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.
Fighting intensified in north west as govt forces made advances into rebel-held Idlib province and targeted Turkish military convoy, while Turkey and U.S. made progress in negotiating creation of safe zone along Turkey-Syria border. Govt declared conditional ceasefire in north west 1 Aug, but resumed bombing 5 Aug citing refusal of jihadist militants to withdraw from de-escalation zone. As pro-govt forces advanced in northern Hama province, clashes 14 Aug left fourteen pro-govt fighters and 27 rebels dead. Opposition fighters same day shot down govt warplane. Pro-govt airstrikes 16-17 Aug killed twenty civilians in Deir al-Sharqi village in Idlib province. After heavy fighting, in which at least 59 rebels and 28 pro-govt fighters killed, rebels 20-21 Aug retreated from Khan Shaykhun and neighbouring Kafr Zita and Lataminah. Turkey, facing loss of observation post in Morek, northern Hama province, 19 Aug sent military convoy to support rebel forces; govt and Russia carried out airstrikes targeting convoy, killing three Syrian civilians. Turkey same day said attacks violated Sept 2018 Sochi Agreement and threatened to use right to self-defence. At Syria-Turkey border crossings thousands of Syrian protesters 30 Aug decried Ankara’s alleged acquiescence to govt advances and demanded refuge in Turkey, Turkish soldiers used tear gas and fired shots to disperse crowds. U.S. 31 Aug said it had conducted airstrike on al-Qaeda affiliate in Idlib Hurras al-Din, killing 40 militants. U.S. delegation in Turkish capital Ankara 7 Aug said it had agreed with Turkey to form joint operation centre in Turkey to oversee creation of safe zone and carry out joint patrols there. Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) 27 Aug said they had begun withdrawal from safe zone. Islamic State (ISIS) continued attacks in north east: car bombing in al-Qahtaniya 7 Aug killed five civilians; another in Qamishli 18 Aug killed policeman. Israel 24 Aug said it had conducted airstrikes in Aqraba, south of Damascus, preventing Iranian drone strike on Israel.
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.
Much of north-eastern Syria has been safe during the civil war. But in the event of U.S. military withdrawal, a mad scramble for control could be unleashed. Washington and Moscow should help their respective allies in Syria reach a decentralisation deal for the area.
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.
If the Russians have decided that they now care about the verbatim implementation of [the de-escalation] agreement then that is a big problem for Idlib and for Turkey.
The longer Damascus is excluded from certain areas of the country, the more facts are being created on the ground. Damascus has a lot of work to do in that respect, it could take a long time.
The main obstacle Damascus now faces is the complicating role of foreign forces in the areas still outside its control.
Idlib’s armed opposition may not be able to win an open battle for the northwest, but they can make a Syrian military victory terribly costly, maybe intolerably so.
Damascus is still evidently intent on taking the whole of Idlib, and all Syrian territory nationwide. But it’s Russia that’s enabled this latest military push, seemingly with more limited aims.
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
Crisis Group’s third update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on economic reforms in Libya, preserving the fragile quiet in Syria’s Idlib province, addressing the plight of civilians in eastern Ukraine, supporting Colombia's uneasy peace process and averting violence in Nigeria's upcoming elections. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.