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.
U.S. and Russia 11 Nov announced details of ceasefire in south west, first agreed between them and Jordan 7 July, and reiterated commitment to resolving conflict through UN-led Geneva process. Under deal, non-jihadist opposition to maintain control of currently held areas and work with U.S. and Jordan to expel foreign fighters; Russia to work with regime to end presence of non-Syrian, Iran-backed forces in 5km-wide belt along Jordanian border and opposition-held areas. Russia 16 Nov vetoed UN Security Council resolution to extend mandate of UN investigative mechanism into use of chemical weapons, which late Oct found Syrian regime responsible for gas attack in April; mandate expired next day. In Deir el-Zour province in east, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and govt-aligned forces continued race to seize territory from Islamic State (ISIS) on opposite sides of Euphrates River, mostly meeting little resistance: pro-regime forces 20 Nov completed capture from ISIS of al-Bukamal on border with Iraq, after offensive reportedly coordinated with Iraqi govt forces on Iraqi side. In capital Damascus, rebel offensive by groups not party to Eastern Ghouta de-escalation deal made initial gains against pro-regime forces mid-Nov, and spurred major increase in regime strikes against rebel-held areas. In Idlib province in north west, Islamist group Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) early Nov facilitated formation of “salvation govt”, to which it delegated administration of areas it controls. Russian airstrikes increased in Idlib as govt-aligned forces pushed against rebel positions from east and south. Islamist group Noureddine al-Zenki 10 Nov declared “defensive war” against HTS; truce mediated between sides mid-Nov. Russian President Putin met Assad in Sochi, Russia, 20 Nov. Putin hosted Iranian President Rouhani and Turkish President Erdoğan at summit on Syrian conflict in Sochi 22 Nov; presidents jointly invited Syrian govt and moderate opposition to attend future congress in Sochi, without specifying date. Ahead of eighth round of UN-backed Geneva talks, opposition appointed new chief negotiator during summit in Saudi capital, Riyadh 24 Nov; talks began 28 Nov amid low expectations.
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.
[For the heads of state attending the Sochi summit], one of the principal [questions] is what form the Kurdish participation in Geneva will take. I do not see the Turks making progress on this point.
For months now, [Israel] has been sounding alarm bells about Hezbollah’s and Iran’s growing footprint in Syria, and about the Lebanese capacity to produce precision-guided missiles.
Over the last year, Israel ended its policy of ambiguity regarding attacks it perpetrates in Syria - among other things to underline there are steps it would not tolerate.
Geneva hasn’t been effective at all in shaping [Syria’s] events on the ground. [It can’t achieve a negotiated agreement without] political will from the conflict’s internal and external players.
We’ve seen aspects of governance [in Syria] managed by cadres within the [People's Protection Units (YPG)] and the [Democratic Union Party (PYD)]. That has been a source of tension in some areas.
IS sleeper cells and the Syrian regime may see an interest in using loyalist networks to destabilise things. Either of those dynamics could heighten ethnic tension.
Originally published in The New York Review of Books
As Raqqa and its surrounding areas fall into the control of Kurdish governing authorities, providing security and effective governance will be key to preventing the return of the jihadist insurgency. In this video our Senior Analyst for Syria Noah Bonsey echoes the concerns shared with him by local authorities and people on the street.
Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Syria Noah Bonsey talks about the race for resources taking place along the Euphrates river as different sides of Syria's conflict continue to capture territory from ISIS.
Despite recent successes in Syria for the regime, Iran, Russia and Syria’s Kurds, deeper polarisation than ever points to a future in which the country remains chronically divided.
Originally published in World Politics Review