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.
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.
Fighting escalated between rival armed groups in north east, Russia-Turkey tensions persisted in Idlib, and Islamic State (ISIS) continued deadly assaults. Clashes erupted between Turkish-backed groups and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in and around city of Ain Issa: Turkish-backed forces 6 Dec carried out artillery attacks on Ain Issa and nearby villages, wounding at least nine civilians, including two children. Although Russia and SDF 8 Dec reached agreement over redeployment of military units and establishment of three Russian observation posts near Ain Issa, Turkish-backed forces 11, 13 and 14 Dec launched ground assaults targeting SDF positions, and mutual shelling continued. Russia 27 Dec confirmed deployment of additional military units to Ain Issa. Elsewhere in north east, protesters 8, 9 and 15 Dec took to streets in SDF-controlled parts of Deir Ez-Zor city to protest against deteriorating living conditions and high cost of fuel. In Idlib in north west, Turkey withdrew from observation points in regime-controlled territory, while setting up new ones in rebel-controlled parts of province and further strengthening position in Jabal al-Zawiya area near M4 highway throughout month. Militants 29 Dec reportedly wounded three Russian soldiers on patrol near Trumba in Idlib province. Meanwhile, ISIS 2-13 Dec launched series of attacks in Deir Ez-Zor, Homs and Hama cities, killing at least 29 pro-regime fighters and injuring 25 others; in retaliation, Russian forces in coordination with regime forces mid-Dec launched over 170 airstrikes in central desert, reportedly killing 37 ISIS members. ISIS 30 Dec claimed responsibility for attack that killed nearly 40 regime soldiers in eastern Syria. Russian forces 11 Dec conducted joint patrol in Golan Heights, Quneitra province, and established five observation points along disengagement line with Israel. U.S. govt 7 Dec designated rebel group Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham among “Entities of Particular Concern”; 22 Dec sanctioned Central Bank, close aide to President Assad and several of first lady’s UK-based relatives. Alleged Israeli airstrikes 4 Dec hit Iran-linked sites in Raqqa city and 6 Dec killed three pro-Iran militants in Deir Ez-Zor province. Govt 24 Dec reported Israeli missiles over western Hama countryside.
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.
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.
The Kurdish leadership has every reason to suspect that Russia will not push Damascus to accept anything that Turkey might interpret as protecting or legitimizing the YPG.
With the US Caesar Act coming into force, doing business with Syria will become even more difficult and risky.
What appears to be an unprecedented government-sanctioned Russian media campaign against Bashar al-Assad may reflect frustration in Moscow over Assad's obstinacy at a time when Syria is a lesser priority.
[...] this is an effort to minimize offending Moscow that reflects the fact that U.N. officials believe that continued cooperation with Russia is key to the future of humanitarian operations in Syria.
Disease has long been a daily concern at al-Hol, a detention camp in north-eastern Syria for families of ISIS militants, but now each death raises anxiety about COVID-19. With repatriations on hold, the UN and other international bodies must step up medical and humanitarian aid.
A deadly attack on Turkish forces in Syria has brought Idlib’s crisis to a dangerous crossroads. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Turkey, Syria and Russia experts explain what happened and what’s at stake.
As a humanitarian disaster unfolds in Idlib, the last bastion of Syria’s Islamist rebels, the question is whether accommodation is possible between the militants and their foes. External actors should answer by gauging the insurgents’ ability to maintain calm and their sincerity about aiding civilians.