Military Dynamics

  • Securing Eastern Syria

    American airstrikes on a pro-Assad regime, Iranian-backed militia on May 18th and a Department of Defense press briefing on the following day provided clues of how the campaign to liberate eastern Syria—especially the Euphrates River Valley (which includes the cities of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor)—from ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State) is shaping up. A key take-away from the strikes and the briefing may be summed up by Special Envoy Brett McGurk’s assurance to reporters that, post-ISIS, “nobody wants the Syrian regime to come back . . . no return of the regime.”

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  • How Did the US End up at the Gates of Raqqa?

    With Trump’s approval last week to directly arm the YPG, the United States is gearing up for the battle to capture Raqqa city from the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh). To understand how the United States got to this point—arming proxy forces, troops on the ground, all the while conducting air strikes—one can ask: how did Raqqa became the self-declared capital of ISIS?

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  • The Battle for Idlib

    Northwestern Syria, consisting of Idlib city and the surrounding province, northern Hama and western Aleppo provinces, forms the biggest inhabited zone under the control of the Syrian opposition. It is also home to the biggest concentration of pro-Assad forces, including multi-national Shiite militias. Despite the presence of the Nusra Front and other jihadist groups in the area for several years, the balance of power there held steady until 2016, as local groups affiliated with the revolution managed to dominate other factions.

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  • Ankara and Washington: Can “Yes” on Syria Be Achieved?

    The visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House offers an opportunity for two NATO allies to get to “Yes” on Syria. It is important that they do so. Yet as matters now stand it is doubtful that they will, and each side bears responsibility for a bilateral split that is entirely gratuitous and needlessly damaging. Yet Presidents Trump and Erdogan have it in their power to elevate their alliance over lesser considerations that divide them.

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  • Raqqa and the Oil Economy of ISIS

    Since establishing its headquarters in Raqqa, Syria, in 2011, the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) has introduced its own brand of governance, infrastructure, and business. Now entering its sixth year in Raqqa, ISIS has largely solidified its primary means of acquiring income, the majority of which include criminal and illicit activities. Like terrorist groups before it, ISIS collects revenue from a variety of sources, including: drug and artifact smuggling, human trafficking and hostage-taking, taxation, minor cryptocurrency transactions, petty crime, and, perhaps most significantly, oil seizures and resale. 

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  • Discussion with Aaron Stein on the Decision to Arm the YPG

    Listen to Rafik Hariri Center’s Senior Resident Fellow on Turkey, Aaron Stein's commentary on the decision by the Trump administration to arm the YPG and how it could affect US-Turkey relations and the military campaign in Syria. 

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  • The Ramifications of the SDF Governance Plan for Raqqa Post-ISIS

    The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the US-led coalition, has succeeded in encircling Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) in Syria. By capturing the surrounding villages and access routes to isolate the city, this strategy has contributed to weakening ISIS yet is unlikely to lead to a swift victory. Nonetheless, the heavy cost of capturing the city seems to be a secondary concern for analysts and policy makers working on Syria. Securing and governing the Arab majority city of Raqqa post-ISIS appears to be the main concern for analysts. The SDF does not seem to share the same anxiety; its plan for Raqqa is in motion despite all warnings about the negative ramifications that may be caused by it.

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  • A Strike Does Not a Strategy Make: Trump, Tomahawks, and the Trouble with Targeted Tools

    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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  • Shia Afghan Fighters in Syria

    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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  • Has the International Community Succeeded in Creating a Safe Zone in Syria After Years of War?

    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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