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.
Many questions surround Moscow’s surprise announcement of a force reduction in Syria. Yet it clearly enhanced Russia’s leverage over the regime and provided a much-needed dose of credibility to the nascent political process. Avoiding further regional unravelling and spiralling radicalisation, however, and pushing the conflict toward an initial settlement will require further adjustments in Russia's strategy, including addressing the Assad conundrum.
Ceasefire between regime and some armed opposition groups in place since 30 Dec nominally remained in effect but violence continued in several areas in run-up to Geneva talks late month. Following clashes between non-jihadist and Salafi-jihadist rebel groups late Jan, Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), new alliance dominated by Salafi-jihadist Fath al-Sham, early Feb took territory and materiel from rival rebels west of Aleppo. Turkey-backed rebels and pro-regime forces (both advancing toward al-Bab, NE of Aleppo) clashed early Feb. After lull since start of ceasefire, regime early Feb resumed airstrikes in parts of Homs and Idlib provinces and efforts to gain ground in Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus. Non-jihadist rebel umbrella group Ahrar al-Sham and allies mid-month launched raids in rural areas around Lattakia and Hama, and diverse rebel groups including Ahrar al-Sham, HTS and local factions 12 Feb launched offensive in Daraa city in south next to Jordan border. Islamic State (IS)-linked group 20 Feb expanded territory seizing several towns in south near borders with Israel and Jordan. Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and fellow members of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) took territory around IS-held Raqqa in NE during month to cut IS supply lines in run-up to attack on city. Turkey-backed rebels 23 Feb took complete control of al-Bab in north from IS, 26 Feb clashed with govt forces south of al-Bab. UN-led talks between govt and opposition groups opened in Geneva 23 Feb, ongoing end-month. Gunmen and suicide bombers 25 Feb attacked two security services bases in Homs city killing at least 30, HTS claimed attacks; govt launched airstrikes on various rebel-held areas including al-Waer, last rebel enclave in Homs. Govt advances in north late month opened route between Aleppo and SDF-controlled Manbij. Russia and China 28 Feb vetoed UNSC resolution drafted by France, UK and U.S. to ban supply of helicopters to govt and blacklist Syrian military commanders over accusations of toxic gas attacks.
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.
Russia’s North Caucasus insurgency has gone relatively quiet, as Moscow crushed militants and many left to fight in Syria and Iraq. But longstanding grievances remain and the war may only have widened, as evidenced by the bombing of a Russian airliner in Egypt and the emergence of new groups swearing allegiance to the Islamic State in Russia itself.
The [Syrian] regime refused to discuss a meaningful political transition even when it appeared to be losing ground militarily, so there is no prospect of it choosing to do so now that it has momentum.
Turkey has always set the Euphrates as a red line [for Kurdish forces in Syria]. The problem is it will be a huge gamble to really do that with US, Russia and YPG, who are a proficient fighting force.
I think it's fair to assume that Turkish reluctance to get further involved in the Aleppo fight was linked to its understanding with Russia regarding [Operation] Euphrates Shield.
Have the [Syrian] rebels failed tremendously? Absolutely. Have the supporting states been just as factious as the rebels? Absolutely.
The Russian government understands very well the condition of the Syrian army and their capacity to really govern in [the Sunni areas]. They need to maintain what they have already gained.
The U.S. alliance with the YPG [People’s Protection Units] in Syria is purely tactical. It’s using the YPG as if it’s a security contractor.
With the war in Syria set to continue well into 2017, many of the conflict's core challenges remain unresolved. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2017 annual early-warning report for European policy makers, we encourage the EU and its member states to use future funding and reconstruction as a lever to ensure that meaningful progress is made toward an overarching political settlement.
Despite the Syrian regime’s brutally effective campaign to recapture Aleppo, it cannot celebrate victory yet. In this Q&A, Senior Syria Analyst Noah Bonsey talks about the factors likely to fuel greater violence, increased radicalisation and more massive displacement.
Lebanon hosts some 1.5 million Syrian refugees, more refugees per capita than anywhere in the world. International support is needed to keep this fragile country from reaching the breaking point.