The worldwide security consequences of Syrian state terror have been clear to two American presidents. But what to do? How might the West defend Syrians and itself from this ongoing scourge?
The tactic of placing civilians on the bullseye has sent shock waves of destabilization radiating well beyond Syria, thereby placing the national security of the United States and its allies at risk. This deliberate targeting—by the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran—continues. The threat it presents to Western security endures. There is no end in sight.
Back in June 2014, at the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq; Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the establishment of an Islamic State (ISIS) and named himself its caliph. Over the subsequent years, the Islamic State quickly managed to control wide swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, until it became so dangerous it took an international coalition of eighty states and unions to cripple it.
Deliberate, systematic, and relentless targeting of defenseless civilians is the headline of eight-plus years of conflict in Syria. Mass murder by aircraft, artillery and missiles, ‘starve or surrender’ sieges, illegal detentions, horrific torture: these have been the hallmark tactics of a ruling regime determined to survive politically at any cost; one that has inflicted industrial scale state terror on civilians residing in rebel-controlled areas. The results inside Syria have been catastrophic. But they have not been limited to Syria. What has happened in Syria—one of history’s most sustained assaults on innocent human life—has not stayed in Syria. The consequences of mass homicide threaten the security of the United States and the entire Western alliance.
The relationship between the Islamic State (ISIS) and its female members has always been complicated. On the one hand, the extremist group imposed rigid restrictions on women’s dress and their ability to appear in public places. On the other hand, it conscripted and trained many women to undertake various tasks within its ranks. Now, as the military defeat of ISIS draws near, many women want to go back to their lives before they joined.
In light of what appears to be Assad’s victory in Syria, domestic and international attention is increasingly shifting towards Syria’s reconstruction phase and the future of post-war Syria. But for many Syrians, the horrors of war are far from over.
The Syrian government along with its Russian allies launched a brutal assault on Idlib province, the last rebel-held areas, on Monday 30 April. The United Nations said the attacks included the worst use of barrel bombs by the Syrian army in 15 months. It said an estimated 323,000 people have been displaced in northwest Syria since last year. This bloody assault has been going on for two weeks and is a violation of the ongoing ceasefire agreement. The only victims of the daily barrel bombs and the Russians airstrikes are the civilians in Idlib.
Since the fall of 2018, we have seen increasing signals of disagreement among European Union (EU) member states regarding Syria. The official EU position remains one of non-engagement with the Bashar al-Assad regime until the realization of an “inclusive and Syrian-led political process that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people”— as stated in the United Nations Resolution 2254 that inspires the EU position. However, some European governments are breaking away from this position and beginning to engage with the Syrian government. Although some degree of political normalization between single EU member states and Damascus is likely in the near future, several powerful factors still prevent any significant European contribution to Syria reconstruction.
US President Donald Trump’s December 2018 tweet announcing the withdrawal of American military forces from Syria has inadvertently invited ISIS (ISIL, IS, Daesh, Islamic State) to resurrect itself. Even though American officials have walked-back the presidential decree, the president himself has signaled no enduring or enthusiastic support for the essential, victory-sealing stabilization of areas liberated from ISIS.
The Idlib deconfliction zone created by Russia and Turkey at Sochi in September 2018 is currently subject to violations by both the Assad regime and armed opposition groups. Regime and armed opposition groups have targeted each other since February. Tension is increasing between Russia and Turkey due to these ongoing violations and ultimately over the fate of the agreement. These violations are important because of the danger they pose to the three million inhabitants in the area. If the agreement collapses and the regime mounts an offensive on Idlib, using similar tactics seen in Aleppo, it risks creating an unprecedented humanitarian disaster.