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.
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.
Fighting eased in areas included in new partial ceasefire but persisted elsewhere as U.S.-backed forces drew closer to offensive on Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold Raqqa in north east. Following talks in Kazakhstan capital Astana, Russia, Turkey and Iran 4 May agreed on partial ceasefire for at least six months in four zones: Idlib province and adjacent areas to west, south and east; pocket in north of Homs province; Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus; and parts of Daraa and Quneitra provinces in south. Pro-regime forces shifted military pressure to Damascus suburb Qaboun, where rebels surrendered and evacuated with families mid-May, and areas in south east where Western-backed rebels have advanced against ISIS. Rebels and families began evacuating Damascus suburb Barzeh 8 May under deal and finished evacuating al-Waer district of Homs 21 May under March surrender deal ceding complete control of city to regime forces. U.S. jets struck pro-regime forces 18 May as they advanced toward al-Tanf base on Syria-Iraq border where U.S. and other coalition partners are training anti-ISIS rebels; U.S. dropped flyers 28 May warning pro-regime forces not to come within 55km of base. Pro-regime forces prepared offensive against ISIS in Deir al-Zour city in east. Russia 31 May said its warships in Mediterranean fired several cruise missiles at ISIS targets near Palmyra in east and hit targets. Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and junior allies in Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition 10 May took full control of Tabqa dam and town from ISIS about 40km west of Raqqa, setting stage for push on city; U.S. 30 May said it had begun to arm YPG for offensive. Sixth round of UN-brokered talks in Geneva 16-19 May made no progress, due to resume in June.
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.
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.
[The West has] thrown values by the wayside, but also not been able to act in [their] own interests, because [they] let things [in Syria] go too long.
The pressures within Israel to do something regarding the humanitarian catastrophe [in Syria] are not accompanied by a politically realistic strategy.
[The problem was that] there is no clear alternative to [Syria's President] Assad if you want to preserve the regime, which Russia is set on.
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.
Originally published in The New York Review of Books