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

16 February 2019

The Syrian Civil War Is Russia’s Problem Now

Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war was never meant to be long-term. Now that Russia has been successful in saving the regime of Bashar al-Assad, what's next for Russia's Middle East strategy? Find out more when you subscribe to World Politics Review (WPR).

Russia's decision to intervene in the Syrian civil war in September 2015 was consistent with its belief that the Syrian state represents the only viable and legitimate actor in the country, and its forces are the only ones worth supporting. Moscow has always been willing to pay a political and military price to prevent a Syrian army collapse. 

From the outset, Russia’s intervention was a multilayered gambit, but its purpose was straightforward: changing the facts on the ground and imposing new realities to leverage a different political outcome in Syria, not necessarily at the expense of the U.S., but almost certainly at the expense of its allies in the region. 

Iran Holds off on Retaliating to Israeli Strikes in Syria

Iran's limited military capabilities in Syria have tempered its reaction to Israeli airstrikes there. While unlikely to occur, a stronger Iranian reaction could escalate into a major conflict with Israel, which might spill over into Lebanon and Iraq. Only a major development could alter the thinking behind Iran's restraint.

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11 February 2019

Top General in Middle East Says He Wasn’t Consulted on Syria Withdrawal


U.S. Central Command commander Gen. Joseph Votel provided the first public confirmation that the Pentagon was caught by surprise by Trump’s December tweet.

The top U.S. commander in the Middle East on Tuesday told lawmakers that he was not consulted before President Trump abruptly announced the U.S. withdrawal from Syria.

It has been widely reported that the Pentagon was surprised by the move — delivered via a tweet in December — but U.S.Central Command commander Gen. Joseph Votel provided the first public confirmation during what will likely be his final appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“I was not aware of the specific announcement,” said Votel, who is retiring in the spring. “Certainly we are aware that he has expressed a desire and an intent in the past to depart Syria.”

10 February 2019

Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response

In March 2011, antigovernment protests broke out in Syria, which has been ruled by the Asad family for more than four decades. The protests spread, violence escalated (primarily but not exclusively by Syrian government forces), and numerous political and armed opposition groups emerged. In August 2011, President Barack Obama called on Syrian President Bashar al Asad to step down. Over time, the rising death toll from the conflict, and the use of chemical weapons by the Asad government, intensified pressure for the United States and others to assist the opposition. In 2013, Congress debated lethal and nonlethal assistance to vetted Syrian opposition groups, and authorized the latter. Congress also debated, but did not authorize, the use of force in response to an August 2013 chemical weapons attack.

5 February 2019

Russia’s Eye on Syrian Reconstruction


Russia is primed to benefit economically from an influx of foreign investment in Syria, but an emerging rivalry with China and Iran for contracts could erode its long-term leverage.

During a December 28 press conference with his Jordanian counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov assertedthat Russia’s contributions to Syrian reconstruction were helping to improve the humanitarian crisis and urged Western countries to invest in the reconstruction. Lavrov’s comments revealed Russia’s growing focus on Syria’s economic reconstruction, even as civil war continues to simmer in Idlib and prospects of a short-term peace settlement appear remote.

Russia’s rapidly growing interest in the Syrian reconstruction process highlights two main strategic objectives. First, Russia wants to reconnect Syria to global financial markets so Bashar al-Assad can consolidate his hold on power and begin accruing the $400 billion he believes is necessary for rebuilding Syria. Second, Russia wants to benefit from its gradual positioning as the main actor in the Syrian reconstruction process, as a foreign capital influx into the Syrian economy could provide vital hard currency for Russian businesses. These aspirations will likely drive Russia’s policy towards the Syrian reconstruction process for the foreseeable future, even though Russia’s limited material resources and desire to avoid tensions with Iran could undermine the success of this agenda.

3 February 2019

As Washington Exits, Russia's Syria Strategy Comes Under Scrutiny

by Dmitriy Frolovskiy

Washington’s December announcement of a Syria pullout came as a surprise to many in Moscow. A sense of confusion lasted for few weeks and only then had been replaced with a perception of the new reality on the ground. Although the Kremlin’s Middle East strategy had been undergoing a shift before the decision was known, the new paradigm might come as a litmus test for its strategy, hence deserving greater international scrutiny.

Given that President Vladimir Putin has declared victory and withdrawal from Syria on a few occasions, but never really kept his word, Russian officials struggle to grasp that Washington’s snap decision could actually take place. Even if true, many in Moscow believe that Washington would still operate via CIA operatives or military advisers to keep Iran and ISIS in check, as well as using its facilities in Jordan and Iraq. In effect, for the Kremlin it is vital to see how the implementation would occur before it decides to adapt its own multilayered strategy.

The Arab League Mulls Whether to Readmit al Assad's Syria

Readmitting Syria to the Arab League would mark the first normalization of high-level ties with Damascus since other countries in the organization turned against Bashar al Assad's government in 2011.

Faced with the reality that their strategies to counter Damascus in the civil war have failed, some powerful Arab states are warming up to the idea that working against Syria is no longer as strategic an option as working with the country. 

The Arab League's reinstatement of Syria would not immediately pave the way for the rest of the world to welcome Damascus back into the international fold, but it would mark a first step in the lengthy process of enabling others to do business with al Assad's government.

2 February 2019

As US Withdraws, Iran's Influence Swells

Jamsheed Choksy and Carol E.B. Choksy

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA: Soon after announcing US withdrawal from Syria, the Trump administration crowed about Iran’s retreat. In reality, within Syria and across the region, Iran has gained ground. Against this backdrop of retreating American power and growing Iranian influence, traditional US allies hunt for alternate support. “Every part of the Middle East and other places that was under attack was under attack because of Iran,” President Donald Trump claimed at a January 2 cabinet meeting. “Iran is pulling people out of Syria…pulling people out of Yemen…we are hitting them very hard.” On January 10, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo added: “Nations are rallying to our side to confront the [Iranian] regime like never before.”

27 January 2019

Syrian Pantsir-S aerial defense system destroyed by simple Israeli drone

One of Syria’s Pantsir-S1 missile defense systems was destroyed by an Israeli SkyStriker drone, military expert Vladislav Shurygin told the Russian newspaper Izvestia.

The specialist noted that the SkyStriker, a so-called kamikaze drone produced by Elbit Systems, is a small, slow (up to 190 kph) unmanned aerial vehicle with a pusher propeller and an electric engine. The drone ways a mere 35 kg, of which the payload accounts for 5-10 kg. It has a maximum flight time of two hours, and is controlled remotely by an operator who can view what the drone is seeing.

According to Shurygin, using the drone in daylight is problematic, since it is vulnerable even to small arms fire, but at night time “flocks” of these “kamikazes” moving towards the aerial defense position “can pose a serious problem to the enemy”.

On the night of 20 January, Israel attacked several Iranian military targets in Syria. A video of the attack, published by the Israel Defense Forces, shows A Russian-made Pantsir-S1 missile system being destroyed.

Israeli Strikes in Syria Reveal New Battlefield for Post-Civil War Era

Seth Frantzman

Airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria on Sunday and Monday revealed a new Syrian battlefield that is emerging as the Syrian civil war ends and the US prepares to withdraw.

For eight years, since the Syrian rebellion began in 2011, Syria has been the center of great power politics, and an attempt by various forces to control the region through proxies in the conflict. It also became a battlefield between different ideologies, and quests for autonomy amid the chaos and the rise of Islamic State. Now that era is drawing to a close and a new battlefield shift is taking place.

The Syrian conflict went through several phases over the greater part of the last decade. What began as a conflict between revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the regime, and reactionaries who sought to keep the Assad family in power, degenerated into a series of different conflicts and contests for who would control the country. Great and regional powers, such as the US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey all sought a role in Syria. They did so often through backing local forces or proxies.

Why Hasn't Syria Used the S-300?

by Seth Frantzman

The self-launching component of the S300 surface-to-air missile. 

Russian and Syrian media emphasized that Syrian air defense "repelled" the attack by Israel on Sunday. According to a spokesman for Russia's national defense management center, the Syrians used the Pantsir and Buk air defense systems. Israel struck at a Pantsir defense system in retaliation on Monday. But why wasn't the S-300, which Russia supplied to Syria in September, used by Damascus?

The continuing quiet among the S-300 gunners is a perplexing mystery that underpins the shadowy and deadly conflict unfolding in Syria's skies. In late September, Russia announced it would give the Syrian regime the S-300 system in the wake of Syrian air defenses mistakenly shooting down a Russian Il-20. The Syrians had used an S-200 to hit the Russian plane, mistaking it for an Israeli warplane during an Israeli raid in Latakia.

President Trump’s Syria Critics are Wrong

by Doug Bandow

Damascus has never mattered much to the United States, so why are Washington's experts so determined to see U.S. troops remain in Bashar al-Assad's country?

President Donald Trump announced his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria in his usual way, via tweet. It wasn’t a good way to do diplomacy, but everyone should be used to it by now. Nevertheless, Washington’s policy community went mad.

The “caterwauling,” as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might put it, was extraordinary. You would think that it was Munich all over again, the United States lost the Cold War, or Gen. Douglas MacArthur had signed America’s surrender aboard the battleship Yamato in San Francisco Bay.

Worse, his own officials went to work to thwart his wishes. National Security Adviser John Bolton suggested that there were conditions for a withdrawal, meaning nothing had really changed.

26 January 2019

The Scramble for Northeast Syria

By Aaron Stein

On December 14, in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly announced that he would order U.S. forces to withdraw from Syria, taking his Turkish counterpart—and much of his own national security staff—by surprise.

The sudden decision to pull out the remaining 2,000 U.S. forces stationed in northeast Syria was trademark Trump. For years, the president has promised to reduce the U.S. footprint in the region and argued that American allies and partners should do more to shoulder the burden of regional security.

But the United States does not operate in a vacuum. Trump’s precipitous announcement came without any prior attempt to extract concessions or guarantees from the other actors involved in the conflict. Now several of those players are poised to shape the situation on the ground in their favor—and to the detriment of the United States.

25 January 2019

Syria: An Islamic State Attack Muddies the Waters as the U.S. Plans Its Pullout

Although the tide of the Syrian civil war has shifted in Damascus' favor, the country remains a battleground for competing local, regional and global actors. As the United States mulls how and when to withdraw its forces from northeastern Syria, the pressing need to continue the fight against the Islamic State will be a major factor in Washington's calculations. Attacks like the Jan. 16 suicide bombing in Manbij underline the need for a long-term counterterrorism strategy in the area.

What Happened

The stakes over a northern Syrian city at the center of a tug of war between regional and global forces have just increased. On Jan. 16, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest outside the Kasr al-Umara restaurant in the city of Manbij, resulting in numerous casualties. According to local media, the blast killed nine civilians and a local fighter, while a U.S. official speaking to the media said the explosion killed four American troops and wounded three more. French and U.S. soldiers were reportedly meeting members from the People's Protection Units (YPG) inside the restaurant, although other reports suggested the U.S. forces were in the street just outside the restaurant. 

23 January 2019

Americans are Tired of Middle East Mayhem

by Daniel R. DePetris

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s eight-day trip to the Middle East, which took him to Jordan and through the Gulf before concluding in Oman, was marketed by the Trump administration as a messaging tour. Coming weeks after President Donald Trump’s announcement that all U.S. troops will be leaving Syria in a matter of months, Pompeo spent the bulk of his regional tour impressing upon Arab rulers that Washington will remain an active player in the Middle East. 

As is typical with many secretaries of state who deliver speeches in foreign lands, Pompeo’s remarks were full of the kinds of anecdotes and flowery rhetoric only a quintessential American exceptionalist could love. He talked about the United States as “ a force for good ” in the region, one willing and ready to stand by its partners during a time of crisis. 

22 January 2019

Trump is making the mess in Syria even messier

Amanda Sloat

Although there is little worth salvaging in the United States’ flawed approach to the conflict in Syria, the Trump administration should stop making the situation worse. Inadequate policy coordination, incoherent presidential tweets, and discordant remarks by senior advisors have created confusion across the Middle East. And the disorderly withdrawal of U.S. troops, which President Donald Trump has already put in motion, will only serve to exacerbate tensions between Turkey—a NATO ally with legitimate security concerns—and Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters who spilled blood for the United States and deserve fair treatment.

This tension has long been at the heart of U.S. military activity in Syria. Former President Barack Obama long resisted calls to directly intervene in the Syrian civil war but sought an expeditious way to defeat the Islamic State. When the United States launched an air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria in September 2014, it deployed special operators to assist local forces on the ground. They found a faction of Syrian Kurds—the YPG—to be effective fighters and began developing their capabilities. The problem: They are affiliated with Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey and the United States designate as a terrorist group. Although the United States argues that the YPG has not received the same designation, government officials and congressional leaders acknowledge the ties. Gen. Raymond Thomas, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, said he told the YPG to rebrand given Turkish concerns—which led to the creation of the Syrian Democratic Forces: an umbrella group composed of YPG and a small number of Syrian Arab fighters. The Trump administration continued this approach.

21 January 2019

What Syria Stands to Lose A View From Raqqa, Where Normal Was Hard-Won

By Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

In April 2018, I drove into Raqqa, Syria, for the first time since reporting eight months earlier on the fight that liberated the city from the Islamic State, known as ISIS. By April, Raqqa resonated not with mortar rounds but with drilling and the rattle of generators as the city’s residents unearthed the remains of their homes from the rubble that had engulfed them. A town once inhabited by ghosts now slowly shook itself back to life, through sheer force of will and intestinal fortitude.

As I drove into the city, I found one sight particularly befuddling. There on a street full of crushed buildings was a black, proudly hanging sign, behind which a young man sat in front of dozens of glass bottles: a perfume shop, the only storefront open on its street. Who, in all the world, would open a perfume shop in a city that had just emerged from under the black curtain of war and ISIS rule? A place that needed construction companies and grocery shops and pharmacies, to be sure—but perfume?

18 January 2019

Is Turkey Capable of Defeating ISIS in Syria?

by Doug Bandow

The Islamic State exploded in the Middle East, gaining control of large sections of Iraq and Syria. No nation was safe from its ambition to create an Islamic caliphate. But Turkey initially accommodated Daesh, even profiting from illicit oil sales. Eventually, the insurgents turned terrorist inside Turkey, forcing the Erdogan government to respond. However, Turkish forces still targeted Kurdish militias as the true threat.

With President Donald Trump apparently planning an American withdrawal from Syria, the administration suggested that Turkey take over the task of finishing off ISIS. Ankara’s response? Maybe if the United States does most of the work.

Reported the Wall Street Journal : “Turkey is asking the U.S. to provide substantial military support, including airstrikes, transport and logistics, to allow Turkish forces to assume the main responsibility for fighting Islamic State militants in Syria.” These demands, added the paper, “are so extensive that, if fully met, the American military might be deepening its involvement in Syria.”

Syria’s Kurds: The New Frontline In Confronting Iran And Turkey – Analysis

By James M. Dorsey

US President Donald J. Trump’s threat to devastate Turkey’s economy if Turkish troops attack Syrian Kurds allied with the United States in the wake of the announced withdrawal of American forces potentially serves his broader goal of letting regional forces fight for common goals like countering Iranian influence in Syria.

Mr. Trump’s threat coupled with a call on Turkey to create a 26-kilometre buffer zone to protect Turkey from a perceived Kurdish threat was designed to pre-empt a Turkish strike against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) that Ankara asserts is part of the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a Turkish group that has waged a low-intensity war in predominantly Kurdish south-eastern Turkey for more than three decades.

Turkey has been marshalling forces for an attack on the YPG since Mr. Trump’s announced withdrawal of US forces. It would be the third offensive against Syrian Kurds in recent years.

What Should We Learn from 40 Years of U.S. Intervention in the Middle East?

by Alireza Ahmadi

The presence of America’s vaunted military cannot necessarily shape the political orientation and structure of societies.

With the surprise announcement of the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Syria, and to a lesser extent, the announcement of a drawdown of 7,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan, many interventionist critics who had tolerated Donald Trump’s ineffectual strikes against Assad and peace talks with the Taliban seem to have reached a boiling point. But even after Trump defended his position and said Iran “can do what they want there” in Syria, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton have undercut the clarity of what seemed like a presidential decree mandating a withdrawal.