SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

Military Dynamics
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The preacher climbed the pulpit, his head covered, with an air of prestige and dignity. But the worshippers quickly realized he was a member of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance dominated by former al-Qaeda affiliate Fatah al-Sham, and paid little attention to what he said. He took out a smartphone and recited his sermon from it. The contrast was stark: the preacher with the latest phone delivering a sermon to a crowd of impoverished residents in the border village of Khirbet al-Joz in Idlib governorate. The majority now live in camps and can barely feed themselves, and came to the mosque to enjoy a little cool air and escape the forty degree heat of midday outside.

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On July 19, the Trump administration decided to end the CIA program meant to arm moderate Syrian rebels fighting against Bashar al-Assad. While the CIA 'train and equip' program ends, the US military involvement continues through air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh), and a Pentagon run train and equip program for the fight for Raqqa along the Euphrates river. Listen to Rafik Hariri Center’s Senior Resident Fellow, Aaron Stein's commentary on the decision and the continued US military campaign in Syria.

If you are unable to listen to the audio, please read the transcript below: 

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A recent article by Sulome Anderson on the presence of Hezbollah-trained Palestinian fighters inside Yarmouk camp, once Syria’s largest Palestinian community and its most culturally significant, evoked controversy when a pro-Hezbollah commentator called into question Anderson’s reporting: “Do [Anderson and her editors] believe that Hezbollah marks its vehicles...with the logo of a Syrian-Palestinian group? Additionally, since when do Hezbollah commanders wear caps with [Palestinian faction] Fatah al-Intafada’s logos on them?” Anderson has since published a blow-by-blow rebuttal.

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Imagine if, in 1945, the War Department and senior American commanders in Europe and Asia had been permitted to define victory simply as the fall of Berlin and Tokyo, with no post-combat stabilization and reconstruction program for either Germany or Japan. Imagine if, in 2003, the United States had invaded Iraq without a realistic, implementable plan for governance after the fall of Baghdad and Saddam Hussein. Imagine if the West had fought Qaddafi in 2011 without much thought given to what would replace him. In fact, no imagination at all is required for the cases of Iraq and Libya. Both operations were undertaken with no serious regard to what would follow. Both produced disaster.

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On March 30, the Turkish military, backed by Syrian rebel groups, ended its seven month military operation dubbed Euphrates Shield in northern Syria. The Turkish aims were twofold: force the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) from the border and prevent the Kurdish-majority Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from pushing west from its territory in nearby Manbij. The end of the military operation gave way to a stabilization effort to provide services and establish security over a 2,225 square kilometer area in northern Aleppo for Syrian refugees in Turkey to be safely resettled. The transition from conflict to post-conflict stabilization has proved challenging for almost every military that ends up occupying and then administering areas taken from a hostile force. The Turkish case is no exception.

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Alongside the US-backed forces storming into Raqqa is the all-Arab tribal group, the Syrian Elite Forces (SEF), headed by former Syrian political opposition leader, Ahmad al-Jarba. The SEF is composed of primarily two influential Arab tribes in the northeast and eastern towns of Syria: al-Shu’aytat and Shammar. So far the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), has already appointed a civilian council missioned to administrate Raqqa governorate once the so-called Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) is defeated. The question on governance of Raqqa and other Arab-majority areas in the northeast post-ISIS, remains unclear. Given the SEF’s Arab and tribal nature, the group could play an instrumental role in easing ethnic tensions and governing the region. However, the multilayer nature of the war in Syria and the complex operations against ISIS could deter such a role, leaving the future of Raqqa unsettled.

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Turkish media circles, especially those close to the government, are heavily discussing a Turkish military operation against, “terrorist networks.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself spoke of an impending military operation along the lines of “Operation Euphrates Shield, ” an operation that concluded in late March. The Turkish statement was accompanied by news of a Turkish military build-up and reinforcements on the Syrian border in Kilis and Hatay. But the important question here is whether America will pull the rug out from its most important allies in fighting the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh). Will the United States allow Turkey to take control of the city of Afrin, the second most important region for Syrian Kurds after Qamishli?

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Today the United States, Russia, and Jordan announced a de-escalation agreement for the southwest border area in Syria. The agreement is scheduled to go into effect on Sunday, July 9 and the purpose of the agreement is to allow these countries and any groups they support in the region to focus on fighting the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh). Below is commentary from our experts, Ambassador Frederic C. Hof and senior fellow Faysal Itani.

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Lawlessness is a major problem in Assad regime-held Syrian cities, especially those on the coast. This is despite the large number of security agencies that control those areas, along with armed militias that commit daily abuses against civilians and government institutions—violations the government ignores as it relies on the militias’ continued support. Such lawlessness raises questions over the regime’s ability to control the areas it holds and whether it can still be thought of as part of the solution in Syria. 

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On February 12, 2017, the opposition operations center known as al-Bunyan al-Marsous announced the beginning of the battle for the regime-controlled district of Manshiya, dubbed al-Mawt wa-la al-Madhalla. The operation hoped to push the regime away from the border crossing with Jordan following a series of regime attempts to advance in that direction. The Manshiya district is the only remaining regime-controlled section of “Deraa al-Balad” (the southern half of Deraa city), where the Syrian popular uprising first erupted on March 18, 2011. 

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