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.
Our Senior Analyst for Syria Noah Bonsey visits the north east of the country to meet a Syrian Kurdish organisation that has made the region relatively secure, yet knows that it still has far to go in its struggle – particularly for long-term U.S. support.
In fifth round of talks in Kazakh capital Astana 4-5 July, Russia, Iran and Turkey failed to cement agreements on four “de-escalation zones”. U.S. President Trump and Russian President Putin at G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany 7-8 July agreed on outlines of ceasefire in south west covering Quneitra and Daraa provinces and parts of Sweida province, which came into effect 9 July; agreement includes regime and rebels ending direct attacks and bans presence of foreign fighters. Another round of UN-led talks in Geneva mid-July ended with no breakthrough. Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and allies in Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition made slow progress in retaking Raqqa in north east against stiff resistance from Islamic State (ISIS); broke through Old City walls early July. Govt forces took oil wells from ISIS south west of Raqqa province mid-July. Fighting escalated between YPG and Turkish forces in north west throughout month. In Idlib province in north west, ceasefire held between rebels and pro-regime forces but rising tensions 18-21 July led to worst clashes yet between rival rebel groups Ahrar al-Sham, Islamist faction backed by Turkey, and Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), al-Qaeda-linked alliance dominated by Salafi-jihadist group Fath al-Sham. After HTS surrounded Ahrar al-Sham at Bab al-Hawa crossing on Turkish border, two sides agreed ceasefire 21 July under which Ahrar al-Sham ceded control of crossing. In south east, govt forces and allied Iranian-backed militias launched assault 10 July on Western-backed rebels in eastern Sweida province near Iraqi border, capturing at least seven villages. Negotiations in Cairo between Russia and rebel faction Jaish al-Islam resulted in 22 July partial ceasefire and renewed aid delivery in Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus; govt strikes continued on areas of Ghouta controlled by other rebel factions. Govt forces and Lebanese Shiite Islamist militant group Hizbollah 21 July launched coordinated offensives against Fath al-Sham and ISIS around Arsal in Lebanon and near Fleita in Syria; Hizbollah and Fath al-Sham agreed ceasefire 27 July under which latter’s members and their families will move to rebel-held areas of Idlib province (see Lebanon).
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its Syrian affiliates face a stark choice: risk their gains in northern Syria through continued prioritisation of the PKK's fight against Turkey, or pursue local self-rule in the area they have carved out of the chaos of the Syrian war.
The U.S. campaign against ISIS in northern Syria both benefits from and is complicated by its partnership with an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group fighting against its NATO ally Turkey. The challenges will grow as the war on ISIS moves further east.
This report examines President Trump’s emerging counter-terrorism policies, the dilemmas his administration faces in battling ISIS and al-Qaeda across the Middle East and South Asia, and how to avoid deepening the disorder both groups exploit.
Four years after plunging into Syria’s civil war, Hizbollah has achieved its core aim of preserving the Assad regime. Yet with no clear exit strategy, the Lebanese “Party of God” faces ever greater costs unless it can lower the sectarian flames, open dialogue with non-jihadist rebel groups and help pave the way for a negotiated settlement.
Turkey is under growing pressure from nearly three million Syrian refugees. To mitigate domestic tensions and spillover from regional conflicts, Ankara needs to develop, and find support for, new policies that open refugees’ routes to jobs, education and permanent legal status.
On both sides of the Syria-Turkey border, the uncompromising strategies of Ankara, Turkey’s insurgent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and its Syria-based affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), are propelling a dangerous conflict toward escalation. The lone force able to head it off is the United States, and if it fails, Islamic State is ready to exploit any new disorder.
In YPG-held areas [in Syria], a lot of times the local officials with major roles on paper, in practice don't actually have a lot of influence.
Local councils and civil society organizations [in Syria's Idlib] are constantly battling [the jihadist group Hey’at Tahrir al-Sham] and, to a lesser extent, Ahrar al-Sham, over who will provide services.
There is a tension in the U.S. approach [in Syria], to avoid extended commitments and nation-building on one hand and the need to prevent the possibility of a jihadist resurgence in the future on the other.
The strike [by Iran against ISIS in Syria] further complicates an already complex situation. If the US takes measures beyond rhetorical condemnation, tensions could escalate too far too quickly.
The shift in the Trump administration's approach reflects an assessment that the primary threat posed by surviving ISIS fighters derives from those who came from Europe.
There isn’t an easy solution to [the Turkish-U.S. disagreement on Kurdish militias in Iraq and Syria], and now Turkey has raised the stakes.
Originally published in World Politics Review
Originally published in esglobal
Directly arming one mainly Kurdish faction in Syria makes U.S. partly responsible for the fate of Syria’s Kurds. Given Ankara’s bitter opposition to the group, Washington should push its Kurdish partner to focus on regional autonomy in Syria, not its insurgency in Turkey.
Originally published in Middle East Eye
Despite suffering significant blows in Syria and Iraq, jihadist movements across the Middle East, North Africa and Lake Chad regions continue to pose significant challenges. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – First Update early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to prioritise conflict prevention at the heart of their counter-terrorism policy and continue investment in vulnerable states.
Six months into research fellowships made possible by Canadian philanthropist and Crisis Group Trustee Frank Giustra, we catch up with three young experts now working with our Europe, Africa and Middle East teams. Here we talk to Armenak Tokmajyan, working on humanitarian dimensions of the Syrian war.