deadly unclaimed attacks continued. Unidentified drone strike 8 Nov targeted militia convoy, reportedly killing at least 14, including suspected Iranian nationals, in Deir Ez-Zor province. Explosion near capital Damascus 21 Nov killed two, including Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps colonel. Rocket attack 22 Nov reportedly killed five civilians in Aleppo province’s Azaz city, controlled by Türkiye-backed groups.
In other important developments. Beheaded bodies of two teenage Egyptian girls were found in al-Hol camp in north east 15 Nov. Erdoğan 17 Nov raised prospect of normalising relations with Damascus following Turkish elections in 2023.
Renewed conflict [in northern Syria] will inevitably lead to mass displacement and suffering.
Jailbreaks and prison riots were a central component of IS resurgence in Iraq and are a serious threat in Syria today.
I wouldn’t expect that Turkey would like to expand the zone it occupies in the northeast [of Syria]. A move like this will require a difficult conversation with the Russi...
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.
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.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group’s Turkey expert, Nigar Göksel, about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent trip to Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Turkey’s involvement in conflicts in Syria, Libya and the Caucasus, and its wider foreign relations.
On 3 February, U.S. commandos raided a house in Syria’s Idlib province, killing Abdullah Qardash, head of the Islamic State’s core group in the Levant. In this Q&A, Crisis Group experts Jerome Drevon and Dareen Khalifa explore the implications of the ISIS leader’s demise.
After suffering grievously under ISIS, and during the battles to defeat it, Raqqa is being rebuilt. The calm is tenuous, however. The U.S. and partners should work toward long-term stability in Syria’s north east, through investment and talks about sustainable governance and security arrangements.
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