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

16 April 2019

The Syrian Civil War Is Coming to an End

by Howard J. Shatz

In late March, after a four-year, American-backed operation, coalition forces finally drove the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) from its final patch of territory in Syria.

The bigger challenge, however, will be ending the ongoing civil war and rebuilding Syria to bring home millions of refugees and internally displaced people. This means creating a state that can provide safety, security, and opportunity that forestalls further rebellion and devastation.

It's a daunting task, unlikely to happen anytime soon. The nature of Syria's government and the likely shape of any war accords portend an empty peace, if not a frozen conflict, and years of further suffering, potentially fomenting further conflict in the region and providing a continued haven for terrorists.

The cost of the Syrian civil war has been immense. Almost half a million people have been killed, half the population has been displaced, and the cumulative loss to the gross domestic product from 2011 through the end of 2016 has been estimated by the World Bank to total $226 billion. As yet, there have been no definitive estimates of the cost of reconstruction, although the Syrian government wishfully has mentioned $400 billion.

12 April 2019

Saving Northeastern Syria

By Merve Tahiroglu and Andrew Gabel

Last month, fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a 60,000-strong Syrian militia that has been Washington’s primary partner in the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS), captured the Syrian town of Baghouz, ISIS’ last remaining stronghold. Although ISIS has not been fully eliminated as an organization, Baghouz marked the final territorial defeat of the group, which at its peak in 2014 controlled nearly 40,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria.

Yet the territorial defeat of ISIS is not the end of the U.S. mission in Syria, where today some 2,000 American troops help the SDF administer and control the northeastern third of the country. Although U.S. President Donald Trump announced in December 2018 that he would be withdrawing all American forces from Syria, he has since partially reversed course—in March, Trump affirmedthat he is “100%” in favor of leaving a residual presence of 400 U.S. troops in Syria.

9 April 2019

The Proliferation of Tunnel Warfare

By GPF Staff

The Syrian civil war brought tunnel technologies to Bashar Assad’s forces. It’s something Israel may want to keep in mind as it pushes a “safe zone” farther into Syrian territory.

As foreign fighters poured into Syria over the course of the civil war, they brought with them the technologies and know-how to conduct tunnel warfare. Members of the Islamic Stateand various rebel militias became experts of the practice, but in doing so they also made experts out of the Syria army, which had to learn the trade to counter its enemies. Soldiers loyal to Bashar Assad can now dig high-quality tunnels at various depths and in various conditions.

It’s something Israel may want to keep in mind as it pushes a “safe zone” farther into Syrian territory. Assad has more or less come out on top in the Syrian civil war, but the war has exhausted his forces, and though he may not be looking for a fight, he at least has a new tactic at his disposal, one that Hamas and Hezbollah have shown to be effective. Here, we take a look at some key examples of tunnel warfare in the Middle East and North Africa.

6 April 2019

US Strategy In Syria Is Dangerously Adrift – Analysis

By Dr. Christopher J. Bolan*

(FPRI) — After years of aerial bombardment by coalition forces and intense ground battles fought by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the Islamic State in Iraq & Syria (ISIS) has been ousted from every inch of territory in Syria. Although analysts are right to caution that this does not mean the threat from ISIS has been eliminated altogether, the collapse of the physical ISIS caliphate nonetheless marks a significant military accomplishment and transition point for U.S. strategy in Syria. U.S. policymakers cannot afford to rest easy. Transforming this military victory into a durable and successful political outcome in Syria calls for a fundamental re-assessment of where U.S. strategy and been and where it needs to go. Unfortunately, America’s broader strategy for Syria has lacked clear attainable political objectives and has suffered from the absence of a longer-term vision for the future of Syria.

The absence of a feasible American strategy that looks beyond the narrow issue of ISIS undermines U.S. regional leadership, places remaining U.S. troops in Syria at unnecessary risk for undefined goals, and will likely only prolong the suffering of the Syrian people. This article briefly traces the evolution of America’s strategy since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, highlights the primary shortcomings of current U.S. strategy, and offers recommendations for needed adjustments in America’s approach to the vexing set of security challenges emerging from Syria.

29 March 2019

The Future of War: What the Syrian War Portends for Tomorrow’s Conflicts

In the Syrian civil war, combatants are not always divided along clear lines, making it more difficult than ever for conventional forces like the U.S. military to combat pockets of insurgency. 

Week by week, month by month, the horrific war in Syria grinds on, killing Syrian civil war combatants from many countries and, most tragic of all, Syrian civilians—the unintended or, in many cases, intended victims of the warring parties. It’s easy to look at the Syrian war as uniquely horrible, the catastrophic result of geography, Bashar al-Assad’s craven brutality, the spread of jihadism and its malignant ideology, and foreign intervention. But in reality, Syria represents a frightening window into the future of war. If, in fact, Syria is the model, future wars are likely to have several defining characteristics.

The first and perhaps most defining characteristic of the Syrian war is its intricate and deadly complexity. Rather than two nations or alliances pitted against each other, multiple interconnected fights occupy the same space and time. Second, the Syrian war suggests that future conflicts will involve a situation-specific configuration of forces, rather than enduring alliances, as one insurgency blends into the next. Third, the conflict shows that despite the massive and well-publicized human costs of contemporary wars, the international community has lost its stomach for humanitarian intervention. Fourth, Syria demonstrates something that has been evident for decades: The United Nations is unsuited to play a major role in complex, modern wars, particularly when permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, each with a veto over its actions, are involved.

26 March 2019

Water is a growing source of global conflict. Here’s what we need to do

Kitty Van Der Heijden

The most intensive drought ever recorded in Syria lasted from 2006 to 2011. Water scarcity hit households, businesses and infrastructure, while in the countryside crops failed, livestock died, and entire families moved to the country’s cities. The subsequent eruption of civil war in 2011 led to as many as half a million deaths, as well as massive migration flows to neighbouring countries and beyond, and untold misery. Syria’s war has been a tragic illustration of the central, driving role that water insecurity can play in instability and conflict.

This is no surprise. In 2017 alone, water was a major factor in conflict in at least 45 countries, including Syria. Its importance as a resource means that water-related insecurity can easily exacerbate tensions and friction within and between countries. It can be weaponized; nefarious actors can gain control of, destroy, or redirect access to water to meet their objectives by targeting infrastructure and supplies. Advancements in cyber attacks on critical infrastructure raise further concerns as to the security of water systems.

25 March 2019

The State of War


A Syrian force’s artillery observer looks through a scope as smoke plumes rise on the horizon, near Hama, on April 1, 2017. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)Syrian government forces and allies regained most of the territory they lost earlier during an assault by rebels and jihadists launched on March 21, 2017 in the country's centre, reported the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor on March 31, 2017. Hama province is of strategic importance to President Bashar al-Assad, as it separates opposition forces in the northwestern province of Idlib from Damascus to the south and from the regime's coastal heartlands to the west. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images) 

The world is less violent today than at virtually any other time in human history. Hard as it is to believe, deaths from armed conflicts between states have declined dramatically since the 1950s. And although civil-war deaths have ticked up in recent years, they have still fallen dramatically since the end of the Cold War. After increasing over the past decade, even terrorist-related killings have started to fall. Homicides, too, are on the decline in most parts of the world.

All this is cause for celebration, but it is not the whole story. Although the world has done a good job at reducing certain forms of violence, others are on the rise, particularly state violence against citizens and criminal violence from mafias, drug cartels, and gangs. Complicating matters, state and criminal killings are often intertwined. Politicians, police, and other officials may be in cahoots with criminal bosses, which makes their crimes harder to uncover and address.

23 March 2019

Turkish intervention could trigger Syria's 'second great war'

Amberin Zaman 

AL-OMAR OIL FIELD, Syria — After a bloody and protracted five-year war, the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led coalition are on the verge of declaring victory against the Islamic State after the fall of its last crumbs of territory in Baghuz. With Islamic State cells continuing to operate to deadly effect in Syria and neighboring Iraq, it's too early to say "mission accomplished," cautioned Mazlum Kobane, the commander in chief of the SDF, in an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor March 10 at a heavily guarded complex near al-Omar oil field in eastern Syria. The charismatic 50-year-old Syrian Kurd, whom coalition officials address as “general,” is seen as one of the chief architects of the battle against the jihadis.

US diplomats and officers of all ranks who have worked with him for the past four and a half years are full of praise for Kobane, whose nom de guerre was Sahin Cilo when he was a militant in the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK, which has been fighting Turkey for Kurdish independence, and now autonomy, since 1984, is on the US State Department's list of terrorist organizations. Turkey likes to remind Washington of this irony, and it's the reason why Kobane is unlikely to be rewarded for his prowess on US soil anytime soon. His real name is Ferhat Abdi Sahin and he is on Turkey's list of most wanted terrorists. 

22 March 2019

Syria’s Civil War Is Now 3 Civil Wars


The war that has ravaged Syria over the last half-decade is coming to an end. The caliphate declared by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State organization on June 29, 2014, at the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul now consists of a few ravaged square meters in Baghouz, in Syria’s Lower Euphrates River Valley, that are on the verge of falling to Kurdish forces. The mainly Sunni Arab rebellion against the Bashar al-Assad regime, meanwhile, is already over. What remains of it is now the military component of a Turkish project to turn a corner of northwest Syria into a Turkish client entity.

In place of the old wars, however, three new ones have started. They are taking place in the three de facto independent areas whose boundaries are becoming apparent as the smoke from the previous battle clears: the regime-controlled area, guaranteed by Russia; the area east of the Euphrates River controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are primarily composed of Kurdish fighters protected by the United States and Western air power; and finally the area controlled by the Turks and their Sunni Islamist allies in Idlib province. The regime area consists of about 60 percent of the territory of the country, the SDF has around 30 percent, and the Turkish-Sunni Islamist area is around 10 percent. Each of these areas is now hosting a civil war of its own, supported by neighboring enclaves.

21 March 2019

Ankara Calculates the Risks of an Offensive in Northeastern Syria

Amid the U.S. drawdown of forces from Syria, Turkey is gearing up for further incursions in the country to reduce the power of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Residual U.S. and allied forces will remain, however, raising the risk of a miscalculation or confrontation as Turkish forces push into the area. Despite improved ties with Russia, Ankara will also have to contend with Moscow's opposition to Turkey's full ambitions in the country. 

With the United States on the cusp of a significant withdrawal from northern Syria and Turkey continuing to court better relations with Russia, Ankara is gearing up to cross its southern border to pursue its cherished goal of taking on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). But even as Turkey might soon enjoy clear sailing into northeastern Syria to seek to drive the SDF away from key positions, particularly around the Euphrates, pitfalls remain. From remaining U.S. forces to possible Russian resistance, Ankara's likely offensive into the area could even drag it into a dangerous conflict with the numerous other countries involved in Syria.

19 March 2019

Withdrawing From Syria Leaves a Vacuum That Iran Will Fill

By Colin P. Clarke and Ariane M. Tabatabai

One of President Trump’s final foreign policy decisions of 2018 was also among his most controversial: the withdrawal of the remaining 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. The order was an astonishing reversal of U.S. policy, and it raised concerns among Washington national security professionals that the Kurds—who have served as U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS—will suffer losses while the Assad regime, Russia, and Turkey gain. This weekend, the president’s national security advisor, John Bolton, seemingly reversed course again, announcing that U.S. forces would remain in Syria until ISIS was defeated and the Turks provided guarantees that they wouldn’t strike the Kurds.

The actor who perhaps benefits above all others from the administration’s back and forth on Syria is Iran. An American withdrawal would provide the Iranians with the operational space to expand their growing network of Shiite foreign fighters, who can be mobilized and moved throughout the Middle East. The recent announcements send Tehran the message that Washington will no longer be an obstacle in the way of these designs. Indeed, according to Bolton, the administration’s preconditions for withdrawal have to do with the Kurds and ISIS: the national security advisor made no mention of the presence or expansion of Shiite militias trained and equipped by Iran.

14 March 2019

Alliances Shift as the Syrian War Winds Down

By George Friedman

The countries that aligned to help protect Assad may be reconsidering their allegiances.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel and Russia had agreed to cooperate on withdrawing foreign forces from Syria. If confirmed, it would mean that Russia has agreed to force the Iranians out of Syria, a significant development for both Israel and the Syrian war itself. It’s even more critical given that another round of talks between Turkey, Iran and Russia to find a settlement to the war is looming.

Russia has yet to confirm or deny Netanyahu’s comments, but it seems unlikely the Israelis would put Russia on the spot this way if they weren’t true. Israel wants Iran out of Syria, but it also wants accommodation with Russia. And the two countries have already shown some degree of cooperation in their Syrian operations. Israel has likely provided Russia with advance notice of its airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria, and so far, Russia has not blocked or, as far as we can tell, notified the Iranians about the strikes. In addition, Turkey, one of three countries negotiating an end to the conflict, appears relatively calm on the subject. Around the time Netanyahu made the announcement, Turkey’s pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper published an article dispassionately analyzing Russia’s relationship with both Israel and Iran in Syria. It seems clear Russia has indeed agreed to push foreign forces out of the country.

9 March 2019

Iran's Syria Strategy: The Evolution of Deterrence

Hassan Ahmadian, Payam Mohseni 

Syria today stands at the crossroads of regional and international geopolitical currents. The Arab uprisings of 2010–11 and the ensuing instability that shook the Syrian regime have created a strategic battleground for regional dominance and Great Power contestation.1 In the seventh year of the war, the conflict shows no sign of drawing to an end, but instead has entered a new stage. This phase is seeing a shift away from proxy war and an increasing risk of direct interstate clashes, with a real possibility of confrontations involving Israel, Iran, Turkey, Russia and the United States.

The partnership between Syria and Iran stretches back over four decades, and the bond between these two very different states raises an important research question for the field. What is propelling this enduring alliance in a region known for its dizzying array of constantly shifting partnerships? Many initially believed the alliance would be short-lived, tied as it had been to exigencies facing Iran and Syria during the Iran–Iraq War,2 or that it would not be strategically significant or durable owing to ‘underlying incompatibilities in their respective interests and aspirations and in the political ideologies underpinning the structure of their respective governments and societies’.3 These ideological differences—between Syria as a secular pan-Arabist state and Iran as a theocratic pan-Islamist power— were considered too fundamental to allow for any genuine long-term partnership even over shared geopolitical interests.

8 March 2019

A French Officer Speaks the Truth about the War in Syria


America’s military leaders do not like to rock the boat. Whether testifying before Congress or writing in professional journals, our modern major generals, and the colonels and majors who dream of wearing stars on their collars one day, have been largely unwilling to criticize either the strategy or the tactics of our failed post-9/11 wars. Though there have been honorable exceptions, our combat leaders mostly keep their opinions to themselves, even in retirement. So we owe thanks to our oldest ally for boasting an officer with the moral courage to put himself in the line of fire back at home.

Col. Francois-Regis Legrier, who leads the French artillery supporting Kurdish forces in Syria, recently excoriated the anti-ISIS coalition for its risk aversion and the resulting destruction of civilian areas. “Yes, the Battle of Hajin was won, at least on the ground, but by refusing ground engagement, we unnecessarily prolonged the conflict and thus contributed to increasing the number of casualties in the population,” Colonel Legrier wrote in France’s National Defense Review.

3 March 2019

Quibbling Over the Number of U.S. Forces in Syria Misses the Point

by Robert Moore 

The magic 8-ball that is the Trump Administration’s foreign policy sent Washington and world leaders on another whipsaw last week, this time announcing the U.S. would leave 200 troops in Syria. Not even two months ago, President Trump announced the military mission to liberate ISIS-held territory was (nearly) complete and that it was time to bring American forces home.

Some national leaders applauded the decision and others disagreed; while most Americans likely shrugged their shoulders knowing that whatever they thought, there was little that could be done about it. That’s because quibbling over 200; 2,000; or 20,000 troops in Syria misses the more important point: Congress has never authorized a U.S. military presence in Syria, and an overall justification that reflects American national security priorities has never been established more than half a decade since we became involved in the civil war.

24 February 2019

How Israel's Elections Will Shape Its Regional Strategy

Israel's April 9 general elections could potentially end the Benjamin Netanyahu era, ushering in new dynamics for the U.S.-Israeli relationship, the Israel-Gulf rapprochement and Israel's relationship with the Palestinians. But whoever leads the next Israeli government will still face rising tensions in Gaza, the West Bank and Syria that threaten to escalate into large-scale violence or even conflict between Israel and Iran. The next Israeli government will also have to contend with a less-friendly United States due to rising bipartisan concerns about Chinese-Israeli ties, as well as increasing skepticism of Israeli strategies among some Democrats in Congress.

Editor's Note: This assessment is part of a series of analyses supporting Stratfor's upcoming 2019 Second-Quarter Forecast. These assessments are designed to provide more context and in-depth analysis on key developments over the next quarter.

Northern Syria administration says U.S. troop decision will protect area

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Kurdish-led administration that runs much of northern Syria welcomed a U.S. decision to keep 200 American troops in the country after a pullout, saying it would protect their region and may encourage European states to keep forces there too.

“We evaluate the White House decision ... positively,” Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of foreign relations in the region held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, told Reuters.

The White House announced the plans on Thursday to keep “a small peacekeeping force” in Syria, partly reversing a decision by President Donald Trump in December to pull out the entire 2,000-strong force.

Trump’s abrupt announcement of the pullout had been opposed by senior aides including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who quit in response, and stunned allies including the Kurdish-led SDF, which fought against Islamic State with U.S. backing for years.

“This decision may encourage other European states, particularly our partners in the international coalition against terrorism, to keep forces in the region,” Omar added.

23 February 2019

Syrian Experience Provides New Impetus for Russia’s UAV Strategy (Part Two)

By: Sergey Sukhankin

A popular saying among Russian military historians is that “the AK-47 is a weapon of the proletariat” due to this automatic assault rifle’s extreme popularity with insurgent forces in regional conflicts around the world throughout most of the Cold War and beyond. Yet, the Syrian civil war has arguably seen the AK-47 be superseded by the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as the latest indispensable tool of asymmetric warfare (, January 16, 2018; see EDM, January 16, 17, 2018). In light of this reality, Russian has been cultivating its ability to utilize UAVs over the battlefield as well as working to develop its first unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) (see Part One, February 13, 2019). At the same time, Moscow seems to be experimenting with employing UAVs to bolster the Russian Armed Forces’ Network Centric Warfare (NCW) capabilities in addition to being able to use drones to disrupt the enemy’s NCW systems. Moreover, Russia is seeking to develop effective anti-UAVs capabilities as quickly as possible. Reportedly, it is practicing these skills mainly in the Southern Military District (SMD) and partner countries along Russia’s southern perimeter—apparently due to this area’s climactic and geographic similarities to Syria (see below).

22 February 2019

Syria’s Assad Is Coming In From the Cold

Iyad Dakka 

As the Syrian civil war grinds to an end, the government in Damascus, propped up by Iran and Russia, is regaining its footing, with important implications for the balance of power in the Middle East. Syria’s neighbors and powers outside the region are now attempting to determine the appropriate level of engagement, if any, to have with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. While Assad’s main foreign patrons will no doubt continue to deepen their military, political and economic ties, it is countries that stood against him over the past seven years that now have the most difficult decisions to make. If recent trends are any indication, it seems many of them are increasingly leaning toward at least some sort of engagement. The question is how to do this in a face-saving manner that doesn’t weaken their diplomatic and political standing, particularly after President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw the 2,000 American troops in Syria. 

21 February 2019

Planning for Failure: The US Withdrawal From Syria – Analysis

By Aaron Stein*

(FPRI) — Last week, the Wall Street Journal and Reuters reported that the United States military will begin to withdraw troops from northeastern Syria with the end of April as a “soft date” to finish the removal of most (if not all) of the 2,000 troops stationed there. In parallel, Ambassador James Jeffrey, the Special Representative for Syria, is engaged in negotiations with Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Syrian Kurdish-led partner force that has borne the brunt of the U.S.-led ground war against the Islamic State, to try to manage the U.S withdrawal. After President Donald Trump announced in mid-December that the Islamic State had been defeated, the United States military has sought to catch-up with the president’s rhetoric and finish the fight against the small and sparsely populated Islamic State territory in a small sliver of eastern Syria.