SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

President Donald Trump may have already missed the mark in Syria. A fortnight ago, in a process that was as perplexing as it was rapid, Trump reacted to the Assad regime’s attack on Khan Sheikhoun by inadvertently inverting the Obama administration’s approach to the Ghouta gassings in 2013. Even so, Trump has not crafted a comprehensive strategy for Syria. Nor does he seem interested in doing so, for now, as he essentially extends and amplifies Obama’s policies in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. 

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With at least 629 combat fatalities in Syria, Shia Afghan nationals suffered the second highest losses among foreign Shia fighters supporting the Syrian regime, second only to Lebanese fighters and surpassing Iranian fighters. But what motivates Shia Afghans to fight in distant Syria? How is their military performance in the war and what are the likely long term impacts of the emergence of the Shia Afghan militants?

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Turkey has come a long way in repairing and rebuilding infrastructure in areas formerly controlled by Syrian armed opposition groups. This is in part because of Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation, which launched to support and protect its southern border from the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) and block Kurds from unifying their territories in northern Syria.

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According to Defense Secretary James Mattis, the US priority remains defeating the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh), bringing the focus back to the long battle in Mosul, and the pending battle in Raqqa after the US military strikes on Shayrat airbase. In the battle against ISIS, US strategy has evolved in the Trump administration’s first three months. Compared to Obama’s strategy, the current strategy is more aggressive, disregards risks and outcomes, increases civilian casualties, and still lacks a long-term plan for Syria. 

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Before sunup in Syria on April 7, 2017, fifty-nine sea-launched cruise missiles were impacting on a Syrian airbase from which aircraft loaded with chemical munitions had been launched three days earlier. The alacrity of President Trump’s kinetic response to Bashar al-Assad’s chemical assault on civilians contrasted sharply with the paralysis of his predecessor. 

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The jihadist Abu Aisha opened his remarks on the United States with a verse from the Quran:

“We will surely test you with fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient / Who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘Indeed we belong to Allah and indeed to Him we will return.’ / Those are the ones upon whom are blessings and mercy from their Lord. And it is those who are the rightly guided,” (Surat al-Baqarah, 155-157).

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On February 23, Turkish and rebel forces seized al-Bab in northern Syria from the Islamic State group (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) after three years under the terrorist group’s control. Like many Syrian cities, since 2011 it was treated unfairly by the media, which stereotyped it as one of ISIS’s strongest bases of support in Syria and portrayed its residents as ISIS fighters. The truth is that ISIS buried most of the city’s customs and traditions and that during the extremist group’s control there, more than a third of its buildings were destroyed.

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Syrian rebel forces have reached the village of Qamhana in the northern Hama countryside, the scene of fierce clashes between regime forces and Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (the Levant Liberation Committee), which includes jihadist factions such as the Fateh al-Sham Front (formerly the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front). The village lies four kilometers (2.4 miles) from Hama city and, along with Zayn al-Abideen, it is an entry point to the city -- whoever controls the hill controls Hama’s airbase and the city itself.

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The city of Deir Ezzor joined the Syrian revolution early on, and protestors organized a number of demonstrations against the regime in 2011 and continued until the city emerged from regime control in 2012. After that, many groups in the Syrian opposition and Islamist battalions passed through Deir Ezzor. In July of 2014, the city entered a new stage of its history, when the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) declared that it had seized control.

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The catastrophic war in Syria seems to have gotten nearer to a tragic conclusion, but the end of this war may herald the beginning of other regional conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia. What began as peaceful protests against the Assad regime’s dictatorial rule, soon evolved into a proxy war between Iran on the one hand, and Turkey, Saudi, and other Gulf countries on the other—and took on increasingly sectarian tones. As Syria’s war reaches an unstable end, a looming question for regional security is what will happen to these proxy forces, and in particular the foreign militias?

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