Syria Update 20160103 – The conflict in Syria goes on. The host of combatants (internationals, proxy forces, militias, jihadists, terrorists) in the country is beyond comprehension at times. The multitude of international players involved – whether directly through combat or indirectly through provision of funds and foreign fighters – and their relationship with others is complex. Below is a selection of recent news articles, reports, analysis, commentary, and papers on the conflict in Syria.
President Obama on Libya (Mar 28, 2011 press conference):
“To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and – more profoundly – our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”
President Obama on Syria (Dec 16, 2016 press conference):
“So with respect to Syria what I have consistently done is taken the best course that I can try to end the civil war while having also to take into account the long-term national security interests of the United States.”
Iran’s Intentions. One opinion piece states that “Iran intends to incorporate the brutalized Arab land into its version of a caliphate.” Read Clifford D. May’s thoughts in “The sorrow and the pity in Syria”, The Washington Times, December 20, 2016.
Obama’s Syrian Legacy. Stephen F. Hayes is less than flattering of President Obama’s performance on the Syrian conflict. Read “Obama’s Syria Legacy Is a Betrayal of ‘Who We Are'”, The Weekly Standard, December 26, 2016.
Eastern Aleppo Falls. The rebel occupied enclave of Aleppo is no more. The fighters and many of the civilian population have fled to a neighboring province to the west – Idlib. Read more in “The Fall of Aleppo . . . And What Happens Next“, by Rachel Ansley, Atlantic Council, December 14, 2016.
SDF’s Advance on Raqqa. On December 10, 2016 the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the start of the next phase of their operation against the Islamic State. The SDF is made up of local Arabs (and some allies) and began operations to isolate Raqqa in late November. The Kurds are in play for the taking of Raqqa but there is a lot of consternation on the part of the Turks – who fear an expansion of Kurdish-held territory in Syria. The Coalition (U.S. and allies) is supporting the SDF with training, advise, and assistance (airstrikes, material, equipment, advisors, and ISR). Not much has been in the news about the advance on Raqqa – probably because not much has happened.
U.S. Fighter for Kurds Explains. An American who fought with the Kurds in Syria for six months provides his perspective in “This American Fought ISIS. Now He’s Trying to Get Washington to Untangle Its Syria Policy”, Mother Jones, December 26, 2016.
ISIS takes Palmyra. In mid-December the Islamic State attacked Palmyra – taking the city from Syrian government forces. Syria’s crack troops (including Russian SOF, Hezbollah, and Iranian proxy forces) were occupied with the siege of Aleppo leaving less than capable units in Palmyra. As the regime forces began to buckle Iranian and Russia forces withdrew from their Palmyra garrisons. It may be some time before the regime musters enough forces to take this city back from the Islamic State.
Syrian Govt’s Next Move? The Syrian regimes next target is not yet known – however, there are lots of cities and regions that deserve its attention to include Palmya, Idlib province, and areas closer to Damascus (capital). It now has the momentum against the rebel forces (with the significant contributions by Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia). However, Syria also has to avoid being over-extended. Its forces are not strong enough to control all areas of Syria. So perhaps the next few months will see some refitting, retraining, and regrouping. Iran, Russia, and Turkey also need to come to terms with their respective national interests as well. Should the focus be on consolidation, going after the remaining rebel groups, hitting ISIS, or taking on the Kurds?
Russia Warns U.S. The United States has been warned that moves to ease restrictions on the delivery of weapons to Syrian rebels (such as surface-to-air shoulder-fired missiles) could have severe consequences. Russia views such an activity as a direct threat to Russian forces operating in Syria. See “Russia Calls US Move to Better Arm Syrian Rebels a ‘Hostile Act'”, Voice of America, December 27, 2016.
Attraction to the Islamic State. What prompts a person to leave his country and join ISIS? Read about one young Turk’s change from college student (astronomy) to Islamic Front fighter in “Descent Into Jihad”, Voice of America, December 22, 2016.
And, of course, There is Trump. Who knows what U.S. Middle East policy will look like in February.
More Foreign Aid, Less Military Adventurism. Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, has wrote an opinion piece about the U.S. meddling in Syria. He says our half-hearted effort was counter-productive, extended the conflict, and caused the death of thousands. Murphy believes spending more aid money on fragile states could alleviate suffering and prevent civil wars. Read more in “Marshal Plans, Not Martial Plans”, The New York Times, January 2, 2017.