SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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This morning reports of four Americans killed in Manbij, Syria surfaced with the Islamic State (ISIS) claiming the attack which came in the form of a suicide explosive vest next to a US patrol. The attack killed two US soldiers, a civilian from the Defense Intelligence Agency, and a US contractor. Several civilians were also caught in the attack with estimates of thirteen to sixteen casualties in addition to the deaths of two local security officers. The attack occurred in the main market near a girls’ school and restaurant as US troops met up with the local Manbij Military Council (MMC). Comments and analysis from our experts are below.

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President Trump’s impulsive “out of Syria” tweet of December 19, 2018 may have sacrificed high value, low cost American leverage in eastern Syria for precisely nothing.  Russian, Iranian, and Assad regime alarm that the West would work with local Syrians in areas liberated from ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State) to create the long-awaited governance alternative to Bashar al-Assad, family, and friends have all-but-evaporated.  It was that possibility – the presentation to all Syrians of a good government, civilized alternative to mass murder, state terror, war crimes, bottomless corruption, and subservience to Iran – that was the essence of Western leverage: not the physical presence of 2,000 uniformed Americans.  But those soldiers and marines were a tripwire and a symbol of American determination to seal the victory over ISIS by paving the way for political transition in all of Syria.  The president may have given it away.  For nothing. 

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Up one of the steep hillsides that line Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, Soheir al-Kanoun hasn’t left the house in days.

A Palestinian refugee originally from Syria’s Yarmouk camp, who now lives in a hillside town overlooking the valley below, al-Kanoun’s family have been living off bread and tahini since Storm Norma began—groceries bought hastily last week in preparation for rain, wind and snow.

And while the elevation has protected al-Kanoun and her elderly mother from flooding, hillside snow and ice has hemmed them inside since the weekend.  

“I can’t go out in this weather,” she said. “We live up in the hills. People rarely go outside.”

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One thing to be learned from the uproar following the recent out-of-Syria presidential tweet is that “ready, aim, fire” makes just as much sense in government as it does on the firing range. By most accounts, US President Donald Trump is now where he should have been two weeks ago: in the “ready” phase, consulting with his national security team on the implementation of a strategy aimed at killing ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State) in Syria and keeping it dead by preventing the pseudo-caliphate’s chief recruiting officer—Bashar al-Assad—from taking over liberated eastern Syria. But the round fired before aiming may yet prove fatal. Syrian Kurds—the core of the anti-ISIS coalition ground combat force—are now imploring the Russians (a) to get them a good deal from the Assad regime and (b) make the regime abide by it. “Fire, aim, ready” has spooked the Kurds. Fearing abandonment by Washington, they may well abandon the fight against ISIS.

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As we look back at the tumultuous year for Syria in 2018, it's sadly ending with the withdrawal of US troops and an unclear US-Syria policy moving forward. The implications of this policy are likely far reaching. Time will tell what the damage will be and how the conflict will continue to evolve. Below we have listed our top viewed articles of the year. By far, the most viewed is the one penned by our outgoing director, Ambassador Frederic C. Hof as he moved on to other scholarly pursuits teaching at Bard College. Thankfully, he's continued writing and our viewers and center are grateful for it. 

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In an interview during the evening of December 20, 2018 with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Stephen Miller (adviser to US President Donald Trump) offered the following piece of commentary: “ISIS is the enemy of Russia, ISIS is the enemy of Assad, ISIS is the enemy of Turkey. Are we supposed to stay in Syria for generation after generation, spilling American blood to fight the enemies of all those countries?” One-for-three isn’t bad in baseball, but to claim ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State) is the enemy of Russia and the Assad regime is to parrot the Kremlin’s false propaganda line. Were Miller better prepared he might have added Iran to the ISIS faux enemies list. Or perhaps the deletion was deliberate. But even as is, the Miller statement must not be the position of the United States. 

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 Canada moved to extradite Meng Wanzhou, the top financial officer for China’s global tech giant Huawei, on December 1, 2018 to the United States. The arrest, while closely linked to the ongoing US-China trade dispute and Western fears of Huawei as a Chinese espionage tool, was triggered by allegations that the company concealed payments from Iran in violation of sanctions.

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The defeat of the last Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold in Syria concomitant with the sudden US announcement of troops withdrawal from the northeast; leaves Europe in a tight spot. In recent years, EU governments have spent billions to mitigate the repercussions of the refugee wave resulting from the Syrian war while working towards normalization with the regime on a fair transition process.

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An American president impetuously overrules his national security team with a sudden decision on Syria; one that pleases the Kremlin, undermines US policy, and damages his own credibility. Essentially unmoored to the national security apparatus over which he presides, the president—strongly influenced by the views of a foreign leader—thinks he knows best in any event. Acting without deliberation and with the thinnest of consultation, the president unintentionally but decisively rewards a murderous Syrian regime, gratifies the external supporters of that regime, and broadcasts a message of weakness and inconsistency to enemies—including Islamist extremists—of the US around the world.

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In northwest Syria a small, but growing collection of private firms are working to implement technology solutions to counteract the worst effects of an aggressive disinformation campaign which threatens the relative peace that currently prevails there.

On November 25, 2018, an alleged chemical attack occurred in regime-controlled areas of Aleppo, prompting Russian airstrikes against targets in the nearby towns of al-Rashdeen and Khan Tuman. The regime justified the attacks as retaliation against the rebel groups they claim perpetrated the chemical attack. Since this exchange occurred, a declassified US assessment of the attack states the initial chemical attack was perpetrated by pro-regime forces and most likely consisted of tear gas, not chlorine. The report suggests the attack was staged in order to undermine faith in the current ceasefire and prompt a new military offensive against opposition-held areas of Idlib and the surrounding governorates.  

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