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

21 December 2021

The civil war in Syria: an intractable conflict with geopolitical implications

The armed conflict in Syria has now lasted for more than ten years. What started as an uprising during the 2011 Arab Spring soon turned into one of the most deadly and destructive civil wars of the modern era. The conflict has reached a violent protracted stalemate in which several different armed confrontations are taking place at the same time, overlapping with regional-security concerns about Turkish, Iranian, Israeli, Kurdish and jihadi activity.

The Syrian regime, despite its limited power, has skilfully balanced the regional and international actors and their competing agendas to ensure its own survival. The political deadlock between opposing forces within Syria reflects the dominance of third-party states in shaping the current phase of the civil war. From a regional-security perspective, the conflict is unmistakably a proxy war and a key theatre for the foreign-policy ambitions of international and regional state actors, who are pursuing goals that extend beyond Syria.

16 May 2021

The Syrian Civil War’s Never-Ending Endgame

The Syrian civil war that has decimated the country for 10 years now, provoking a regional humanitarian crisis and drawing in actors ranging from the United States to Russia, appears to be drawing inexorably to a conclusion. President Bashar al-Assad, with the backing of Iran and Russia, seems to have emerged militarily victorious from the conflict, which began after his government violently repressed civilian protests in 2011. The armed insurgency that followed soon morphed into a regional and global proxy war that, at the height of the fighting, saw radical Islamist groups seize control over vast swathes of the country, only to lose it in the face of sustained counteroffensives by pro-government forces as well as a U.S.-led coalition of Western militaries.

The fighting is not yet fully over, though, with the northwestern Idlib region remaining outside of government control. In early 2020, the Syrian army’s Russian-backed campaign to retake Idlib from the last remaining armed opposition groups concentrated there resulted in clashes with Turkish forces deployed to protect Ankara’s client militias. The skirmishes were a reminder that the conflict, though seemingly in its final stages, could still flare back up and escalate. The situation in the northeast also remains volatile following the removal of U.S. forces from the border with Turkey, with Turkish, Syrian and Russian forces all now deployed in the region, alongside proxies and Syrian Kurdish militias.

8 May 2021

Who Will Intervene in the World’s Hot Spots?

As conflicts and crises persist around the world, there is growing uncertainty about how—or if—they will be resolved. The international order is fraying, generating uncertainty about who will intervene and how these interventions might be funded.

There are interminable conflicts, like the situations in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, which have produced years of violence, countless thousands of deaths and even more refugees. Then there are the emerging hot spots, including northern Mozambique and the China-India frontier, and any number of potential flashpoints, like the Eastern Mediterranean. Even in situations where there is some tenuous hope of reconciliation, there is also uncertainty—such as South Sudan, where a 2018 peace deal that put an end to years of civil war is for now holding, even as widespread violence continues to plague the country.

At the same time, the nature of terrorism is also changing. After a period of recalibration following the loss of its caliphate in western Iraq and Syria and the subsequent death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State has once again become more active in the two countries, even as it shifts its attention to new theaters of operation, like the Sahel, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia. In so doing, the group and its affiliates are taking advantage of dwindling international interest in mounting the kinds of counterinsurgency campaigns needed to meet these new challenges. And a recent spate of seemingly lone-wolf attacks in Europe show that the threat terrorism poses there has faded, but not disappeared.

7 May 2021


This report analyses the role of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the associated Democratic Union Party (PYD) during the Syrian civil war. The purpose of our research is to obtain a better understanding of the nature, objectives and methods of the YPG/ PYD as a combined paramilitary and rebel force that is involved in a quasi-statebuilding project during an internationalised civil war. We start by examining the critical factors that enabled the swift rise of the YPG: informal arrangements with the Assad regime, support from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and a pragmatic partnership with the US against Islamic State. This sets the scene for an inquiry into how core YPG strategies to maintain its dominance once it was established – coercive, deal-making, identity and basic service strategies – both shape the group’s behavior and result from its current organization. Finally, we dissect a number of major challenges to future YPG rule, such as its relation with the PKK, intra-Kurdish reconciliation, the US presence in northeast Syria and its interaction with the Arab populations over which it rules.

Based on our analysis, we anticipate a scenario of ‘muddling through’ in which unconditional support from the US will continue at current levels, combined with an abiding US military presence. This will provide the YPG/ PYD with a security umbrella against both regime forces and Turkey, continue the status quo of the YPG/ PYD ruling northeast Syria in authoritarian fashion, make the civil war more ethno-sectarian in nature and prolong the conflict. While such a scenario is arguably more attractive for northeast Syria than a return of the regime, it is also unlikely to improve the area’s current underdevelopment. It will keep other external actors, like the EU, away and allow the PKK to continue to take its share of the area’s revenues.

The primary audience of the report are Western opinion-, policy- and decision-makers engaged with the Syrian civil war and we hope it will help them to craft policies and initiate interventions that are feasible and appropriate to the situation in northeast Syria.

4 May 2021

Analysis: Syrian missile explodes near Israeli nuclear facility


On Thursday morning the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) bombed several Syrian anti-aircraft batteries in a retaliatory response to an anti-aircraft missile exploding within 30 kilometers of Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor.

The IDF published a statement acknowledging the incident and its retaliation against the Syrian forces.

“A surface-to-air missile was fired from Syria to Israel’s southern Negev. In response, we struck the battery from which the missile was launched and additional surface-to-air batteries in Syria,” the IDF tweeted.

IDF spokesperson Hidai Zilberman elaborated further about the incident and stressed that he did not believe the attack targeted the country’s nuclear reactor in the southern Negev.

“There was no intention of hitting the nuclear reactor in Dimona,” Zilberman remarked.

Additionally, the IDF acknowledged that it had launched an investigation into why its air defense systems failed to intercept the Syrian missile.

Syrian state-controlled media, citing a military source, reported Israel’s attack resulted in the injury of four Syrian soldiers and some material losses.

13 April 2021

A Chance to Stop Syria and Russia From Using Chemical Weapons


The battle for the future of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction is underway within an obscure but important international organization based in The Hague. The looming showdown at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will determine whether the world returns to the norm of zero chemical weapons use or if countries follow Russia’s example of poisoning dissidents and Syria’s of gassing its own citizens.

So far, Moscow and its client regime in Damascus have successfully delayed the work of the OPCW, and they are determined to stop any effort to impose consequences for their misconduct.

In February, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted: “We must preserve international law against the use of chemical weapons—or we risk normalizing their use,” adding that Russia and Syria must have “no impunity.” The OPCW is a sluggish organization, however, and unless the United States builds a coalition against impunity for Moscow and Damascus, this is likely to remain the norm.

As we know by now, Russia uses chemical weapons as part of an assassination program targeting enemies of the state. In 2018, Moscow’s operatives used a Novichok nerve agent, a group of toxins developed by the Soviet chemical weapons program, against Sergei Skripal, a Russian intelligence officer who had worked for Britain and defected there. While Skripal survived, an innocent mother of three died later from the poison.

10 April 2021

10 Years On, Syrians Have Not Given Up

This March marked 10 years of the Syrian revolution. Syrians still remember its beginnings—joyful chanting in the streets and hope of a democratic and free future. Today, a large part of the population has fled or been detained in government prisons. The last bastion of hope is Idlib, a province in northwest Syria, the final stronghold of the Syrian opposition and a refuge for internally displaced Syrians. It is also Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main target for continued air and artillery attacks. The bombardment has aimed at schools, hospitals, and other civilian targets. Assad views capturing the province as the last obstacle before he can declare a military victory. And if the international community continues to neglect Syria, that brutal goal is what he will achieve. But the people of Syria have not given up—10 years in, they continue to protest.

I still remember March 18, 2011—the day I joined one of the first peaceful protests in my hometown of Bayda, on the Syrian coast, at the age of 15. My eagerness to join thousands of friends and neighbors singing and dancing for freedom in the streets was indescribable, until suddenly, the first shot rang out. Assad’s security forces started shooting at the protesters. The blasts coming from the guns overwhelmed the sound of our voices, as blood drenched the roses still clutched by those who fell to their deaths.

Today, at the age of 25, I, like millions of other Syrians, have been displaced from my home and have lost so many loved ones I can no longer count them. As the director of detainee affairs at the Syrian Emergency Task Force and as a survivor of torture at the hands of the Assad regime in Syria’s prisons, I hope that my story will touch the hearts of the American people. A decade has passed since my arrest for taking part in a peaceful protest in Syria. A decade has passed while the world remains a bystander to the genocidal massacres unfolding in my country.

7 April 2021

Syrian uprising 10-year anniversary: A political economy perspective

Steven Heydemann and Jihad Yazigi

This interview is part of a series conducted by the Syrian Observer on the 10th anniversary of the Syrian uprising. It first appeared here.

Bashar al-Assad’s first decade in power saw some positive economic developments and a level of corruption that was high but not necessarily worse than in many other developing countries. Would it be unfair to describe Bashar’s policies during that period as bad from an economic standpoint?

In many respects, Syria during the 2000s was a story of two economies. In one, if we look at macroeconomic indicators, the country was doing well despite years in which the political landscape experienced some severe shocks. As you note, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth was reasonably high, inflation rates were moderate, foreign exchange reserves were healthy at about $18 billion, and government debt had dropped dramatically in 2003 after Russia forgave some outstanding loans.

In the other economy, however, the picture was much more troubling. Positive macro-indicators obscured signs that many Syrians were losing ground. In 2007, for instance, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) published a study of inequality in Syria that found that “at the national level, growth was not pro-poor.” The limited data we have confirms that the 2000s were a decade of growing inequality. Unequal growth had lots of negative effects beyond increased inequality, driving a real estate boom that pushed housing costs out of reach for many people. And despite positive GDP growth, unemployment remained high, especially among youth, at around 20% or more for most of the decade. We also must recall that the onset of a severe drought in 2006 brought a sharp increase in rural poverty in eastern Syria and drove hundreds of thousands of people off the land and into poorly-served, informal housing around large cities, including Damascus. And as for corruption, Global Corruption Reports put out by Transparency International for the 2000s rank Syria just above the bottom. A few countries performed worse, but not many. So, I would not give Bashar’s regime too much credit for its integrity.

26 March 2021

In Syria, US Commanders Hold the Line — and Wait for Biden


NEAR DERIK, SYRIA — On a bright blue afternoon in February, troops from the Louisiana National Guard load into up-armored vehicles in America’s true forgotten war. The trucks rumble out of a bare-bones base in the seeming middle of nowhere, heading to a small village named Hemzebeg on what the military refers to as a “presence patrol.”

Several weeks earlier, an apocryphal meme claiming President Joe Biden had “invaded” Syria proliferated across right-wing social media channels. In reality, U.S. forces here are carrying out a mission inherited across three administrations that, at least for now, seems poised to continue in perpetuity. But the popularity of the online conspiracy made clear that for some Americans, the roughly 900 troops former President Donald Trump bequeathed Biden are lost in the backlands of a frozen conflict, out of sight and out of mind.

American special operations forces here are prosecuting the fight against what’s left of ISIS. They are supported by conventional troops like those in Louisiana’s 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, whose patrols are keeping the roads safe and clear.

25 March 2021

In Syria, US Commanders Hold the Line — and Wait for Biden


NEAR DERIK, SYRIA — On a bright blue afternoon in February, troops from the Louisiana National Guard load into up-armored vehicles in America’s true forgotten war. The trucks rumble out of a bare-bones base in the seeming middle of nowhere, heading to a small village named Hemzebeg on what the military refers to as a “presence patrol.”

Several weeks earlier, an apocryphal meme claiming President Joe Biden had “invaded” Syria proliferated across right-wing social media channels. In reality, U.S. forces here are carrying out a mission inherited across three administrations that, at least for now, seems poised to continue in perpetuity. But the popularity of the online conspiracy made clear that for some Americans, the roughly 900 troops former President Donald Trump bequeathed Biden are lost in the backlands of a frozen conflict, out of sight and out of mind.

American special operations forces here are prosecuting the fight against what’s left of ISIS. But they are supported by conventional troops like those in Louisiana’s 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, whose patrols are keeping the roads safe and clear.

The vehicles pass lonely pump jacks and herds of poorly-looking sheep. Children run out of small, low-slung concrete buildings in tiny hamlets, and the gunner throws down handfuls of Jolly Ranchers. Sometimes, men with inscrutable faces stand and watch them pass, expressionless. The patrol passes a pickup truck with a sheeted machine gun mounted in the bed, a so-called technical that has become the staple of irregular warfare across the globe. “That gun is bigger than mine,” the gunner remarks mildly, peering over the barrel of his .50-caliber machine gun. “Just hope he stays friendly.” No way to know who it belongs to. There doesn’t appear to be anyone nearby, just a long-haired collie dog that is probably white underneath all the dirt.

19 March 2021

Top Conflicts to Watch in 2021: What's Next for Syria

Steven A. Cook

Steven A. Cook is Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies and director of the International Affairs Fellowship for Tenured International Relations Scholars at the Council on Foreign Relations.

It has been ten years since Syrians rose up in peaceful protest against Bashar al-Assad demanding political change. In that time, half a million people have died and roughly half the population has been displaced. The uprising turned into a civil war that became a regional proxy battle and a zone where great power competition continues to grind on.

Although in recent years, observers have come to believe that the Assad regime—with both Russian and Iranian backing—will prevail, victory for Damascus remains elusive. The Assad regime controls most of Syria’s territory, but significant regions in the North, Northwest, and Northeast remain beyond its control. In addition, Syria’s sovereignty is compromised. Aside from Russian and Iranian/Iranian proxy forces that support the regime, the United States and Turkey have forces on the ground in Syria and Israel routinely violates Syrian airspace in its low-level war against Iran and its allies. The Syrian Defense Forces—a Kurdish dominated group—continues to fight the Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates for control of Idlib. In this dynamic environment there are several scenarios for increased conflict, including between Turkey and the Kurds, Turkey and regime forces, Turkey and Russia, as well as conflict between the United States and Iranian-backed militias. There is also the risk of miscalculation and accident in the field that could lead to blows between American and Russian forces. And there is ever-present risk of a recrudescence of the Islamic State and other extremist groups. The likelihood of these conflicts materializing vary, of course, but they are all plausible.

Strength Through Peace

12 March 2021

How Russia Is Responding to Joe Biden’s Syria Airstrike

by Anna Borshchevskaya

The omissions in Moscow’s statements on the U.S. operation are as revealing as the predictable hyperbole and hypocrisy.

By any objective measure, strikes against secondary facilities in retaliation for targeting key state assets show restraint. Such were President Joe Biden’s February 25 airstrikes in eastern Syria against facilities of Iran-backed Shia militias, ordered after earlier rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias against the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and American troops stationed at Erbil airport. But now Russian officials predictably rush to express outrage at perceived American aggression and unilateralism.

Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova expressed condemnation, adding, “we reaffirm our rejection of any attempts to turn the Syrian territory into an arena for settling geopolitical scores.” Member of the upper-house Federation Council’s foreign affairs committee Senator Sergei Tsekov blasted the strikes as “extremely outrageous.”

Timing became another point of contention. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov claimed the Kremlin was unaware whether the U.S. gave advance warning to Russia, while foreign affairs minister Sergei Lavrov said the U.S. gave several minutes warning. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said at a press briefing the U.S. used the proper de-confliction channel as Lavrov himself confirmed and, “we did what we believe were the proper amount of notification.” Given that the U.S. and Russia back opposing forces in Syria and that Moscow has provided extensive support to Shia militias, fought alongside them, and condemned previous retaliatory American strikes against them, to say nothing of Moscow’s deep partnership with Tehran, the Biden team could have had a legitimate concern about Moscow tipping someone off about the coming strikes.

4 March 2021

At the mercy of foreign powers

By Greg Miller, Missy Ryan, Sudarsan Raghavan and Souad Mekhennet

The Soviet-era cargo plane rose from a frigid Moscow runway and banked south toward Syria, landing at a Russian air base on the coast several hours later.

It ascended again three hours later and crossed the Mediterranean Sea. From its transponder signal, the flight could be traced for most of its path. As it approached Libya, however, the signal was lost.

A plane matching that mystery aircraft was spotted hours later at an airstrip 70 miles east of Benghazi disgorging dozens of “Wagners” and “shabiha,” according to a Libyan intelligence operative, using terms for Russian and Syrian mercenaries who have flooded the conflict zone.

This December flight was one of hundreds, including both Russian and Turkish military aircraft, that funneled fighters and firepower to an already war-torn Libya over the past year.

There was no apparent need for Russian reinforcements. The Dec. 7 flight came in the midst of a months-long cease-fire, as Libyan negotiators held talks in Tunisia in hopes of ending the civil war that has killed thousands of Libyans and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

“This is what is so terrifying for the Libyans,” said a senior Western diplomat with access to U.S. intelligence on the conflict. At a time when there is no fighting, and new prospects for peace have taken hold, Russia, Turkey and other countries that have inserted themselves into Libya’s struggle “are burrowing in.”

3 March 2021

Iran, Syria Stress Alliance as Joe Biden Launches Airstrikes


The foreign ministers of Iran and Syria spoke by phone on Thursday as President Joe Biden launched his first airstrike against Iranian-linked targets in Syria, discussing the alliance between Damascus and Tehran and options to expand economic cooperation.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarid and Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad spoke by phone, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

Iran's state-run IRNA said the two ministers discussed "ways to foil plots hatched by certain Western states in the way of restoring security and stability in Syria," as well as the need for Western powers to respect "sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Arab country."

The call came as the Biden administration launched airstrikes against Iranian-linked militia groups in Syria; retaliation for a deadly rocket attack by an Iranian-backed group in Iraq earlier this month.

A Pentagon press release said the strikes destroyed "multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups." Those included Kaitib Hezbollah and Kaitib Sayyid al-Shuhada, both of which are Iraqi groups and part of the umbrella Popular Mobilization Forces organization.

Impact of Regime Policies on the Rise of Sectarian Violence: Case of Syria

Ondrej Palicka

This content was originally written for an undergraduate or Master's program. It is published as part of our mission to showcase peer-leading papers written by students during their studies. This work can be used for background reading and research, but should not be cited as an expert source or used in place of scholarly articles/books.

By the late 2010, a series of popular uprisings known as the Arab Spring began in Tunisia and quickly spread across the Arab world, overthrowing regimes, sparking reforms, and throwing some countries into chaos – Syria among them. Although many argued that Syria was different and popular protests would avoid it, the opposite proved to be true (Lesch, 2012). Wary of the economic situation and regime repression, people started protesting in the city of Deraa in March 2011, eventually triggering countrywide demonstrations which escalated into an uprising, aimed at toppling the regime and eventually leading to a full-blown civil war that has, as of this writing, not yet ended. To further complicate the situation in Syria, the civil war soon became sectarianized and gave way to a rise of militant Salafism and groups such as the Islamic State. Syria is a highly heterogenous country; as of 2010, its population consisted of Sunni Arabs (65%), Kurds (15%), Alawites (10%), Christians (5%), Druze (3%), Ismailis (1%), and Shia (1%) (Balanche, 2018). In addition, the country is led by a minority Alawi regime represented by President Bashar al-Assad. Therefore, one could argue that sectarian divisions played a significant role in the emergence of the civil war. Yet, when Bashar’s father Hafiz was met with the Muslim Brotherhood uprising, the group failed to mobilise the Sunni Arab population and the uprising ended in failure.

24 February 2021

When Syria Erupted Into War, Russia’s Military Saw an Opportunity

by Sebastien Roblin

Here's What You Need to Remember: Russian aviation demonstrated improved technical and operational sophistication by 2018, including increasing adoption of some elements of Western-style network-centric warfare. However, high-altitude unguided bombing methods leaning on the SVP-24 system would be of limited applicability in a conflict against a foe with serious air defenses and satellite-spoofing capability.

In 2008, military observers within and outside of Russia noted the poor performance of the Russian Air Force (VVS) in the five-day Russo Georgian War. In the aftermath of the conflict, Moscow instituted a vigorous new round of military modernization and reforms.

These reforms were put to the test when in September 2015 Putin committed the newly reorganized Aerospace Force (VKS) to its first expeditionary war, a bid to prop up the faltering regime of Bashar-al Assad in Syria. After initially mixed results and multiple so-called “withdrawals”, it became clear by 2017 that the VKS’s intervention had decisively tilted the balance of power in favor of the battered dictatorship.

Much as the Spanish Civil War served as a testing ground for Stukas and mechanized warfare tactics, the Syrian conflict was also exploited as a live-fire testing range for a new generation of Russian weaponry and operational methods. This was made all the clearer by systematic efforts to deploy every type of combat aircraft in the Russian inventory, including strategic bombers that had never before dropped a weapon in anger over sixty years and non-weapons-capable stealth fighter prototypes.

The Limitations and Consequences of Remote Warfare in Syria

Sinan Hatahet

Remote warfare aims to reduce the risks and costs of traditional military intervention and externalise the burdens of warfare to local partners and non-state actors. However, in reality, this practice comes with high risks. Non-state actors often pursue their own agenda and sometimes act against the wishes and advice of their backers. Delegating the strategic, operational and tactical burden of a foreign policy to local partners often comes at the expense of control and could easily escalate to new levels of violence. In the past nine years, Syria has been transformed into a theatre of complex remote warfare, waged by regional actors against neighbouring rivals, international powers against both rogue states and armed groups, and transnational terrorist organisations against incumbent states and local populations. These conflictual and unreconcilable foreign agendas have not only fuelled the ongoing war between Assad regime and the rebels, but they have also further destabilised the region, creating more animosity and mistrust among the different involved actors.

The chapter begins by providing a background to the conflict. The chapter then recounts the primary states engaged in remote warfare in Syria, their objectives and models of intervention. After this, it delves into the different types of interactions these states had with their respective Syrian partners or proxies. Following this overview, the chapter investigates how Syrian armed groups exercised their agencies, established their governance structures, and how these choices impacted the support they received from their backers and vice-versa. Finally, the chapter concludes with a sketch of the possible outcomes of the Syrian conflict on the armed groups’ roles in Syria and beyond with the eventual withdrawal of their backers.

Background to the conflict in Syria

15 February 2021

The Syrian Civil War – Evolution of the Syrian Army’s Way of War

We are pleased to bring you this MSM Exclusive Article, written by Eyal Berelovich, which was originally published in Hebrew and has been translated into English for readers of Military Strategy Magazine.

The original article appeared in Ma'arachot, the Israel Defense Forces’ Content House. It was one article in a Special Edition published in October 2020 titled, “The Syrian Civil War - Operational and Tactical Lessons,” (pages 10-15).

Eyal Berelovich is a Defense Analyst at the Israel Defense Force Ground Forces (GF) Research, Doctrine and Concept Department. He previously filled positions at the IDF Training and Doctrine Department/J-3. He is a PhD candidate in Middle Eastern History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His main area of research is the Ottoman army in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

The views expressed above are those of the author and do not represent those of the Israel Defense Force Ground Forces, the R.D.C Department, or the Israel Defense Force.

The views expressed above are those of the author and do not represent those of the Israel Defense Force Ground Forces, the R.D.C Department, or the Israel Defense Force.

Professor Eyal Zisser’s 2018 article on the Syrian Civil War begins with the following words: “In March 2011 a revolution erupted in Syria. It began as a limited local non-violent protest in the rural and peripheral areas of the country, and within a few months escalated into a bloody civil war that quickly became sectarian, and worse yet – religious, a holy war (Jihad). The civil war attracted foreign intervention that transformed Syria into a regional and international arena of conflict, with the rival sides being used by the global and regional powers as pieces on the chess-board of their conflicts.” [i]

10 February 2021

How Turkey fits in regime-Kurdish showdown in Syria

Fehim Tastekin

The fragile ties between Damascus and the Kurdish-led autonomous administration in northern Syria have seen a dangerous escalation amid widespread anticipation that US support for the Syrian Kurds will grow after the change of guard at the White House. The two sides have sought to besiege one another in several areas in recent weeks, fueling deadly tensions and allegations of collusion between Damascus and Ankara.

In early January, government forces restricted the entry of commercial vehicles to Aleppo’s predominantly Kurdish neighborhoods of Sheikh Maqsoud and Ashrafiya as well as the nearby town of Tell Rifat and its environs, an area the Kurds call Shahba, Kurdish sources told Al-Monitor. The restrictions disrupted the supply of fuel and food, also affecting camps sheltering Kurdish refugees from Turkish-held Afrin.

The Kurds retaliated by encircling government-controlled pockets in Hasakah and Qamishli to the east. Mazlum Kobane, the head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), accused government forces of blockading Kurdish-populated areas and arresting relatives of members of the SDF and the Kurdish police force Asayish. The Aleppo governor’s office rejected the accusations and denied shortages of basic goods in Kurdish areas.

On Jan. 27, one person was killed and several others injured as Kurdish security forces intervened to break up a pro-government protest in Hasakah. A pro-government militia responded by attacking an Asayish station amid mutual recriminations on who was responsible for the unrest.

2 February 2021

U.S. Strategy in Syria Has Failed

By Robert S. Ford

During his four years in office, U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly promised to get the United States out of the nation-building business. Long-term U.S. efforts to reconstruct and stabilize postconflict societies, he argued, were misguided and doomed to fail. And for the most part, Trump delivered: he cut troop numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he scaled back democracy-promotion funding by nearly $1 billion during his time in office.

But the Trump administration departed from its no-nation-building policy to pursue one long-shot effort—in Syria. The United States tried to use military force and financial pressure to compel Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to accept major constitutional reforms and a Kurdish autonomous zone in the country’s northeast. Under U.S. supervision, that region developed into a semistate with its own army, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and an entrenched bureaucracy—dominated by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units.