SyriaSource

  • The Afrin Incursion: Will Turkey and the US Come to Blows?

    The decision of Turkey to mount air and ground operations in the Afrin district of northwestern Syria entails dangers that transcend even the potentially dire consequences for civilians of yet another Syrian combat zone swallowing lives and property. Despite the flamboyant anti-Turkish threats of its Syrian client, Russia has gingerly stepped aside in this corner of Aleppo Province, moving its ground forces and vacating the airspace to accommodate the Turkish operation. For Russian President, Vladimir Putin, nothing—not even the full political ascendancy of Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad—would top Turkey and the United States coming to military blows over Syria.

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  • Considering a US Protectorate in Syria

    On January 18, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered some long-awaited clarity on US policy in post-ISIS Syria. As recently as a few weeks ago some observers (including this author) did not believe the United States would stay in Syria at all after defeating the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh). Secretary Tillerson presented an ambitious US policy to be advanced by an indefinite US military deployment in areas of Syria taken from ISIS, supporting tens of thousands of local militia fighters dominated by its Kurdish partners against ISIS, the PYD.

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  • The Conditions and Implications for the Afrin Attack

    The first substantial evidence of a US plan for stabilization in post-ISIS Syria was revealed this week—and it didn’t go well. On Sunday, spokesmen from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) announced intentions to build a “border security” force of around 30,000 troops; made up primarily of veteran SDF fighters. The plan illuminates Turkey’s summoning of the US charge d’affaires last week: Turkey is enraged by the proposal, and Erdogan vowed on Monday to “drown this army of terror before it is born.” SDF fighters, who would make up about half of the border...
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  • Raqqa: As Terrorism Fades, A Return to Everyday Life Awaits Local Consensus

    In a country that has seen war, destruction, and widespread war crimes committed by the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh), the city of Raqqa is witnessing relative calm and a new rebirth with the slow return of its people. Local and foreign institutions intervened to focus on reconstruction and dispatching task forces to remove land mines planted by ISIS. Hundreds of people, mostly women and children, have benefitted from these efforts.

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  • The New Strategy—Good Enough?

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s Stanford University “Remarks on the Way Forward for the United States Regarding Syria” depict a major improvement in the American approach to the crisis in Syria, one consistent in many respects with recommendations offered here over the past five years. Officially gone is President Barack Obama’s disastrously erroneous view—opposed by many officials in his administration—that Iran would have to be appeased in Syria to obtain Tehran’s signature to a nuclear deal. In its place is something immeasurably better, but something requiring sustained heavy lifting by an undermanned diplomatic team and several upgrades in some critical areas.

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  • Chechen and North Caucasian Militants in Syria

    One of the most heavily-discussed groupings of foreign fighters in Syria are those from Chechnya and the North Caucasus. Coming from a region embroiled in two decades of insurgency against the Russian army, these fighters have long been highly touted for their experience and skill. While ultimately small in number, they have played an outsized role in the conflict, participating in major jihadist offensives in the country for half a decade.

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  • Lessons Learned: A Year After the Fall of Aleppo

    This past December marks one year since Aleppo fell back into regime control following six years of fighting and a bloody aerial bombing campaign. This put an end to the most violent theatre of war in Syria; marked by the departure of those expelled from Aleppo on the last convoy on December 22 to the western countryside. Russia proposed to various factions of the opposition that all fighters and civilians in areas under their control be evacuated to Idlib under Turkish supervision. 

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  • Securing Eastern Syria in 2018

    For the better part of three years, this writer has recommended an accelerated battle against ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State) in eastern Syria, one that would replace the pseudo-caliphate with a governance arrangement featuring reconstituted local councils, Syrian civil servants possessing needed skills, and the mainstream Syrian opposition (including the Turkish-supported Syrian Interim Government). Part of this recommendation is now being implemented. But the part that is not, may doom the enterprise.

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  • De-Escalation Agreements On the Brink of Failure

    In a fourth round of talks on 4 May, 2017, the nations overseeing the Astana negotiations (Turkey, Russia, and Iran) arrived at a “de-escalation” agreement to establish safe zones in Syria.

    This development came as military factions were severely weakened over an uninterrupted two-year period of violent and asymmetric clashes in all parts of Aleppo. To end the siege of Aleppo, two rebel led battles to break the siege on the city were waged and failed; leading to the city’s evacuation and its fall to regime forces and their allies. This came after battles in the countryside of southern Aleppo allowed the regime to approach the Damascus-Aleppo highway. Additionally, al-Nusra Front reduced the numbers of Free Syrian Army and Ahrar al-Sham forces.

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  • Syria: In the Hands of Russia and Iran

    On December 11, Vladimir Putin declared the beginning of the end of Russia’s involvement in Syria, and proclaimed his “victory” from the Russian base of Hmeimim. In the same speech, he indicated that the conditions have been met for a political settlement of the Syrian war.

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