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

17 November 2019

Russia’s Comeback Isn’t Stopping With Syria

By Dmitri Trenin

For many in the West, Russia’s return to the world stage over the past few years has come as a surprise, and not an especially pleasant one. After the downfall of the Soviet Union, the country was written off as a regional power, a filling station masquerading as a state.

Five years later, however, Russia is still resilient, despite the Western sanctions imposed over its actions in Ukraine. It has effectively won, militarily, in Syria: Today it is a power broker in that country; the victory has raised its prestige in the Middle East and provided material support for Moscow’s claims to be a great power again.

Those who experience this moment with some discomfort should get used to it: Russia is not a superpower, but it is back as an important independent player. And it will be playing in various regions around the world in the years to come.

To the Russians themselves, this feels natural enough. In the 1990s, when the world saw Russia on its back, Russia’s leaders never looked at the country as finished. Rather, they saw its post-Soviet decline and withdrawal from the world scene as only temporary — something that Russia had experienced before and would eventually overcome. The only question was what form it would take.

16 November 2019

Erdogan Has No Idea What He’s Doing in Syria

By Steven A. Cook

In contrast to the profound confusion in Washington over the past two weeks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government have been relentlessly on message about their invasion of Syria. Operation Peace Spring, as Turkey calls it, is a counterterrorism operation, providing safety for Turks and Syrians alike—including Kurds. The People’s Protection Units (YPG) is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is no different from the Islamic State. Full stop. No amount of international pressure and outrage has moved Ankara from these talking points.

Yet perhaps because the Turks have been so good at their messaging (mostly to other Turks), they have not been as clear on what it is they want to achieve in Syria over the longer term and how they will know when they achieve it. In sending its forces into Syria, the Turkish government seems to have four primary goals: make the establishment of a Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria impossible, boost Erdogan’s popularity, destroy the YPG, and resettle Syrian refugees.

Dashing Kurdish Hopes Will Not Bring Erdogan Peace

By Henri J. Barkey

Only a few months ago, Kurds in the Middle East were optimistic. They enjoyed a newfound international recognition, and a major political breakthrough glimmered on their horizon. Their confidence sprang in large part from the achievements of the Syrian Kurds.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) mostly dominated the multiethnic umbrella militia group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. That group had worked for almost five years in close alliance with the world’s premier superpower, the United States, to defeat the Islamic State, or ISIS. The affiliation was extraordinary, from the Kurdish point of view, because the Kurdistan Workers’ Party was initially behind establishing the militia. Based in Turkey, that party has long battled the Turkish government, and it is on the U.S. terrorist list. In the Syrian territories that the militia forces liberated, Kurds quickly established their own governmental structures and institutionalized their rule.

15 November 2019

Understanding Russia's Intervention in Syria

PDF file 0.5 MB 
Russia's 2015 military intervention in Syria's civil war took many by surprise and raised questions about the potential for similar actions in other conflicts outside of post-Soviet Eurasia. The authors of this report assess where and under what conditions Moscow could intervene again by analyzing the factors that drive Russian decisionmaking on intervention. In addition to the 2015 intervention in Syria, they examine four smaller-scale interventions in conflicts outside of Russia's immediate neighborhood: Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria itself before 2015.

The analysis demonstrates that Moscow's decision to intervene in Syria in 2015 resulted from an extraordinary confluence of political drivers and military conditions. This set of circumstances is very unlikely to be replicated elsewhere. Indeed, the drivers for an intervention on a scale comparable to the 2015 action in Syria are absent in any of the other three countries examined in the report. However, the other cases that were considered in this report suggest that the conditions for intervention short of direct, overt use of the military, but greater than mere diplomacy, are more commonplace: The conflict in question presents a high level of threat to Russian security (as in Afghanistan), promises a high level of geopolitical benefit for Moscow (as in Libya), or demonstrates moderate levels of both (as in Syria pre-2015). That threshold could plausibly be met in a variety of country settings, which suggests that there are likely to be more of these smaller-scale interventions in the future.

Iranian Stakes in Syria

Ephraim Kam

Against the backdrop of its military involvement in Syria, Iran has taken a series of steps since 2014 to reinforce its standing in Syria and Lebanon and enhance its military preparedness there, as well as that of its proxies – first and foremost Hezbollah. These steps are of two types. One consists of steps designed to influence Syria’s internal situation and bind it to Iran for the long term, including economic agreements on reconstruction, resettlement of Shiites in Syria, introduction of Iranian religious and cultural values into the country, and establishment of Syrian Shiite militias modeled on Hezbollah in Lebanon. These steps are of great importance to Israel because they entrench and empower Iran’s position close to Israel’s border. The second type is of even greater significance for Israel, because they are meant inter alia to amplify the direct Iranian threat against it. Steps include the construction of strategic axes, e.g., the improved land corridor through Iraq that connects Iran with Syria and Lebanon; the convergence of Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian railroad tracks that will link the Persian Gulf with the Mediterranean; and the use of the Syrian seaport in Latakia, which will represent an Iranian foothold on the Mediterranean shore. Other steps of this type include the manufacture of high quality weapon systems for Hezbollah and their transfer to the organization. Any external entity trying to stop Iran’s penetration of the domestic Syrian arena will encounter great difficulty. At the same time, Iran has yet to find an effective response to Israel’s aerial attacks on Iranian and Shiite targets in Syria and Iraq aimed at blocking the construction of the land corridor. Nonetheless, Iran is liable to craft a response with enough deterrence to be of concern.There is no doubt that for the long term, Iran hopes that the military forces it sent to Syria remain there, including Hezbollah and other Shiite militia units, as well as the Revolutionary Guards and Quds Force personnel that oversee them. The ongoing Iranian/Shiite military presence in Syria is of great strategic importance to the Islamic Republic. First, and most importantly, while Bashar al-Assad’s regime may have stabilized, its survival is by no means guaranteed, and the Islamic State is liable to return and endanger Iran’s interests in Syria and Iraq. Therefore, leaving troops in Syria under Iranian command is intended to preserve and reinforce the Assad regime’s connection with Iran and its dependence on Tehran in future challenges to its stability. In addition, Iran seeks to protect its standing in and around Syria should the Assad regime be replaced.

14 November 2019

A Month After U.S. Withdrawal, What is the State of Play in Syria?

Mona Yacoubian

In the month since President Trump’s October 6 phone call with Turkish President Erdogan and the announced U.S. withdrawal from northeast Syria, the picture on the ground has changed immensely. Moscow has emerged as the key power broker in Syria. The Kurds, looking for protection from Turkish forces, are in Russian-brokered talks with the Assad government. These discussions could pave the way for an expanded Syrian government presence in the northeast for the first time in years. Successive agreements with Turkey negotiated first by the United States (October 17) and then by Russia (October 22) to halt Ankara’s fighting with the Kurds have been marred by violations.

In Geneva, a constitutional committee comprised of government, opposition and civil society representatives has convened to draft a new constitution, an important step toward reaching a “Syrian-owned and Syrian-led” agreement to end the war. Meanwhile, the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has overshadowed the real dangers of the terrorist group’s resurgence. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian examines this complicated picture. 
What is going on in northeast Syria a month after the U.S. decision to withdraw and how are the Kurds faring?

The World’s Worst Game of Risk Is Playing Out in Syria

Kathy Gilsinan 

Russian, Syrian and Manbij military council flags flutter near Manbij, Syria.Omar Sanadiki / ReutersThe U.S. pulled back. Turkey moved in. Kurdish forces retreated. The Syrian government gloated. Russia struck a deal and sent in more troops. More than 100 people died and more than 100,000 fled.

All this happened over a few weeks in October across a long but narrow strip of Syrian land running 300 miles along the Turkish border. It looked like a 21st-century great-power scramble to redraw the map. In reality, not much territory changed hands. So after almost a month of chaos, the U.S. is caught in a new maelstrom of competing proxies, its weak leverage further damaged, and the future of its anti-Islamic State fight thrown into doubt.

The supposed winners—Turkey, Russia, and the Syrian regime—have gained some slapdash spheres of influence and a severe hit to American prestige. The losers, as ever, are Syrian civilians.

13 November 2019

The Mad Scramble for Syria

by Kathy Gilinsan

After weeks of chaos in the northeast, great powers redrew a small chunk of the map. And a bigger story is just beginning.

The U.S. pulled back. Turkey moved in. Kurdish forces retreated. The Syrian government gloated. Russia struck a deal and sent in more troops. More than 100 people died and more than 100,000 fled.

All this happened over a few weeks in October across a long but narrow strip of Syrian land running 300 miles along the Turkish border. It looked like a 21st-century great-power scramble to redraw the map. In reality, not much territory changed hands. So after almost a month of chaos, the U.S. is caught in a new maelstrom of competing proxies, its weak leverage further damaged, and the future of its anti-Islamic State fight thrown into doubt…

12 November 2019

Pentagon claims with a straight face that the US mission in Syria isn’t all about the oil (It is)

Jeff Schogol

Top defense officials tried to convince reporters on Thursday that the U.S. military's mission to protect oil fields in eastern Syria isn't just about the oil.

"The mission is the defeat of ISIS," said Navy Rear Adm. William Byrne, Jr., vice director of the Joint Staff. "The securing of the oil fields is a subordinate task to that mission. The purpose of that task is to deny ISIS the revenues from that oil infrastructure."

Let's back up for a minute. On Oct. 13, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that most U.S. troops were withdrawing from Syria because Turkey's invasion of Kurdish territories had gone further than expected.

Everything changed six days later when President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States had "secured the Oil" in eastern Syria, prompting the U.S. military to deploy Bradley fighting vehicles around Deir ez-Zor.

Trump has tweeted or otherwise commented since then that U.S. troops in Syria are securing the oil fields. For example, the president used the word "oil" 23 times when he announced the death of ISIS founder and former leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Oct. 27.

11 November 2019

Trump OKs wider Syria oil mission, raising legal questions

By LOLITA C. BALDOR
Source Link

U.S. military convoy drives the he town of Qamishli, north Syria, by a poster showing Syrain President Bashar Aassad Saturday, Oct. 26. 2019. A U.S. convoy of over a dozen vehicles was spotted driving south of the northeastern city of Qamishli, likely heading to the oil-rich Deir el-Zour area where there are oil fields, or possibly to another base nearby. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, also reported the convoy, saying it arrived earlier from Iraq. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has approved an expanded military mission to secure an expanse of oil fields across eastern Syria, raising a number of difficult legal questions about whether U.S. troops can launch strikes against Syrian, Russian or other forces if they threaten the oil, U.S. officials said.

The decision, coming after a meeting Friday between Trump and his defense leaders, locks hundreds of U.S. troops into a more complicated presence in Syria, despite the president’s vow to get America out of the war. Under the new plan, troops would protect a large swath of land controlled by Syrian Kurdish fighters that stretches nearly 90 miles (150 kilometers) from Deir el-Zour to al-Hassakeh, but its exact size is still being determined.

Trump OKs wider Syria oil mission, raising legal questions

By LOLITA C. BALDOR

U.S. military convoy drives the he town of Qamishli, north Syria, by a poster showing Syrain President Bashar Aassad Saturday, Oct. 26. 2019. A U.S. convoy of over a dozen vehicles was spotted driving south of the northeastern city of Qamishli, likely heading to the oil-rich Deir el-Zour area where there are oil fields, or possibly to another base nearby. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, also reported the convoy, saying it arrived earlier from Iraq. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has approved an expanded military mission to secure an expanse of oil fields across eastern Syria, raising a number of difficult legal questions about whether U.S. troops can launch strikes against Syrian, Russian or other forces if they threaten the oil, U.S. officials said.

The decision, coming after a meeting Friday between Trump and his defense leaders, locks hundreds of U.S. troops into a more complicated presence in Syria, despite the president’s vow to get America out of the war. Under the new plan, troops would protect a large swath of land controlled by Syrian Kurdish fighters that stretches nearly 90 miles (150 kilometers) from Deir el-Zour to al-Hassakeh, but its exact size is still being determined.

10 November 2019

The Two Things Every Senior Pentagon Leader Is Worried About

BY MACKENZIE EAGLEN
Source Link

Talk to any senior Pentagon official these days and they’ll raise two big issues. Not Iran, not the border wall, not impeachment — not even the chaotic Syria withdrawal and the still-unclear oil-guarding mission are of such universal concern. 

The first is the fact that defense spending has peaked. This has been advertised for years, and the moment has arrived. But leaders’ concern is exacerbated by the potential for a government-wide spending freeze, possibly even through next year’s presidential election. The Pentagon is so worried about a long-term continuing resolution that when Defense Secretary Mark Esper went to Capitol Hill on Oct. 30 to brief lawmakers behind closed doors on the Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi raid, several DoD senior officials told me, he spent much of his time pleading for a 2020 appropriations bill.

Many members of Congress already understand how continuing resolutions undermine military readiness and waste vast amounts of money. Yet they lack insights, based on real-world evidence and Pentagon data, about the many benefits that funding the defense budget on time, as happened last year, provides to taxpayers and the military. If the Pentagon really wants to get its appropriations bill past the border wall impasse and impeachment overhang, lawmakers need to see compelling new information from the Defense Department that shows how doing their job well helps everyone and saves money. 

9 November 2019

Could Congress Reverse Trump's Decision To Pull Troops Out Of Syria?

by Sarah Burns
Source Link

The political and humanitarian outcry condemning President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria came soon after he made the announcement.

Trump’s actions paved the way for Turkish troops to attack U.S.-allied Kurdish forces that had been fighting the Islamic State group. In reaction, on Oct. 15, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a nonbinding resolution opposing his move, with strong bipartisan support.

U.S. forces are still in Syria, but their role has changed substantially in recent weeks. 

This resolution, like many attempts to articulate a collective view on foreign policy, lets members of Congress seem like they’re holding the president accountable without actually doing so.

It’s Not All Trump’s Fault: Syria Shows the Danger of War on the Cheap

BY ABIGAIL WATSON
Source Link

As ISIS spread its caliphate to large swaths of the Middle East in 2014, the Obama administration and its European allies faced a challenge: how to meet this new threat in a political environment that disfavored large military deployments à la Iraq and Afghanistan. The governments decided to confront the terror group “by, with, and through” local and regional forces who would do most of the frontline fighting. Their experience suggests that the challenges of this form of engagement should be considered more carefully before they do so again. 

In September 2014, the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition launched an operational relationship in Syria with the Kurdish armed group, the People’s Protection Unit, or YPG. One commentator wrote, “The midwife was tactical necessity. Larger issues of national security objectives, overall strategy for Syria, and an important bilateral relationship with a NATO partner were made subordinate to the singular focus on attacking ISIS.”

Syria’s Civil War: The Descent Into Horror

By Zachary Laub
Source Link

In the eight years since protesters in Syria first demonstrated against the four-decade rule of the Assad family, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed and some twelve million people—more than half the country’s prewar population—have been displaced. The country has descended into an ever more complex civil war: jihadis promoting a Sunni theocracy have eclipsed opposition forces fighting for a democratic and pluralistic Syria, and regional powers have backed various local forces to advance their geopolitical interests on Syrian battlefields. The United States had been at the forefront of a coalition conducting air strikes on the self-proclaimed Islamic State, then abruptly removed forces in October 2019 ahead of the second invasion of northern Syria by Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally. The Turks seek to push Kurdish forces, the United States’ main local partner in the fight against the Islamic State, from border areas. Russia too has carried out air strikes in Syria, coming to the Assad regime’s defense, while Iranian forces and their Hezbollah allies have done the same on the ground.

8 November 2019

Who’s Who in Northern Syria?

By Lindsay Maizland

In a new escalation in Syria’s civil war, Turkey has launched a military operation aimed at removing Kurdish fighters from areas in northern Syria near the Turkish border. Here’s what you need to know about the many actors in the region: 

The Realists Are Wrong About Syria

BY PETER FEAVER, WILL INBODEN
Source Link

The news of the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a raid by U.S. special operations forces on Oct. 27 capped a dizzying three weeks in the Trump administration’s Syria policy. The turmoil began on Oct. 6, with President Donald Trump’s peremptory decision to pull back about 100 U.S. soldiers from their positions embedded with Kurdish forces in northern Syria. A few days later, he ordered the withdrawal from the north of the country of the entire U.S. presence of 1,000 troops, and then in late October he partially reversed that decision, redeploying several hundred U.S. troops back into northeast Syria to “take the oil.”

No doubt more news is yet to emerge, and perhaps more policy shifts, too. In the midst of all the breaking developments and about-faces, an important debate has emerged about U.S. policy and force deployments. Trump’s original decision to withdraw was met with scathing criticism across the political spectrum: from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Rep. Liz Cheney, from Sen. Chuck Schumer to Sen. Ted Cruz, from the Center for American Progress to the American Enterprise Institute, and on editorial pages from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal. Many of Trump’s senior officials seemed to disagree with the decision as well, according to their anonymous conversations with reporters, and the Defense Department had long tried to prevent it.

7 November 2019

Turkey and China Tie Themselves in Knots Over Syria and Xinjiang

By Dr. James M. Dorsey

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Turkey expects Chinese support for its incursion into Syria against the Kurds, but in return, China expects Turkey to turn a blind eye to its persecution of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. Turkey’s refusal to fully recognize Kurdish rights is thus intertwined with China’s brutal crackdown in its troubled northwestern province. Both parties justify their actions as efforts in the fight against terrorism.

Turkey’s ambassador to China, Emin Onen, didn’t mince words when he took his Chinese hosts to task for failing to support Turkey’s military campaign against a Kurdish militia in Syria.

Speaking in Turkish through a translator at a news conference at his Beijing embassy, Onen put China on the spot by calling on it to stand with Turkey in its fight against political violence.

In doing so, Onen laid bare longstanding strains in Turkish-Chinese relations as well as contradictions that link Turkey’s refusal to fully recognize Kurdish rights to China’s brutal crackdown in its troubled northwestern province of Xinjiang.

It’s Not All Trump’s Fault: Syria Shows the Danger of War on the Cheap

BY ABIGAIL WATSON
Source Link

America’s surprise withdrawal is deeply destabilizing, but so is the proxy war that Western countries have fought for five years.

As ISIS spread its caliphate to large swaths of the Middle East in 2014, the Obama administration and its European allies faced a challenge: how to meet this new threat in a political environment that disfavored large military deployments à la Iraq and Afghanistan. The governments decided to confront the terror group “by, with, and through” local and regional forces who would do most of the frontline fighting. Their experience suggests that the challenges of this form of engagement should be considered more carefully before they do so again. 

In September 2014, the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition launched an operational relationship in Syria with the Kurdish armed group, the People’s Protection Unit, or YPG. One commentator wrote, “The midwife was tactical necessity. Larger issues of national security objectives, overall strategy for Syria, and an important bilateral relationship with a NATO partner were made subordinate to the singular focus on attacking ISIS.”

6 November 2019

Trump’s Withdrawal from Syria Is a Foreign Policy Masterstroke

Douglas A. Macgregor

President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Northern Syria is a brilliant strategic move that simultaneously achieves all of our major objectives in the region.

Perhaps because it has been so long since America had a coherent foreign policy strategy, the political establishment is aghast at the president’s action, predicting all manner of calamitous consequences. The same “experts,” however, have been responsible for the myriad foreign policy disasters that have befallen this country over the past two decades, so their discomfiture should be taken with a rather small grain of salt.

In one deft move that doesn’t put a single American life at risk, President Trump achieved a regional solution to ISIS, undermined Iran’s capacity for foreign aggression, and disentangled the United States from an alliance of convenience that threatened to create major diplomatic headaches down the road.