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.
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.
Originally published in Valdai
In north east, U.S. withdrew from front lines and Turkey launched offensive against Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG); Turkey-U.S. and Turkey-Russia deals calmed fighting mid-month, but clashes erupted late Oct between Turkish-backed rebels and govt forces; in Nov fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces could rise again. U.S. forces’ 7 Oct withdrawal from positions near Turkish border prompted Turkey to launch offensive 9 Oct against YPG. Turkey took territory from YPG in 140km stretch from west of Tel Abyad to Ras al-Ayn; 120 civilians killed in fighting. Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) 13 Oct agreed to regime forces’ limited deployment in YPG-held areas to help repel Turkish incursion. Unconfirmed numbers of Islamic State (ISIS) fighters escaped detention. Turkey and U.S. 17 Oct announced Turkish ceasefire to allow YPG withdrawal with view to creating safe zone. In 22 Oct Turkey-Russia deal, Turkey gave YPG until 29 Oct to retreat 30km from Turkish border in 440km stretch between Manbij and Iraqi border under supervision of Russian and Syrian govt forces. U.S. 24 Oct said it would deploy in east to protect SDF-controlled oil fields. Russia 29 Oct said YPG had withdrawn from planned safe zone. Clashes between Syrian troops and Turkish-backed rebels near Ras al-Ayn in safe zone 29 Oct left six Syrian soldiers killed; Turkish-backed rebels same day said they had captured undisclosed number of govt troops near Ras al-Ayn. U.S. forces 31 Oct carried out patrol on Turkey-Syria border with SDF support near Qataniyah. In north west, Russian and Syrian govt forces continued attacks on rebels in Idlib de-escalation zone; notably Russian airstrike on Taftanaz airport 20 Oct killed nine fighters of jihadist group Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham. President Trump 27 Oct said U.S. operation previous night in Barisha, Idlib province led to death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; ISIS confirmed death 31 Oct. UN-sponsored constitutional committee comprising representatives from govt, opposition and civil society opened first session in Geneva 30 Oct.
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.
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.
L'EI constitue toujours une menace qui pourrait métastaser si les FDS voient leur attention et leurs ressources détournées [...] au profit d'une bataille défensive contre la Turquie.
[By deciding to withdraw its troops from North East Syria] the United States just threw away the last leverage it had.
The debate about [whether] US should distance itself from the [Mideast] region and reduce its military footprint is important but somewhat beside the point. The more consequential question is what kind of Middle East the United States will remain engaged in or disengaged from.
Even if efforts to create a 'buffer zone' [in Northern Syria] succeed, the underlying source of tension will remain and with it, the potential for a Turkish military response to Ankara's perceived YPG threat.
The world apparently has long since tired of the war, and resigned itself to frozen conflict, with a nationwide cease-fire as the best possible scenario.
This ceasefire [in Idlib] may just be an operational pause for Damascus and Moscow to consolidate their territorial gains and prepare for the next phase of their offensive.
Turkey’s ruling party sees recent battlefield and electoral gains as vindicating its hardline policies toward the PKK. But these same policies fuel the Kurdish grievances that keep the fighting going. Ankara would thus be wise to consider exploring ways of winding down the destructive conflict.
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