In military terms, the fall of Daraa, in south-western Syria, to Iranian and regime forces last July eliminated the last insurgent-held pocket not dominated by jihadists. Politically, it had profound effects, demonstrating American disengagement and Israel’s misperceptions of the Syrian landscape, particularly Russia’s role in it.
Recent signs of renewed insurgency in Daraa, however, underline how far from over Syria’s war is and how badly the West has mishandled the crisis. Continue reading →
Turkish soldiers in Efrin, Syria, March 2018. (AFP)
Eight years ago, peaceful protests began against Syrian President Bashar Assad. Since then, outside powers — the Iran-Russia axis, the United States and Turkey — have become dominant in Syria.
The Iranians and Russians keeping Assad’s regime alive are clearly going nowhere. The Americans’ indecision on the point is apparently final. So, what of Turkey, which is the custodian of the remnants of the armed opposition? Continue reading →
Today in Istanbul, four governments—Turkey, Russia, Germany, and France—are meeting for a summit over Syria, attempting to consolidate the Sochi Agreement signed by Russia and Turkey over Idlib, and re-invigorate the international political process. There is little reason to think that these talks can succeed on either front. Continue reading →
The United States Department of State designated Katibat al-Imam al-Bukhari (KIB), the Taliban-loyal insurgent unit in Syria, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) on 22 March. Over the last few days, KIB and other insurgent groups have issued statements in response. Continue reading →
It was announced on 15 November that Talal Ali Silo, the official spokesman of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), had fled to the EUPHRATES SHIELD zone in northern Aleppo, run by rebels operating under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) brand that are dependent on Turkey. The SDF is the partner force in Syria for the U.S.-led Coalition against the Islamic State (IS). Though the SDF presents itself as a multi-ethnic coalition of Kurds and Arabs, it was initiated as a front for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). By attaching non-Kurdish units to a PKK core and using the SDF banner, it circumvented various legal and political obstacles for Coalition states. But all real power has remained in the hands of the PKK, which has systematically purged all genuinely independent power centres within the SDF. Silo, a Turkoman, helped further the narrative of the SDF’s ethnic inclusivity, and his defection underlines the reality of the organization’s political exclusivity. Continue reading →
The Turkish government has gotten more and more deeply involved in Syria since the uprising began in 2011. But Turkey now finds its original aim, namely the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, unattainable, creating tensions with the Syrian armed opposition, its primary lever inside Syria, and there are considerable problems stabilizing the zone of Syria that came under Turkish occupation after Ankara’s direct intervention in 2016. The defeat of Turkey’s primary objective has been accompanied by the rise of further problems, notably the exacerbation of its longest-standing internal security threat, that posed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan – PKK), and the generation of new internal threats, from the Islamic State (IS) and potentially from al-Qaeda-linked groups. The options for solving these problems are constrained and unpalatable. Continue reading →
The offensive to expel the Islamic State (IS) from its primary urban stronghold in Syria, Raqqa city, began on 6 November 2016 with shaping operations and commenced in earnest on 6 June 2017. Backed by the U.S.-led Coalition, the operation, known as EUPHRATES WRATH, is being carried out on the ground by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or Quwwat Suriya al-Dimoqratiyya (QSD). The SDF is formally a coalition of Kurds and Arabs—its announcement of the Raqqa operation named eighteen distinct sub-units. But the predominant force within the SDF is the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the Arab SDF play a “secondary role of maintaining local security,” which is to say providing an acceptable face for the PKK’s administration in the Arab-majority areas it has captured. Examining the SDF’s composition, and the recent marginalization of Arab SDF groups, underscores the point. Continue reading →
A burnt-out vehicle on a destroyed street in al-Bab on 23 February 2017 (Nazeer al-Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkey intervened in Syria in August 2016 with Operation Euphrates Shield (OES), which involved special forces, some regular troops, and the mobilisation of Syrian rebels to clear its border of terrorist threats by pushing ISIS (the Islamic State) away from the frontier and preventing the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) creating a state-let on its border that could be used as a harbour and launch-pad for attacks inside Turkey.
To secure this mission, on 13 November 2016 OES began an assault on al-Bab in the eastern countryside of Aleppo Province, just 15 miles from Turkey’s border and ISIS’ last major urban centre in Syria outside its capital, Raqqa. Some 102 days of combat later, on 23 February, al-Bab fell. What happens next could determine the course of the war as Turkey competes with the PKK to be the U.S.-led Coalition’s partner in clearing ISIS from Raqqa. Continue reading →
There is not yet any clarity with regard what Donald Trump would do about Syria once he becomes President. Virtually everything about the incoming administration is in the “wait and see” phase. Still, on the current evidence, Trump’s Syria policy would appear to be a continuation of President Barack Obama’s policy of prioritizing the threat of the Islamic State (IS) and other non-state Sunni jihadist groups, while effectively aligning with the pro-regime coalition, made up of Russian air power and a ground force led by the Islamic Republic of Iran, stitched together out of the battered remnants of Bashar al-Assad’s army and his sectarian militias, Iranian paramilitary and regular forces, and foreign Shi’a jihadist groups under Iran’s control. The only potential difference is that Trump may formally repudiate the anti-Assad forces. The effect of this would be to destroy the mainstream Syrian opposition and empower al-Qaeda, but it would not bring stability to Syria. There are hints, however, that Trump is recruiting senior officials who will alter this policy. Continue reading →
Vladimir Putin’s Russia is “deploying all of the Northern fleet and much of the Baltic fleet in the largest surface deployment since the end of the Cold War,” a NATO diplomat told Reuters on Wednesday night. These Naval assets are designed to buttress a final offensive by the remnants of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, which is effectively controlled on the ground by the Islamic Republic of Iran and an assortment of foreign Shi’a jihadists, against the insurgent-held east of Aleppo city, crushing once and for all the strategic threat posed by the rebellion to the regime, a threat that had already been all-but ended in the first months of Russia’s intervention. Nearly a year ago the U.S. began a political process with the Russians intended to end the war and begin a political transition. Moscow has subverted this process, using force to buttress its political efforts to secure Assad in power. The timing of this attack is seemingly intended as one final humiliation for President Barack Obama. Continue reading →