President Trump in a Twitter video saying fallen soldiers agree with his plan to withdraw from Syria, 19 December 2018 [image source]
“We have won against ISIS”, declared President Donald Trump in a Twitter video on Wednesday night. “We’ve taken back the land. And now it’s time for our troops to come back home.” After a day of reporting that the United States has decided on a rapid, total withdrawal from Syria, here was the confirmation. It is a policy course fraught with danger and very likely to lead to outcomes unfavourable to Western interests, whether defined in humanitarian or strategic terms. Continue reading →
The launching of a limited punitive raid against the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad for the use of poison gas has brought some attention to the regime’s crimes. The regime’s visible crimes are numerous and devastating.
In addition to using weapons of mass destruction, fighter jets have levelled ancient cities, sieges have starved populations into submission, and improvised explosives like barrel bombs have maimed thousands. These tactics are part of what UN investigators have called a “systematic and widespread attack against [the Syrian] civilian population”.
The UN commission recently noted that what the Assad regime has done amounts to crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder, rape, and torture.
What does not get enough attention is the part of Assad’s criminality that is most difficult to see: that which takes place in the prisons, a vast network of concentration camps where torture and murder is routine. Continue reading →
This week marks the seventh anniversary of the Syrian revolution. A movement that began with peaceful street protests calling for reform and—after the government responded with lethal violence—the downfall of the dictator, descended into war that has to this point cost the lives of at least 500,000 people and displaced nearly twelve million others—more than half of Syria’s pre-war population.
In any strategic sense the rebellion has been defeated—it is not able to overthrow Bashar al-Assad by force on its own—and its political cause is increasingly strained as the remnants of the armed opposition are increasingly co-opted by external actors, state and non-state. Continue reading →
In Syria, the West has been keen not to repeat the mistakes of Iraq—defined as being drawn into an open-ended ‘war of choice’ in the Middle East. This insight led to watching with folded arms as the regime of Bashar al-Assad massacred peaceful protesters and depopulated ancient cities with fighter jets and poison gas, an exodus that spread instability into Europe and allowed menacing strategic adversaries like Iran and Russia to gain footholds that Western policy had heretofore denied them. 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 →
The U.S. Treasury on Thursday imposed sanctions on two senior operatives associated with al-Qaeda in Syria (AQS). This is undoubtedly part of the escalating campaign against AQS. The two men are interesting on their own account, however, and give a glimpse at some of the things that have shaped jihadism across the Fertile Crescent. In the one case, that of Iyad Nazmi Salih Khalil, better-known as Iyad al-Tubaysi or Abu Julaybib, this history begins with the earliest days of the Islamic State (IS), from which AQS splintered, in Iraq before Saddam Husayn was deposed. The other case, that of Bassam al-Hasri (Abu Umar al-Filistini), highlights the events at the outset of the Syrian uprising, when the regime of Bashar al-Assad set in motion its strategic plan to militarize and radicalize the nascent insurgency in order to present the population and the world a binary choice—the dictator or a terrorist takeover. Continue reading →
Satellite picture of Sednaya prison, Syria (source)
Amnesty International released a report today, “Human Slaughterhouse,” documenting the conditions in Sednaya prison, run by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which amount to extermination as a crime against humanity. In addition to the deliberately insanitary conditions, routinized torture and maltreatment, there has been—and continues to be—a systematic campaign of extra-judicial massacre in which perhaps 13,000 people have perished. These findings buttress previous findings, and come with some political implications as the new American administration seeks to chart its way forward in Syria. Continue reading →
The picture above “went viral” on Thursday. The boy, five-year-old Omran Daqnees, was pulled from a building in rebel-held eastern Aleppo City after an airstrike either by the regime of Bashar al-Assad or Russia.
Like Alan Kurdi last September, Omran’s is hardly a unique case—twelve children were treated at just that one medical centre in Aleppo on Wednesday. But it seemed to capture something of the indiscriminate brutality that has been visited on the Syrian population, which rose against Assad five-and-a-half long years ago.
On the same day this shocking image came to global attention, Amnesty International released a report documenting in greater detail the monstrous scale of the cruelty and murder inflicted on Syrians who fall into the regime’s grasp. Continue reading →