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

1 April 2020

Syria’s Kurds Brace For Coronavirus Amidst Tensions With Turkey

by Matthew Petti 
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Turkish-backed rebels reopened a pumping station in Northeast Syria on Thursday, restoring clean water to hundreds of thousands of Syrians in a region unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic.

Northeast Syria has been split between Turkish-backed and Kurdish-led forces since a Turkish invasion in October. A combination of Russian, Turkish, and U.S. forces is now keeping the peace. But the fractured region may be unprepared for the type of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak that has ravaged the rest of the world.

Turkish-backed forces had shut down the Allouk water pump on Sunday, cutting off four hundred thousand people in Kurdish-held areas from access to clean water. The four-day shutdown was a preview of the cascading crisis that a combination of coronavirus and civil war could bring to the region.

“The interruption of water supply during the current efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus disease puts children and families at unacceptable risk,” warned Fran Equiza, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative for Syria, on Monday. “Handwashing with soap is critical in the fight against COVID-19.”

23 March 2020

After Nine Years, Syria’s Conflict Has Only Become More Complicated

Mona Yacoubian

The engagement of external actors has protracted the conflict and Syrians civilians continue to bear the brunt.

In March 2011, as the Arab world was roiled by demonstrations, protests broke out in Syria to demand political reform after four decades of Assad rule. Nine years later, the Assad regime is on the offensive against the last rebel stronghold of Idlib, with Russia, Turkey and Iran all heavily invested in the conflict. The humanitarian consequences for Syrians cannot be overstated and a political solution to conflict seems as distant as ever. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian discusses the dreadful toll on the Syrian population and what the battle for Idlib means for the trajectory of the conflict.

Nine years since the Syrian uprisings first began, what has the toll been on the country and its population?

This week marks the ninth anniversary of the war in Syria, which has evolved from peaceful protests in 2011 as part of the "Arab Spring" to a multi-level conflict involving both regional and major power players. It is the most complex conflict to have emerged from the Arab uprisings. (For a timeline of events since the Syrian uprising began, see below.) Today, no fewer than six interlocking conflicts are being waged inside Syria:

18 March 2020

After Nine Years, Syria’s Conflict Has Only Become More Complicated

Mona Yacoubian

The engagement of external actors has protracted the conflict and Syrians civilians continue to bear the brunt.

In March 2011, as the Arab world was roiled by demonstrations, protests broke out in Syria to demand political reform after four decades of Assad rule. Nine years later, the Assad regime is on the offensive against the last rebel stronghold of Idlib, with Russia, Turkey and Iran all heavily invested in the conflict. The humanitarian consequences for Syrians cannot be overstated and a political solution to conflict seems as distant as ever. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian discusses the dreadful toll on the Syrian population and what the battle for Idlib means for the trajectory of the conflict.

Nine years since the Syrian uprisings first began, what has the toll been on the country and its population?

This week marks the ninth anniversary of the war in Syria, which has evolved from peaceful protests in 2011 as part of the "Arab Spring" to a multi-level conflict involving both regional and major power players. It is the most complex conflict to have emerged from the Arab uprisings. (For a timeline of events since the Syrian uprising began, see below.) Today, no fewer than six interlocking conflicts are being waged inside Syria:

The Syrian Civil War's Never-Ending Endgame


The Syrian civil war that has decimated the country for nine 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 the past few weeks, 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 escalate into a regional conflagration. 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.

16 March 2020

The Use of Mercenaries: A New Recourse to an Old Practice for Waging War in the Middle East

Yoel Guzansky, Daniel Rakov, Gallia Lindenstrauss
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A phenomenon that has intensified over the past decade in the Middle East is the use of mercenaries to project power and to realize interests. It seems that the Gulf states, Turkey, and Russia are leaders in this trend, using numerous mercenaries for combat missions beyond their borders. Mercenaries give those who deploy them a tool for managing warfare beyond their own borders, and another means of power projection while reducing their official losses. Israel, which is currently engaged in the struggle against Iranian entrenchment in Syria, has so far no direct military contact with mercenaries. However, the recourse to mercenary forces figures increasingly in its strategic environment, demonstrated both by its rivals and by its partners. It is therefore important to consider the challenges and opportunities posed by this tool.

Upheavals in the Middle East have created significant areas wracked by violence, involving regional and global players struggling to reshape the region according to their interests. A trend that has intensified over the past decade is the use of mercenaries to project power in the region. The Gulf states, Turkey, and Russia are leaders in this trend, using numerous mercenaries for combat missions beyond their borders. In this they differ from the United States, European countries, and China, who use mercenaries for support tasks, and from Iran, the regional leader in the use of proxies from the Shiite population. However, the rationale underlying the use of proxies and mercenaries is the same: limit military and political costs, reduce the number of casualties for the intervening country, and reduce the potential for escalation. Today, considerable numbers of mercenaries, who unlike proxies are driven by their financial interests, are employed in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. Thus, it is important to assess the factors that accelerate this trend and to examine the impact on the regional picture and the potential impact on Israeli considerations.

The Gulf States 

14 March 2020

Syria Is Turkey’s Problem, Not America’s

BY STEVEN A. COOK
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Last week, Turkey went to war with Russia—sort of. Ankara’s present military operations are in response to a Feb. 27 attack in Syria that killed 36 Turkish soldiers and wounded another 30. (Turkish authorities in Hatay province, which is closest to the area where the attack occurred, initially blamed Russia, but in Ankara officials placed responsibility with Syrian regime forces.) Since then, the Turks have deployed the firepower of an advanced NATO military machine against Syrian targets, while the Russians have been forced to stand aside. Both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have said they want to de-escalate, which is precisely what they did in Moscow on Thursday when they agreed to a cease-fire.

With all the talk in Washington these days about “great-power competition,” events in Syria have taken place without much in the way of U.S. involvement. And, guess what? The sun rose over the Potomac River in Washington anyway. Throughout the post-World War II era, American officials and commentators have created the expectation—mostly among themselves—that the United States was a necessary presence in places near and far, because everything was important to the strategic interests of a global power. Yet this new Turkish phase of the conflict in Syria is just the latest example that undermines this idea. At least in the Syrian case, Turkey seems to be doing just fine on its own.

13 March 2020

Erdogan’s Failed Gamble In Syria – OpEd

By Conn Hallinan*
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest gamble in Syria’s civil war appears to have come up snake eyes.

Instead of halting the Damascus government’s siege of the last rebel held province, Idlib, Turkey has backed off, and Erdogan’s newest Syrian misadventure is fueling growing domestic resistance to the powerful autocrat.

The crisis began on February 25, when anti-government rebels, openly backed by Turkish troops, artillery, and armor, attacked the Syrian army at the strategic town of Saraqeb, the junction of Highways 4 and 5 linking Aleppo to Damascus and the Mediterranean. The same day, Russian warplanes in southern Idlib were fired upon by MANPADS (man portable air-defense systems), anti-aircraft weapons from Turkish military outposts. The Russian air base at Khmeimim was also attacked by MANPADS and armed Turkish drones.

What happened next is still murky. According to Ankara, a column of Turkish troops on its way to bring supplies to Turkish observer outposts in Idlib were attacked by Syrian war planes and artillery, killing some 34 soldiers and wounding more than 70. Some sources report much higher causalities.

11 March 2020

Syria’s Civil War: The Descent Into Horror

By Zachary Laub
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In the nine 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 pulled back its 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.

Syria likely faces years of instability to come. Assad has never been willing to negotiate his way out of power, but his continued rule is unacceptable to millions of Syrians, particularly given the barbarity civilians have faced. Meanwhile, the foreign forces on which he relies will continue to wield power. Fighting in the northern part of the country entered a new chaotic phase in late 2019, leading to the war’s highest civilian displacement yet as multiple international forces jockeyed for power and the Islamic State mounted a comeback.

9 March 2020

Pompeo’s Turkish Gambit Fails in Syria

by Matthew Petti 
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Russia and Turkey announced a ceasefire agreement for Syria on Thursday afternoon that directly rebukes U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s demands earlier in the day—dashing U.S. hopes that Turkey could help roll back Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s control of the country.

Pompeo told reporters on Thursday morning that it was a U.S. “requirement” for Assad to return to 2018 ceasefire lines in northwest Syria after weeks of fighting between Turkish and pro-Assad forces. Only a few hours later, Turkey agreed to a Russian-brokered ceasefire along the existing front lines in northwest Syria, which cements Assad’s post-2018 military gains.

The agreement ended Pompeo’s latest attempt to forge a U.S.-Turkish alliance against Assad, who is backed by Iran and Russia.

The Trump administration has sought to expel all Iranian forces from Syria since former National Security Advisor John Bolton declared it a U.S. policy goal in September 2018. In recent months, the State Department has stepped up its attempts to force Iran out by bringing down Assad through both diplomatic and military pressure.

8 March 2020

An Isolated Erdogan Learns the Cost of Hubris in Idlib

Frida Ghitis 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Russia on Thursday, seeking to persuade President Vladimir Putin to help stem disaster in Syria’s Idlib province. Turkish forces are locked in fierce combat there with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army in what has become the last bastion of the armed rebels fighting the regime.

Before the trip, Erdogan made two other related moves to strengthen his hand. First, he pleaded with NATO to come to his aid. Then, to increase his leverage with his European allies, he opened Turkey’s borders for Syrian refugees to cross into Greece, raising the specter of another mass refugee crisis like the one that roiled Europe in 2015. That previous wave of refugees and asylum-seekers boosted far-right parties across the continent, with consequences that are still visible today

7 March 2020

Europe and NATO’s Shame Over Syria and Turkey

JUDY DEMPSEY

In October 2019, the German defense minister suggested the creation of an internationally controlled security zone along the Turkey-Syria border, which could be led by NATO. It would have provided some kind of safe haven. It would have also addressed some of Turkey’s security concerns.

Nothing came of her proposals, which were politely listened to by NATO and the EU and then discarded. Both organizations are now paying a heavy moral and political price for the devastation and suffering taking place in Syria.

They will pay a very high price for Russia’s military and political role—as well as Iran’s—in this part of the Middle East. They will pay a heavy price over the way Turkey has consistently blackmailed NATO and the EU. The war in Syria has left both organizations morally high and dry.

The moral consequences for NATO and the EU are clear. NATO is supposed to be a military and political organization made up of democratic countries that uphold certain values. As a civilian organization, the EU boasts about values too and defends its democratic principles based on solidarity, the rule of law, and international obligations.

6 March 2020

Time to Recommit to Syria

By Jennifer Cafarella 

Syria is now nine years into a civil war that frequently promises, but never manages, to wind down. President Bashar al-Assad has retaken much of the country, but broad swaths remain combat zones. Just this month, Assad’s forces, with Russia’s backing, advanced in Idlib Province, the opposition stronghold in northwestern Syria, after a nearly ten-month-long offensive. Since December 1, 2019, more than 800,000 Syrians have fled their homes. 

Assad may have gained territory, but his regime remains deeply fragile, and the regions under its control are unstable and growing more so. This war is not one that Assad can decisively win, even with help from Iran and Russia.

The United States must recognize that the conflict in Syria is unlikely to end in the near future. The prospect of more war is devastating, but it means that Syria’s fate is far from decided. Leveraging American diplomatic, economic, and military capabilities, which dwarf those of every other actor in Syria, could change the trajectory of the conflict, help contain the humanitarian crisis, and lay important groundwork for an eventual political transition. With so much still at stake, even limited U.S. involvement could make a difference.

THE REGIME’S HIGH-WATER MARK

5 March 2020

Turkey Has a Drone Air Force. And It Just Went to War in Syria.

by David Axe 

Turkish medium-altitude drones, which are similar to the U.S. Air Force’s own Reaper drones, struck Syrian forces in and around the city of Idlib, killing 19 people, according to the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Turkey on March 1, 2020 also shot down two Syrian warplanes. Ankara claimed that, in weeks of fighting, it has killed 2,200 Syrian troops and destroyed 103 tanks and eight helicopters.

The Syrian government, in turn, claimed it shot down three Turkish drones.

Nineteen years after a U.S. Air Force Predator fired a missile in combat for the first time, more and more countries have armed drones of their own -- and are less and less shy about deploying them in combat.

The March 2020 drone strikes were part of Turkey’s escalating military campaign in Syria. The campaign, which includes air strikes and attacks by ground forces, aims to create a buffer between Syria and Turkey.

The Turkish military’s drones represent an “asymmetric” force in Syria. Damascus’s forces lack the technology reliably to defeat attacks by unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

“Only sophisticated [electronic-warfare] capabilities that are matched with robust radar-warning and air-defenses can potentially tackle this threat,” drone expert Samuel Bendett told The National Interest. Bendett is a member of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses' International Affairs Group. 

26 February 2020

The U.S. Should Get Ready for Syria’s Return from War


Trump seems determined not to play much of a role in shaping how Syria’s myriad conflicts are resolved. That’s a mistake.

Among the most-hackneyed corporate retreat exercises is the “trust fall,” in which a volunteer falls backwards into the arms of colleagues. The “trust” part comes from confidence that support will suddenly materialize, and among colleagues it always does.

Syria is on the brink of a trust fall, but support is nowhere in sight. Even though the Syria crisis is not of the United States’ making and the Trump administration is hostile to open-ended engagements in the Middle East, it’s still in the U.S. interest to save Syria from further catastrophe.

12 February 2020

All the King’s Men: Authoritarianism, Loyalty and the Syrian Collapse

Brandon C. Patrick

While the true social and economic origins of the Syrian civil war stretch back decades, the longstanding culture of government corruption and purchased loyalties hastened the final spiral toward war. Like in pre-war Iraq under Saddam Hussein, loyalty and favor had been traded like currency among the upper echelons of Syrian society since the early days of Hafez al-Assad’s rule.[i] Positions of sensitivity, high responsibility and public trust in the Syrian government (and other authoritarian systems of its kind) are often doled out to co-religionists, friends and family members on the basis of (and in exchange for) personal loyalty.[ii] This is the “loyalty exchange,” where personal allegiance is purchased away from the state by the authoritarian. What results are rickety and mismanaged government institutions run not by experts or “career officers” in their respective fields, but by dilettantes focused more on leveraging their newfound prominence into personal gain.[iii] The same can be true in the military sphere[iv] where promotions are often awarded based on personal association with the authoritarian, rather than merit or skill.[v] In this way “loyalty exchange” which stems from Assad’s authoritarianism actually weakens both the authoritarian and the state rather than truly strengthening them. 

The Syrian government grappled with the consequences of such nepotism in the opening stages of the civil war. In early 2011, discontented officers from units throughout the Syrian military, citing various motivations behind their decisions, began to defect. Competent and formally-trained battlefield commanders entered the ranks of the fledgling rebellion, from a young relative of former Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass[vi] to Hussein Harmoush, a career officer of the Syrian army and a Colonel in the 11th armored division of Syria’s Third Corps. Frustrated by the dysfunction of a military that now served Assad’s instead of the state,[vii] Col. Harmoush would go on to launch the Syrian Free Officers Movement, a progenitor of the Free Syrian Army.

9 February 2020

Israel's Secret Tactic Against Syrian Air Defenses: Death By Kamikaze Drone

by Sebastien Roblin

Key Point: It appears the air defense batteries were overwhelmed by a saturation attack. The implication, then, is that Syrian air defenses have made Israeli attacks more expensive by requiring expenditure of additional and more expensive munitions, but they remain incapable of halting the Israeli strikes.

On January 21, Iranian, Syrian and Israeli forces unleashed a hail of missiles upon each other in what is becoming yet another flare-up of violence along the Syria-Israel border. Afterwards, the Israeli Defense Force released a video depicting unidentified munitions eliminating two or three short-range air defense systems—apparently including Russia’s latest short-range system, the Pantsir-S2.

In fact, the recent raids may reveal improvements to Syria’s air defense forces due to ongoing Russian training and weapons transfers. However, they also reveal Israel’s continuing ability to defeat, including through likely use of kamikaze-drones.

The Media's Coverage of the Syria April 2018 Chemical Weapons Attack Is a Disgrace

by Ted Galen Carpenter

For most members of the news media, the Syrian civil war that erupted in 2011 has been a stark melodrama between good and evil, much as journalists oversimplified the earlier murky conflicts in the Balkans, Iraq, and Libya. In the standard media narrative, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is an arch-villain, while Syrian insurgents are innocent victims of his atrocities. That narrative also parrots the official position of Washington and its Western allies.

Nowhere is the lack of media skepticism about government propaganda more evident than in the coverage of allegations that Assad’s regime has used chemical weapons against civilians. Worse, media outlets (with few exceptions) have ignored a growing body of counterevidence. Their coverage of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the UN body tasked with investigating allegations that Syrian forces used such weapons in 2013, 2017, and 2018, has been especially credulous and unprofessional. 

7 February 2020

Escalating to Deescalate? Why Turkey Is Targeting Syria’s Army

Aron Lund 

For the first time in Syria’s nine-year war, the Turkish military this week launched direct attacks on the Syrian army. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that he ordered howitzers and F-16 fighter jets to hit President Bashar al-Assad’s forces near the Turkish border in response to the killing of eight Turkish soldiers in Idlib province in northwestern Syria.

“We are determined to continue our operations to ensure the safety of our country, our nation and our brothers in Idlib,” Erdogan warned. Turkey’s defense minister, Gen. Hulusi Akar, later claimed 76 Syrian soldiers were “neutralized” in attacks on more than 50 different targets in the area. The Assad government has not offered its own casualty figure, but the clashes have raised the stakes in a long and brutal battle over Idlib. ..

22 January 2020

Escalation and Deterrence in Syria

By Itai Shapira
Source Link

The chances of military escalation between Israel and Iran have steadily risen in recent months. Israel has struck Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq; Iran has retaliated, and Russia has done little to actively minimize Iranian presence in Syria while trying to limit Israeli freedom of action. The longer these dynamics continue unabated, the more likely a confrontation between Israel (probably backed by the United States), Iran and its proxies, Hezbollah, the Syrian military, and perhaps even Russian forces might seem. In the aftermath of the U.S. killing of Soleimani, Iranian Quds Force Commander – these chances might even increase. This creates the possibility of an unintended escalation – such as the one Israel had already experienced in the past.

However, Iran, Syria and Russia are rational, avoid unnecessary risks, know how to differentiate between vital and ad-hoc interests, and are sensitive to all forms of American and Israeli power tools. They can be deterred from reacting to Israeli and American actions relating to Syria, and perhaps even from using Syria to respond to the killing of Soleimani. However, rolling them back from preserving their mere presence and influence in Syria might prove harder.

16 January 2020

Russia’s Role in Syria is Changing

By Dmitriy Frolovskiy
Source Link

This year could bring challenges for Russia’s role in the Syrian conflict, despite it having been at the forefront of efforts to resolve the crisis in the past. 

With the regime in Syria becoming less likely to undergo a reshuffle and Iran reaping the benefits of its wide-scale involvement, Moscow might face difficulties in promoting its vision of a political settlement, while competition with Tehran could become more evident. 

Threats of a military operation in Idlib, unresolved issues with refugees and expanding confrontation in Libya might introduce new twists to Russia-Turkey relations that would, nonetheless, be unlikely to change the stone-cold pragmatism at their core.

Russia could end up at a crossroads between its actual and declared goals in Syria. 

Although Moscow champions countrywide political settlement, it also places a high premium on its strategic military stronghold in the Latakia region.