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
Govt forces backed by Russian airstrikes continued to take ground from rebels in Idlib province in north west, while U.S. and Turkish forces conducted first joint patrols in safe zone along Turkish border in north east. Russia failed to respect ceasefire in Idlib which it declared 31 Aug. Notably, Russian airstrikes 10 Sept hit town of Kabaneh killing one civilian. Regime forces 24 Sept advanced into Khan Shekhoun in Idlib; fighting left four regime fighters and two militants dead. Leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran in Turkish capital Ankara 15 Sept signed joint communiqué saying they would establish constitutional committee in Geneva under UN auspices comprising members from govt, opposition and civil society to draft new constitution. Parties expressed commitment to uphold Sept 2018 Sochi agreement aimed at de-escalating conflict in Idlib. Russia and China 19 Sept vetoed UN Security Council resolution calling for ceasefire in Idlib; Russia vetoed because resolution lacked exemption for military operations against UN-designated terrorist groups. In north east, U.S. and Turkish troops 8 and 24 Sept conducted joint patrols in safe zone. Turkish President Erdoğan continued to threaten Turkish military action in north east if U.S. does not ensure creation of safe zone. At UN General Assembly, govt 28 Sept called for immediate withdrawal of U.S. and Turkish troops; said it had right to carry out countermeasures if demand refused. In east, suspected Israeli airstrikes 9 Sept killed at least eighteen Iranian and pro-Iranian fighters near Iraqi border; in Salihiya, near Deir al-Zour city regime forces 20 Sept fired on protesters calling for removal from area of Iran-backed militias, killing two. Opposition Syrian Democratic Forces 13 Sept closed crossing points between areas under its control and govt-held areas to crack down on smugglers. Govt and Iraq 30 Sept reopened al-Qaim border crossing after several years. U.S. 10 Sept designated Al-Qaeda affiliate Hurras al-Din as terrorist group, offering $5mn reward for information on group’s leaders.
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.
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