Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts

26 March 2017

The Women Who Escaped ISIS

Dressed in fitted slacks, a satin bomber jacket with a fake fur collar, and a black scarf that loosely framed her face, Nadia, 22, spoke in a dull monotone of her journey from life under the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) to life in a Kurdish prison. She said she had not seen her three-year-old daughter since she fled her abusive husband, a fugitive ISIS member, in March. 

A Sunni Arab from the Salahuddin Governorate in central Iraq, Nadia—whose name has been changed to protect her identity—was married off to a local farmer in 2012. Although their marriage was arranged, they got along at first, she told me from the visiting room of an Erbil prison. But everything changed for the worse when ISIS took over their village for two months in 2014.

What happened next underscores the serious challenges the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) faces as it seeks to identify security threats among the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis streaming across its borders from ISIS-held territory and to prosecute those who were part of the extremist group. During this difficult process, there is a risk that the KRG may be arbitrarily branding many women and even children who lived under ISIS as guilty by association—including those who had not welcomed the extremist group or were abused during its harshrule.

23 March 2017

*** Hizbollah’s Syria Conundrum

When Hizbollah – the Lebanese “Party of God” – threw its fighters into Syria in 2013, it sought primarily to save itself. Had the Assad regime collapsed or been defeated by U.S.-backed regional powers, it could have faced a hostile Sunni successor in Damascus and lost its essential arms channel from Iran. Today, its core objective of preserving the regime has been met, but there is no end in sight to the war. If Iran and Hizbollah continue to provide unconditional military support to the regime without a realistic exit strategy, they will be dragged deeper into what can only become a quagmire, even as their armed strength grows in the wider region. At the same time, they will have to contend with a potentially more hostile U.S. administration that has said it wants to push back Iranian influence even as it also pursues a more aggressive approach against the Islamic State (IS), an enemy it has in common with Hizbollah and Iran.

Avoiding being sucked into a quagmire requires negotiating a settlement that has buy-in from key countries that back the opposition, as well as (with Russia) imposing the requisite compromises on Damascus. This report proposes preliminary steps Iran and Hizbollah could take in that direction, including recognising non-jihadist rebels; initiating talks with them on whatever common ground they can find; lowering sectarian rhetoric; and refraining from new offensives against opposition-held areas so as to preserve a non-jihadist foe capable of enforcing a deal, if and when one is reached.

18 March 2017

*** Al Qaeda's Many Syrian Foes

Al Qaeda in Syria has more power today than ever before, but it is also contending with more threats to its existence than ever before. For one thing, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, is still on the losing side of the Syrian civil war. Loyalist forces are advancing, having secured Aleppo. The Syrian government is concentrating on regaining the territory it lost to the Islamic State while it was focused on the battle of Aleppo. But soon enough, loyalist armies will turn their attentions toward Hayat Tahrir al-Sham's stronghold in Idlib. A concerted loyalist advance, with ample backing from Iran and Russia, would put the group in a difficult position, forcing it to consider alternative means to maintain its resistance against Damascus, including guerilla and insurgent tactics.

A Peace Plan for Syria III

by James Dobbins, Philip Gordon, Jeffrey Martini

This Perspective is the third in a series in which the authors argue for practical steps aimed at reducing the fighting in Syria to provide more time for a national transition process. As the international community continues to search for ways to resolve Syria's civil war, this Perspective argues that recent developments in Syria and the region — including the cessation of hostilities that was sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey — reinforce the prospects for a national ceasefire based upon agreed zones of control backed by external powers, and it proposes a plan for the international administration of Raqqa province. After nearly six years of humanitarian catastrophe and geopolitical upheaval from Syria, the prospects for the removal of the Assad regime and a near-term transition to a "moderate opposition" are poorer than ever. But there is a chance for the new administration in Washington to make real progress on de-escalating the conflict and contributing to stability in Syria if it focuses on a realistic but achievable end-state: a decentralized Syria based on agreed zones of control recognized and supported by outside partners.

PDF file 0.2 MB 

17 March 2017

Beware the New Mujahideen: The Threat from Future Jihadist Networks

Colin P. Clarke, Chad C. Serena,Amarnath Amarasingam

Today’s terrorist networks will multiply far beyond the current wars in Iraq and Syria.

The current wave of foreign fighters emerging from the conflict in Iraq and Syria will be larger and potentially more dangerous than the mujahideen guerrillas that were a byproduct of the Soviet-Afghan conflict in the 1980s, FBI Director James Comey warned last September.

That is an especially foreboding observation, since the foreign fighters borne from the Afghan conflict went on to form the core of Al Qaeda and fight in the internecine conflicts in Bosnia, Algeria and Chechnya during the 1990s.

When one conflict ends, these fighters often use their connections to move on and join another fight. This phenomenon is likely to worsen in the future.

The number of foreign fighters participating in the conflict in Iraq and Syria is significant compared to those who participated in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Even more concerning, jihadists have improved and facilitated their networking capacity—improved communication, eased transportation, and diversified access to sources of information and money can make even small cadres of experienced fighters a dangerous force. The foreign-fighter phenomenon is not new. Over the past two hundred years, they have appeared in more than a quarter of all civil wars. But now these fighters engage in foreign civil wars and insurgencies—and then export their expertise back to their home countries or to places they have newly immigrated.

16 March 2017

** For Al Qaeda in Syria, Success Has Its Downside


Though al Qaeda in Syria has emerged as the most effective rebel faction in Syria's civil war, it will have trouble drawing new allies to its side as other rebel groups and their foreign backers grow wary of its expanding influence.
Al Qaeda in Syria's efforts to keep a low profile will become even more difficult now that the group has taken on a central role in the fight.

Opposition to the group — from the rebel camp, the loyalists, and foreign allies on both sides — will continue to mount.


Al Qaeda is making steady gains in Syria. From its beginnings as a shadowy insurgent group to its evolution as a powerful military force in the civil war, the group's Syrian outfit has slowly but surely increased its influence in the country. And its patience is paying off. In January, al Qaeda's affiliate in northern Syria, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra) merged with several other rebel groups in the area to become Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Today, al Qaeda is eclipsing the Islamic State as the most dangerous extremist organization in the region. But its success may well be its undoing. 

14 March 2017

The Pentagon Ramps Up Its War in Syria With Marines and Artillery

Paul Iddon

The United States, feeling confident enough about its war on the totalitarian Islamic State, has upped the stakes by deploying a detachment of Marine artillery into Syria.

To be sure, U.S. troops are certainly in combat in Syria, although the deployment of artillery is a step further than Special Operations Forces working with local U.S. allies in the country. Commandos often travel in smaller numbers, can move faster and do not need as much security as artillery units.

But the U.S. government wants to wrap the war up as soon as possible, and the White House has apparently decided it’s willing to accept the additional risk. The Marines and their artillery are supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of some 50,000 Kurdish and Arab fighters advancing toward Raqqa, the Islamic State’s northeastern Syrian capital.

The city could be under siege “within a few weeks,” an SDF spokesman told Reuters.

Pentagon officials stated that the deployment of the troops and their 155-millimeter M-777 howitzers, summoned from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, has “been in the works for sometime,” according to The Washington Post.

The Coming U.S.-Turkey Collision Course over Syria

Seth J. Frantzman

On the plane trip back from a meeting in Pakistan on March 2, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to expand Turkey’s role in the Syrian conflict. “After the liberation of al-Bab from Daesh [ISIS] terrorists, Turkey’s new target in Syria is Manbij. Manbij is a city which belongs to Arabs, and the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] must also not be in Raqqa,” he told reporters, referring to ISIS by its Arabic acronym.

The statement represents a challenge to American policy in Syria, and indirectly to American special forces, who are deployed with the SDF in combat operations against ISIS. Since last year, the United States has committed dozens of special operations forces to bolster Kurdish fighters and their Arab allies in eastern Syria. This is the second time Erdogan has threatened to expand Turkey’s role in Syria, which has been aiding mostly Sunni Arab rebel forces that oppose the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Before leaving for Pakistan he also threatened the Kurds, saying Turkey would move towards Manbij.

His comments came after Turkey’s Daily Sabah claimed on February 25 that Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, made a “secret trip to northern Syria.” Votel also told U.S. reporters that he was “very concerned about maintaining momentum in Syria” and that “it could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves.” Read between the lines, and this means more U.S. ground troops. Americans have already upped the tempo in Iraq’s Mosul offensive, moving troops closer to the front than at any time during the two-year war on ISIS.

Trump Should Accept the Realities on the Ground in Syria

Daniel R. DePetris

Late last month, after a preliminary thirty-day review of the U.S. war strategy against the Islamic State, the Pentagon delivered its list of options to the White House per President Donald Trump’s order. The details that have been leaked out in drips over the past week portray a Trump administration that is prepared to continue its predecessor's counter-ISIS strategy, but with far more resources to do the job.

A Marine artillery unit is setting up shop about twenty-miles south of Raqqa with the purpose of providing covering fire for the Syrian Democratic Forces slowly pushing towards the city. An additional four hundred U.S. troops will be deployed to Syria to accelerate the campaign and tighten the noose around ISIS’s neck, a deployment that would almost double the current U.S. troop presence in the country. All of these decisions could be seen a mile away; as a presidential candidate, Donald Trump made no bones about wiping Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth, even if doing so is impossible from a practical standpoint.

What we don’t know yet is what Trump’s policy towards the broader Syrian civil war will be. In fact, many of us don’t particularly understand what the Syria policy is now. UN Special Envoy Steffan de MIstura, the man in charge of pulling a rabbit out of his hat and striking a peaceful resolution to the war, is similarly at a loss: “I do know they [the Trump administration] are [getting] instructions from President [Donald] Trump to develop a new strategy or new options . . . So I would say let’s wait for that.”

6 March 2017

While China Backs Islamic State Of Pakistan, It Gets Threats From Islamic State Of Iraq And Syria

ISIS militants from China’s Muslim minority group.

While China labels India’s bid to get Masood Azhar banned by the United Nations (UN) as ‘politically motivated’ and ‘replete with frivolous information’, the Islamic State (IS) has threatened it with ‘rivers of bloodshed’ if it continues to oppress its Muslim Uighur minority population.

In a recent half-hour video, released by a unity of IS lead by fighters belonging to China’s Uighur minority, the group has said that the oppression will give rise to militant struggle in the Xinjiang region - homeland of the Uighur community.

"Oh, you Chinese who do not understand what people say. We are the soldiers of the Caliphate, and we will come to you to clarify to you with the tongues of our weapons, to shed blood like rivers and avenging the oppressed," the group has said according to a translation done by US-based SITE Intelligence Group.

The Turkish Army in Syria Is All Dressed Up With Nowhere to Go

Paul Iddon

Fresh from its victory over Islamic State militants in Al Bab in northwest Syria, Turkey is reiterating its longstanding threat to attack the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in Manbij to the east.

Turkey routinely dismisses U.S. assurances that the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units — or YPG, the most significant group in the SDF coalition — have vacated Manbij, which the coalition captured from the Islamic State in August 2016. Unless the United States forces the YPG out, according to the Turkish government, then Turkey will attack.

“We have said that we would strike if the YPG fails to withdraw,” Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on March 2. “Our demand from the U.S. and its new administration is to have the YPG leave Manbij as soon as possible.”

Turkish troops in Syria are currently aiding around 2,000 Free Syrian Army militia fighters. These opposition fighters yearned to fight the Syrian regime rather than the Islamic State and the YPG, and consequently, there were brief clashes with Syrian troops who advanced on Al Bab from the south.

3 March 2017

De-Conflicting Turkish, Kurdish, and American Aims in Syria

Aaron Stein

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has toned down its criticism of the United States after President Donald Trump took office in January. Before resigning from his position, Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor, directed the National Security Council to re-think the Obama plan for the forthcoming campaign to take Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. In parallel, Trump signed an executive order directing Secretary James Mattis to review the air and ground war against the Islamic State by February 28. For many in Turkey, these twin reviews, combined with the routine meetings with senior officials from the new administration, have prompted considerable speculation that the United States is prepared to drop its support for the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in favor of a Turkish-backed force to take the city.

The Trump administration’s decision to rethink the approach to the war against the Islamic State is a normal and healthy aspect of the peaceful transfer of power. Mattis, according to multiple interviews I’ve conducted, is indeed challenging the commanders in charge of the campaign to justify the assumptions underpinning the current U.S. approach. The plan to take the city is straightforward. The politics are not. The SDF is a multi-ethnic force, but its main component, the Kurdish YPG, is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an insurgent group that has fought the Turkish state for more than three decades. The United States, the European Union, and Turkey classify the PKK as a terrorist group.

Turkey’s Euphrates Shield Operation: al-Bab and Beyond

By: Göktuğ Sönmez

Turkish troops and Syrian rebels have claimed almost complete control of the Syrian town of al-Bab, including the town center, pushing back Islamic State (IS) fighters who have held the area since late 2013 and opening up a path to Raqqa, IS’ de facto capital in Syria (Hürriyet, February 23).

That battle has been hard fought, but the defeat of IS is only part of the Turkish objective, the other being to halt the territorial gains of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (PYD), the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Rather than immediately pursue IS to Raqqa, Turkish success in al-Bab, according to Turkish officials, is likely to be followed by an offensive on Manbij to ensure the PYD withdrawal there is completed. Afrin and Raqqa may then follow.

However, whether the diplomatic, political and military dynamics will allow these next steps requires further analysis. Meanwhile, the anti-IS coalition’s unwillingness to engage in the al-Bab offensive, despite Turkish calls for air support, has put strains on an important counter-terrorism alliance.

Defense Minister Shoigu Promotes Russian Cyber Warfare Troops and Declares Victory in Syria

By: Pavel Felgenhauer

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu used the shortened workweek before Red Army Day (February 23—officially rechristened “Defender of the Fatherland Day,” following the collapse of the Soviet Union) to promote Russia’s military successes. Dressed in an army general’s uniform decorated with military ribbons, Shoigu addressed an all-Russia youth forum in Moscow on February 21. The following day, Shoigu, again in military uniform and backed by his top brass army generals, addressed the State Duma. In previous years, Shoigu as well as his predecessors addressed plenary sessions of the Duma behind closed doors; those proceedings were always declared state secrets, and deputies were instructed not to disclose anything to journalists. But this week, Shoigu’s address and question time in front of Russian legislators were open to the press and streamed live on the Internet by the Ministry of Defense.

Speaking before the youth forum, Shoigu asserted that Russia has achieved a resounding military-political victory in Syria by defeating the opposition, which was armed by the United States and its allies. He added that the wave of so-called “colored” pro-democracy revolutions, allegedly sponsored by the West, has been decisively crushed and reversed by heroic Russian soldiers fighting in Syria. Yugoslavia, Georgia, Iraq, Ukraine and Libya have been the victims of Western-sponsored pro-democracy “colored revolution” insurgencies, according to Shoigu. He asserted that while opposition fighters and mercenaries in Syria have been receiving arms and munitions from abroad, Russian weapons and soldiers have stabilized the situation by supporting the legitimate government in Damascus (, February 21).

25 February 2017

We’re Ignoring the Best Bad Option for Syria


A frozen conflict would give the country space to begin rebuilding.

Last year, there was no shortage of red-tinted profile pictures, “Stand with Aleppo” tweets, and op-ed after op-ed insisting that the international community could not stand by and let Syria’s second-largest city fall to the Assad regime. Once eastern Aleppo did fall in December, critics proclaimed it the hallmark of a failed Obama policy, and comparisons to Srebrenica and echos of “never again” abounded.

But now, well into the new year, these voices have grown quiet. This may be attributed to uncertainty over the new Trump administration’s approach to Syria. But it also reflects a foreign-policy community that is not prepared to deal with a painful reality: Assad has secured his position in Syria and will not be removed from power. This is terrible to be sure, but the sooner a sober conversation begins on how to approach this reality and on the suboptimal outcomes Syria faces, the better. Dreadful as Assad clinging to power may be, there is a chance for the war to dramatically slow down. The West may not be in a position to direct this charge, but it should at least work to preserve the potential for a meaningful reduction of violence.

Assad Will Neither Lose Nor Win

For far too long, the opposition and its backers latched on to the notion that, under military threat, Assad would negotiate his own departure. With the regime’s stalwart backing by Russia and Iran, and now with the retaking of Aleppo, it should be apparent that Assad will not be removed—militarily or diplomatically.

24 February 2017

Why Would America Deploy Troops to Syria If ISIS Is Already in a Death Spiral?

Daniel L. Davis

Numerous sources reported earlier this week that the Pentagon presented the president options for defeating the Islamic State (ISIS) by sending conventional combat troops into Syria. The president should reject such advice out of hand. The introduction of American combat troops into Syria would add substantial strategic risk to the United States while offering virtually no upside.

Unnamed Pentagon sources revealed to CNN on Wednesday, “It’s possible that you may see conventional forces hit the ground in Syria for some period of time.” Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis later admitted that the Pentagon was “considering a number of measures to accelerate the campaign as part of that review, but no decisions have been made.” Let us hope that no one in the White House will act on this advice. Such a course of action is riddled with risks, some of which could greatly harm U.S. national security.

Damascus’s enthusiastic reception of this news does not bode well. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad said, “We agree about this priority”—that is, sending U.S. troops to Syria to attack ISIS. “That’s our position in Syria, the priority is to fight terrorism. . . . [Such action] must be through the Syrian government,” Assad added. He offered to help U.S. troops succeed: “We own this country as Syrians, nobody else, nobody would understand it like us.” The idea of American troops fighting and dying for a mission that will ultimately benefit Bashar al-Assad is not a policy the White House should adopt.

21 February 2017

Syria is a world war without a solution Seth J Frantzman

Seth J Frantzman

The Afghans on the road in Serbia were wet from the rain. They were trying to hitch a ride into the border town of Presevo to make the way north to Hungary. Later I saw them sitting next to a train station drying their socks. Did they fear for the future? ‘This is nothing, we came from Syria,’ one of them said. That was in 2015 at the height of the refugee crisis as more than a million people sought refuge in the EU. Many of them had fled the conflict in Syria. But the traffic of people was not all in the same direction: Afghans, Lebanese, Tunisians, Uighurs from China, Hazaras from Pakistan, British, French, Germans and Chechens have all come to Syria in the last six years to fight in the war. What began with the Arab spring is often called a ‘civil war’ or a rebellion, but it is time to acknowledge that it is actually a world war.

From Russia to the US, Saudi Arabia and France, the world is not only involved in Syria, but proxy forces, militias, jihadists and foreign fighters form the kaleidoscope of participants. As with the history of the Thirty Years War in Europe it has also become the graveyard for nations and an epic cauldron of suffering from which nearly five million people have fled and where hundreds of thousands have been killed. Ancient cities have been destroyed, and their modern suburbs gutted. 

20 February 2017

Will China Pay for Syria to Rebuild?

By Wang Jin

With U.S. President Donald Trump assuming power, there are signals that he might essentially outsource the Syrian conflict to Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, this still leaves a difficult problem for both the United States and Russia: who will pay for the post-war economic reconstruction, at an estimated cost of $1 trillion dollars, in Syria after more than six years civil war? To some, China is a likely contender to take on that role.

It seems that China has both the political willingness and economic capability to cover expenses that the international community — especially Russia, Iran and Syria — will need to help Syria’s economic reconstruction. In return, China would play a major economic role in Syria.

Politically, China has been standing with Russia, Iran, and the Syrian government by upholding the slogan of “non-intervention” and emphasizing a “political solution” rather than a “military solution” since the Syrian Civil War broke out in 2011. China’s concerns in Syria are influenced by domestic factors. On the one hand, China worries that Islamic extremism could expand from the Syrian war zone into China’s western provinces, such as Xinjiang and Ningxia, where the Uyghur, Hui, and Chinese Muslim populations are concentrated. The long-lasting civil war has provided Islamic extremists, including many Uyghur extremists from China, a place to train and fight. China fears these Islamic extremists may eventually return to threaten China’s domestic safety.

17 February 2017

Is ISIS Breaking Apart?

by Charlie Winter and Colin P. Clarke

With the Islamic State (or ISIS) facing setbacks in Iraq and Syria, most observers believe that the group is crumbling. Indeed, just last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated” from the group. Evidently, the U.S.-led coalition tasked with countering ISIS, well into the third year of its ongoing military campaign, has made progress. As a result of efforts in Iraq and Syria in 2016 alone, several high-ranking leaders have been killed or captured, the group's finances have taken a serious hit, and it is hemorrhaging territory. Over the next few years, ISIS is sure to break apart further.

As it does, it will likely walk down one of two paths. In the first possibility, its disintegration could wind up giving more weight to the group's center of gravity, even as it becomes weaker overall. Alternatively, it could follow the example of al Qaeda in the 2000s and break down in a way that will diminish the influence of its core in Iraq and Syria while providing momentum to its provincial operations in such places as Afghanistan, Libya, the Sinai Peninsula, and Yemen.

Some analysts, such as Clint Watts, see ISIS' splintering as a potential win for counterterrorism, especially if it results in what he calls “destructive terrorist competition,” a dynamic that implicitly subverts the group's ideology by pushing affiliates into provincialism and rotting the central core.

8 February 2017

Peace is a process

Vijay Prashad

The absentees at the Astana talks on the Syrian conflict hold the cards for the next steps

Two days of talks over the war in Syria ended this week in Astana, Kazakhstan. Iran, Russia and Turkey were the main powers at the table. Kazakhstan was a perfect location for the talks, since it has close ties with both Turkey and Russia. The Syrian government and the armed opposition sat together for the first time in six years. The Syrians came to the table, but they were not party to the final agreement. In the end, the three powers came to an understanding, which is itself a matter of great significance since these powers were major rivals on the Syrian battlefield.

Lack of external support

Wars end either with a decisive victory or in exhaustion. In Syria, neither condition has been reached. What drives the ceasefire talks is the recognition that the major proxies of the armed opposition — Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the U.S. — have withdrawn. Turkey has decided that this war has spilled over into its territory, which could break the country apart. Saudi Arabia, stuck in the Yemeni quagmire, finds that its proxies can no longer compete with Russian air power. The U.S., which failed to create a moderate army, now understands that the most capable fighters on the ground against the Syrian government are not to be trusted. This lack of external support brought most of the armed opposition to Astana, where they took their seats uncomfortably.