动过手脚的车和油桶炸弹:阿勒颇与叙利亚战局
动过手脚的车和油桶炸弹:阿勒颇与叙利亚战局
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  1. Executive Summary
A Vital Humanitarian Mandate for Syria’s North West
A Vital Humanitarian Mandate for Syria’s North West
Report 155 / Middle East & North Africa

动过手脚的车和油桶炸弹:阿勒颇与叙利亚战局

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如果阿勒颇失守,叙利亚的反政府叛乱也就尽了气数。阿勒颇对主流反政府势力的军事存活能力和士气至关重要,因此也是阻断伊斯兰国继续扩张的要塞。2012年7月,一个由武装反叛派系组成的联盟控制了阿勒颇东部,此后该地一度成为反政府势力乐观和气势的象征。而在接下来的几个月里,他们的攻势减慢,并在当地难以赢得民心,因此弱点渐渐显露。如今,叛军腹背受敌,同政府军和伊斯兰国两线作战,处境比开战以来所经历的任何时刻都更岌岌可危。国际社会需要采取紧急行动以避免主流反政府势力被击败:选择之一是伊朗和俄罗斯敦促叙利亚政权减缓对叛军的攻击,以展示其意在抗击伊斯兰国,而非利用伊斯兰国来巩固自身统治;更现实的一个选择是美国、欧洲和区域盟友从质量和数量上改善对阿勒颇当地非圣战分子叛军派系的援助。如想以谈判结束战争,以上两条路必选其一。

主流反政府势力所控领土日渐缩小,但阿勒颇及周围仍然是其中最有价值的部分。叙利亚政权及其盟友嗅到了反政府力量的势弱,因此投入大量资源试图夺回阿勒颇;目前,他们似乎已快要切断连接叛军和土耳其的最后一条供给线。不过,叛军依然保有一些优势。阿勒颇内部和周围的武装派系包括反叛力量中一些最有实力和声望最高的团体。靠近土耳其边境的地理位置也为供给和通讯提供了便利。因此,虽然叙利亚政权能在胡姆斯和大马士革靠残酷的包围战术逼迫反政府势力接受政府提出的停火协议,在阿勒颇实施同样的战术更加困难。尽管如此,即便叙利亚政权仅对阿勒颇叛军地盘实行部分包围,也可能给其带来沉重打击。

主流反政府势力在东侧需要面对第二个死敌:伊斯兰国,以前又称伊拉克和黎凡特伊斯兰国。这一组织因在伊拉克西部和叙利亚东部取得胜利而气焰嚣张。2014年1月,叙利亚叛军把伊斯兰国从阿勒颇城及其西部和北部的内陆地区赶走,逼其向东部撤退,因而让该组织遭受了其有史以来最耻辱的挫败。但如今,由于同政府军作战拖住了叛军的主要力量,伊斯兰国得以向阿勒颇以北挺进,直逼叙利亚北部最强大主流叛军派系的腹地。

叙利亚政权和伊斯兰国在阿勒颇及其周边地区取得的胜利不仅对当地的叛军有毁灭性的打击,对叙利亚反政府势力整体来说也是如此。阿勒颇叛军战败所造成的地盘丢失和士气低落将会震动全国各处反政府力量,使许多人放弃战斗,或加入更强大的激进分子武装:伊斯兰国。

叙利亚政权和伊斯兰国在2014年的头五个月里对彼此保持克制,给人留下盟友的印象,但事实上他们的关系并非如此。实际上,虽然双方最近发生冲突,但他们有共同的短期和中期利益:其中主要的就是打败反政府势力的援助国所支持的主流叛军组织,特别是那些在当地民众中有威望的组织。对叙利亚政权来说,打败这些组织将消除威胁其生存的唯一心头大患,即西方国家给反政府武装分子提供强有力的军事支持。对伊斯兰国来说,击败这些叛军意味着消除真正的竞争对手,这样,它就可以像在伊拉克那样,成为叙利亚不受欢迎的、由伊朗支持的独裁政权的唯一武装抵抗力量。

在阿勒颇,可怕的不是叙利亚政权的胜利,而是反政府势力的失败。这种情况发生后,战争仍会继续,只不过交战双方是叙利亚政权及其盟军和伊斯兰国。政权一方将无力夺回叙利亚北部和东部的大部分地区,也无力通过谈判让这些地区臣服,而伊斯兰国将通过吸引叛军残部而壮大。在这两个对手中间没有政治解决方案可言,叙利亚和伊拉克边境也几乎将永无宁日。

形势是严峻的,但并非无法挽回。同伊斯兰国不同,主导武装反政府力量大部的组织能对当地民众和援助国的诉求作出回应。他们的缺点很多,实力不均,但其中最成功的组织已经开始显示出政治上的务实,这对其继续存活和结束战争都有必要。

双方的援助国早就应该认识到持续现状只会导致灾难。也就是说,伊朗和俄罗斯不能仅仅口头支持谈判解决和反恐,而必须承认他们所支持的叙利亚政权的战略致使解决冲突无望,而且壮大了当局声称要讨伐的圣战分子。对主流反政府势力的主要支持国,即美国、沙特、卡塔尔和土耳其来说,需要承认自己的强硬语言,微薄援助和前后不一的策略帮助造成了今天的绝境。最近对武装组织略有增加的援助虽可以改变这些组织间的政治和意识形态平衡,但不足以挽救它们的败落。叙利亚正滑向无止境的战争深渊,交战的一方是专制而偏狭的叙利亚政权,另一方则是更加专制而偏狭的圣战组织。照目前的趋势,这个组织的破坏能力有可能会远远超出叙利亚和伊拉克,危及整个中东地区的稳定。

大阿勒颇地区若落入叙利亚政权和伊斯兰国军队手中,就会在很大程度上造成上述局面。有两种手段可以避免这种情况的发生:

  • 最好的办法是在叙利亚政权和阿勒颇的反伊斯兰国叛军间立即展开谈判,并在当地实施停火。这可以使叛军得以集中资源中止并最终扭转伊斯兰国的扩张。这一路径需要叙利亚政权彻底改变战略,也就是说将首要任务从击败主流反政府势力变为同伊斯兰国作战,并认识到只有让主流反政府势力发挥一定作用,才能击败伊斯兰国。如果叙利亚政权及其盟友的确意欲削弱圣战分子,则应立即表明愿意停止在阿勒颇的进攻,并愿意撤退到不再对通向阿勒颇的主要供给线构成威胁的位置。一旦叙利亚政权提出这样的停火协议,阿勒颇的主流叛军应立即接受,并确保其反伊斯兰国圣战分子的盟友们也作出同样举动。主流反政府势力的援助国应实施敦促。
  • 要叙利亚当局做出这种改变似乎不太可能。在这种情况下,唯一现实的办法是反政府势力的援助国从数量和质量上改善对以阿勒颇为根据地的可信的非圣战分子叛军的支援。这一策略将会给叙利亚政权及其盟友带来更大的成本,因为一些援助物资将不可避免地被用来对抗政府军。这一策略还会增加反政府势力援助国的成本,因为他们至少需要把更多现金、弹药和反坦克武器运送给主流叛军派系,而其中一些物资可能会在此过程中落入圣战分子之手。此外,这一策略还需要美国增加投入,需要沙特、卡塔尔和土耳其展开合作。即便成功,这个办法也不会使主流反政府势力获得军事优势,但却可以避免被击败,阻止伊斯兰国在一个重要战场上的扩张,并因此而保留下最终实现政治解决的契机。

西方国家政策辩论所聚焦的其它主要办法可能都会事倍功半。所谓同阿萨德政权建立伙伴关系,一起打击圣战分子的建议是欠考虑的。如果政府军不从根本上改变其态度,不摒弃利用圣战分子的扩张为自身谋利的习惯,它们对打击伊斯兰国将不会有所贡献。政府军目前依赖于不加甄别的战术和伊朗支持的民兵,这只助长了圣战分子的气焰。将美国对伊斯兰国的空中打击扩至叙利亚的提议则是在缺乏战略方案之际的权宜战术。要停止并最终扭转伊斯兰国的扩张,唯一的办法是在地方和全国范围内壮大可信赖的其它逊尼派势力。如果没有能达成这一目标的更广泛战略,对伊斯兰国发动空袭将收获甚微;事实上,对伊斯兰国来说,利用空袭所获得的宣传红利可能比因空袭所遭受的战术挫败更重要。

当然,前文概述的两个更有希望的政策都带有风险。但是,如果任何一方都不愿承担风险,那么带来的只能是灾难。

贝鲁特/布鲁塞尔 2014年9月9日

Executive Summary

As Aleppo goes, so goes Syria’s rebellion. The city is crucial to the mainstream opposition’s military viability as well as its morale, thus to halting the advance of the Islamic State (IS). After an alliance of armed rebel factions seized its eastern half in July 2012, Aleppo for a time symbolised the opposition’s optimism and momentum; in the following months, it exposed the rebels’ limits, as their progress slowed, and they struggled to win over the local population. Today, locked in a two-front war against the regime and IS, their position is more precarious than at any time since the fighting began. Urgent action is required to prevent the mainstream opposition’s defeat: either for Iran and Russia to press the regime for de-escalation, to showcase their willingness to confront IS instead of exploiting its presence to further strengthen Damascus; or, more realistically, for the U.S., Europe and regional allies to qualitatively and quantitatively improve support to local, non-jihadi rebel factions in Aleppo. Any eventual possibility of a negotiated resolution of the war depends on one course or the other being followed.

Rebel-held areas in and around Aleppo remain the most valuable of the mainstream opposition’s dwindling assets. Sensing weakness, the regime and its allies have invested significant resources in trying to retake the city; they now appear to be on the verge of severing the last rebel supply line linking it to Turkey. Still, the rebels maintain certain advantages. The armed factions in and around the city include some of the rebellion’s most powerful and popular. The location near the Turkish border facilitates the flow of supplies and communication. The regime’s task is thus more difficult than at Homs and Damascus, where brutal siege tactics compelled acceptance of truces on its terms. Yet, even a partial siege of the rebel-held parts of Aleppo could deal an enormous blow.

To its east, the mainstream opposition faces a second deadly foe: IS, formerly ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, riding high after victories in western Iraq and eastern Syria. In January 2014, Aleppo was ground-zero for IS’s most humiliating setback, when rebels drove it from the city and its western and northern hinterlands, forcing it further east. But today, with much of the rebel force tied down on one front against the regime, IS is making headway north of the city, toward the heartland of northern Syria’s most prominent mainstream rebel factions.

A combination of regime and IS victories in and around Aleppo would be devastating not only to local rebels, but to the Syrian opposition as a whole. The loss of territory and morale would reverberate throughout the country, pushing many to give up the fight or join a more powerful militant force: IS.

The regime and IS are not bedfellows, though mutual restraint in the first five months of 2014 gave some that impression. Rather, and despite recent clashes, they share some short- and medium-term interests: chiefly the defeat of mainstream rebel groups backed by the opposition’s state sponsors, in particular those credible with local populations. For the regime, their defeat would eliminate what remains of the only existential threat it has feared: the prospect of robust Western military support to armed opponents. For IS, it would remove most of its meaningful competition, so it could eventually establish a monopoly on armed resistance to an unpopular Iranian-backed dictator, much as in Iraq.

At stake in Aleppo is not regime victory but opposition defeat. The war would continue should that occur, pitting regime and allied forces that lack the capacity to reconquer chunks of northern and eastern Syria or to subdue them through compromise against an emboldened IS that would gain strength by attracting rebel remnants. Between such antagonists, there would be no prospect of a political resolution and little hope of restoring the integrity of Syrian and Iraqi borders.

The situation is grim, but all is not yet lost. The bulk of the armed opposition is dominated by groups that, unlike IS, have demonstrated responsiveness to local populations and state sponsors. Their shortcomings are manifold and performance uneven, but the most successful of them have begun to show political pragmatism needed not only for continued viability but also to resolve the war.

It is past time for state supporters on both sides to acknowledge that the status quo leads to disaster. For Iran and Russia, this means recognising that – lip service to a negotiated solution and counter-terrorism notwithstanding – the regime strategy they facilitate renders resolution impossible and strengthens the jihadis it claims to combat. For the mainstream opposition’s principal backers – the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – it means acknowledging that their tough words, meagre support and strategic incoherence have helped produce the current desperation. Recent modest increases in support for armed groups will not prevent their defeat, though they may shift the political and ideological balance among them. Syria is sliding toward unending war between an autocratic, sectarian regime and an even more autocratic, more sectarian jihadi group that, on present trends, will potentially destabilise the Middle East well beyond Syria and Iraq.

The fall of greater Aleppo to regime and IS forces would do much to bring this about. There are two means of avoiding it:

  • Best would be through immediate negotiation and implementation of a local ceasefire between the regime and anti-IS rebel forces in Aleppo. This would allow the latter to dedicate their resources to halting and eventually reversing IS gains. It would require a dramatic shift in regime strategy: from prioritising defeat of the mainstream opposition to prioritising the fight against IS, and recognising that IS cannot be defeated without conceding a role to the mainstream opposition. If the regime and its allies are serious about weakening jihadis, they should immediately show willingness to halt their offensives in Aleppo and withdraw to positions from which their forces no longer threaten the main rebel supply line to the city. If such a ceasefire is offered, mainstream rebels in Aleppo should accept it and ensure that their anti-IS jihadi allies do the same. The mainstream opposition’s state backers should pressure them to do so.
     
  • Such a regime shift appears unlikely. In its absence, the only realistic alternative is for the opposition’s state backers to improve support, qualitatively and quantitatively, to credible non-jihadi rebel groups with roots in Aleppo. That could become more costly to the regime and its allies than a local deal, as some of the support would inevitably be deployed against regime forces. The option would also carry costs for the opposition’s backers. To be effective, it would entail, at minimum, an increase in cash, ammunition and anti-tank weapons delivered to mainstream rebel factions – some of which could end up in jihadi hands; it would also require a higher level of investment by the U.S. and of cooperation among Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Even if successful, this effort would not tilt the military balance in favour of the mainstream opposition – but it could prevent its defeat, halt IS gains on a key front and thus preserve the chance for an eventual political resolution.

Other prominent options at the centre of the Western policy debate would likely be counterproductive. Calls for partnership with the Assad regime against jihadis are ill-conceived. Until regime forces fundamentally revise their posture and abandon the habit of exploiting jihadi gains for their own benefit, they have little to offer in the fight against IS. Their current dependence on indiscriminate tactics and Iran-backed militias is fuel for jihadi flames. Proposals to expand U.S. airstrikes against IS into Syria are incomplete tactical prescriptions in search of a strategy. IS gains can only be halted and eventually reversed through the empowerment of credible Sunni alternatives, both locally and within the context of national governance. In the absence of a broader strategy to accomplish that, airstrikes against IS would accomplish little; indeed, the propaganda benefits that would accrue to the group could be more important than the tactical setbacks it would suffer.

There are, of course, risks in the two more promising policies outlined above. But the failure of any and all parties to take some risk will lead only to disaster.

Beirut/Brussels 9 September 2014

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