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 U.S. decision to leave troops in north-eastern Syria has bought the area time but not lasting stability. Washington should press its Kurdish YPG allies to loosen their PKK ties – lest Ankara intervene – and stop obstructing their autonomy talks with Damascus.
Pro-govt forces continued offensive against rebel-held areas of Idlib province in north west causing significant civilian suffering but failed to take new ground, and in west Israeli air raids hit Iranian targets. In north west, jihadist coalition Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) 11 July took al-Hamamiyat town in northern Hama province, but pro-govt forces same day repelled rebels’ advance, and 28 July recaptured Jubain and Tal Malah. Hizbollah fighters from Lebanon 11 July reportedly joined pro-govt offensive in north west for first time, despite group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah same day announcing that it was reducing its presence in Syria. Pro-govt and Russian offensive reportedly caused at least 662 civilian deaths and damaged 37 medical facilities since late April, including hospitals known to Russia through UN’s de-confliction mechanisms. Russian and govt airstrikes 16-26 July killed at least 100 civilians in Maarat al-Numan, Khan Shaykhun and Ariha, in Idlib province; NGO Save the Children 24 July reported 33 children killed 24 June-24 July. In Turkish-controlled Afrin, Aleppo province, suspected fighters of Kurdish People’s Protection Units 11 July killed five combatants and eight civilians in car bomb attack, including three children. Media outlet Foreign Policy 9 July reported that UK and France had agreed to increase their military presence in north east by 10% and 15% respectively to compensate for ongoing U.S. drawdown. In Deir al-Zour province in east, U.S. and French special representatives to Syria 10 July met Arab council to discuss governance and devolving authority from Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to local Arab leaders. U.S. special envoy James Jeffrey 23 July met Turkish officials to discuss creation of safe zone on Syria-Turkey border. Islamic State (ISIS) 11-12 July claimed bombings in al-Hasakah and Qamishli cities, with no deaths reported. In west, Israeli warplanes 30 June-1 July attacked govt and Iranian targets in Damascus and Homs, killing sixteen, including three children and ten Iranian and Hizbollah fighters.
The Syrian regime vows to reconquer Idlib, the north-western zone hosting its hardest-core remaining jihadist opposition. But an all-out offensive would be calamitous. Turkey and Russia should recommit to their “de-escalation” deal for Idlib, bolstering it with measures that buy time for a lasting solution.
Russian mediation helped reduce bloodshed during the Assad regime’s reconquest of southern Syria. But for similar arrangements to work in remaining rebel strongholds, better security guarantees by outside powers are needed to prevent regime reprisals, improve aid flows and, down the road, facilitate refugee return.
Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, half of whom are under eighteen. Despite European aid, tensions are rising as the country strains to accommodate the influx. The answer is smarter integration policies aimed particularly at meeting the needs of vulnerable youth.
President Donald Trump has ordered U.S. troops to withdraw from north-east Syria. This risks chaos and drives home the urgent need for a deal that restores Syrian state sovereignty to its north east, assuages Turkish security concerns and allows for some degree of Kurdish self-rule.
Much of north-eastern Syria has been safe during the civil war. But in the event of U.S. military withdrawal, a mad scramble for control could be unleashed. Washington and Moscow should help their respective allies in Syria reach a decentralisation deal for the area.
If the Russians have decided that they now care about the verbatim implementation of [the de-escalation] agreement then that is a big problem for Idlib and for Turkey.
The longer Damascus is excluded from certain areas of the country, the more facts are being created on the ground. Damascus has a lot of work to do in that respect, it could take a long time.
The main obstacle Damascus now faces is the complicating role of foreign forces in the areas still outside its control.
Idlib’s armed opposition may not be able to win an open battle for the northwest, but they can make a Syrian military victory terribly costly, maybe intolerably so.
Damascus is still evidently intent on taking the whole of Idlib, and all Syrian territory nationwide. But it’s Russia that’s enabled this latest military push, seemingly with more limited aims.
Idlib is a bargaining chip at this point and it’s extremely difficult to anticipate what happens next.
Tabloid sensationalism about Shamima Begum flattens important debates about how much agency these women have.
Originally published in The Guardian
It’s easy to see why Britons are hostile to a teenage girl who went to Syria. But barring the door would feed the next round of jihadist recruiting.
Originally published in Bloomberg
Crisis Group’s third update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on economic reforms in Libya, preserving the fragile quiet in Syria’s Idlib province, addressing the plight of civilians in eastern Ukraine, supporting Colombia's uneasy peace process and averting violence in Nigeria's upcoming elections. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.