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  • Author: Elizabeth Dent
  • Publication Date: 03-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Although the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) number over 60,000 and control nearly one-third of the territory of Syria, they face a number of challenges that threaten to destabilize their fragile control. Perhaps the most immediate is what to do with the influx of ISIS members and their families that have poured out of the Middle Euphrates River Valley, particularly since February 2019. The SDF is now holding thousands of Iraqi and Syrian fighters, as well as over a thousand foreign ones. The ultimate disposition of these fighters is a grave challenge. One has only to look at Iraq to see how prison breaks and an incapacity to deal with terrorist detainees can cause an insurgency to spread like wildfire. This paper lays out the problem and explores possible options for what to do, from repatriating the foreign fighters to their country of origin and housing them in Guantanamo Bay to trying them at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and turning them over to the Iraqi government.
  • Topic: International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Syria
  • Author: Murat Yeşiltaş, Omar Özkızılcık
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: SETA Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research
  • Abstract: On December 19, 2018, U.S. officials stated that the Pentagon has an order to move troops out of Syria as quickly as possible, and began to inform partners in northeastern Syria of their plans to begin an immediate pullback of American forces from the region where they have been trying to wrap up the campaign against the Daesh. Shortly after the Washington Journal report, President Trump wrote on Twitter, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” In a statement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed, “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.” She pointed out that “[t]hese victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign.” Additionally, U.S. officials told Reuters that all U.S. State Department personnel are being evacuated from Syria within 24 hours and U.S. troops will pull out of Syria in a time frame of between 60 to 100 days. This development came after Turkey’s military decisiveness to clear its border of the terrorist threat, Turkey’s airstrikes against PKK positions on the Sinjar and Karajak Mountains in Iraq, and the phone call between President Erdogan and Trump. The decision by Trump will be a turning point in the Syrian conflict, but how this development will reshape Turkish-American bilateral..
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Syria
  • Author: Chris Kozak
  • Publication Date: 05-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Russia, Iran, and Turkey agreed at a new set of Astana Talks on May 3 - 4 to establish four large “de-escalation” zones over opposition-held regions of Western Syria. The deal allows for the three countries to deploy forces along the borders of the “de-escalation zones” to monitor a faltering nationwide ceasefire that excludes all opposition forces “associated” with Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria. Activists reported a general decrease in violence except along key frontlines such as Damascus and Northern Hama Province after the deal went into effect on May 6. Russia likely intends to leverage to “de-escalation zones” to subordinate the political process to its objectives, reset its military deployments, and block future unilateral action to implement so-called “zones of stabilization” by the U.S. in Syria. Pro-regime forces will likely also use the relative lull in Western Syria to refocus their military campaign towards Eastern Syria to preempt the U.S. from establishing a long-term foothold in regions formerly held by ISIS in Syria. Conditions on the ground remain unfit for a durable ceasefire or political settlement to end the Syrian Civil War. The U.S. signaled its intent to move forward with an imminent offensive to seize Ar-Raqqa City from ISIS that includes the Syrian Kurdish YPG despite clear objections from Turkey. U.S. President Donald Trump signed an order on May 8 authorizing the U.S. Department of Defense to directly provide weapons, ammunition, and other equipment to the YPG “as necessary” in support of upcoming operations against ISIS in Ar-Raqqa City. Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White stated that the weapons deliveries will be “limited, mission specific, and metered out incrementally” in order to prevent the transfer of weapons to the PKK in Turkey. The U.S. also floated plans to expand an intelligence fusion center based in Ankara targeting the PKK in Turkey. These efforts remain insufficient to address the security concerns of Turkey. The decision will likely fuel a further breakdown in relations between Turkey and the U.S. that could include new cross-border operations by Turkey against the YPG in Northern Syria. This strategic break will form a core area of disagreement during a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Turkish President Recep Erdogan in Washington D.C. on May 16.
  • Topic: Ethnic Conflict, War
  • Political Geography: Syria
  • Author: Genevieve Casagrande
  • Publication Date: 04-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Russia’s campaign against Syrian civilians continued undeterred by the U.S. strike on April 6 in response to the Bashar al-Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in southern Idlib. Local reports indicate Russia regularly used incendiary munitions and bunker buster munitions in Idlib and Aleppo Provinces in order to inflict mass casualties on the population in rebel-held terrain following the U.S. strike. Russian airstrikes also targeted local civilian infrastructure from April 4 - 25, including hospitals, schools, mosques, and civil defense centers across Syria. Russia continually targeted Khan Shaykhoun, the site of the regime’s chemical attack on April 4, throughout the reporting period. Furthermore, activists claimed Russia targeted a hospital and civil defense center treating those wounded in Khan Shaykhoun immediately following the regime’s sarin gas attack. The use of chemical weapons is just one of many means the pro-regime coalition has to punish anti-Assad populations in Syria. Russia remains a principal contributor to President Assad’s purposeful campaign to target Syrian civilians. The Assad regime has a long history of violence against its own people, but the advanced capabilities Russia has brought to theater have allowed the pro-regime coalition to target civilians with even greater precision.
  • Topic: Human Rights, War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Syria
  • Publication Date: 06-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Carter Center
  • Abstract: Over the course of this reporting period, intra-opposition strife continued to harm groups in opposition-held territory, namely in Idleb and northern Aleppo. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Afrin initiated an offensive against opposition groups in northern Syria while advancing into Raqqa city to the east. Pro-government forces also advanced against ISIS in eastern Aleppo/western Raqqa and Homs. The situation around the US garrison at the al-Tanf border crossing continues to grow more complex as pro- government forces outflanked opposition groups advancing against ISIS in the area, reaching the Iraqi border to the north of opposition and US special forces positions.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, International Security
  • Political Geography: Syria, Kurdistan
  • Publication Date: 06-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Carter Center
  • Abstract: Over the course of this reporting period, ISIS continued to lose large portions of territory, particularly to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and pro-government Tiger Forces in northern Syria. New clashes erupted in rural Aleppo, Daraa, and Syria’s southern desert as the Syrian government began new offensives against opposition forces on those fronts. Intra-opposition strife continues to plague groups in the opposition-held Idleb pocket.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, International Security
  • Political Geography: Syria, Kurdistan
  • Publication Date: 05-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Carter Center
  • Abstract: Over the course of this reporting period, ISIS has continued to lose large swathes of territory, especially to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and pro-government forces. Conflict around Daraa city in Syria’s south escalated further this week as new pro-government offensives are slated to start. Intra-opposition strife continued in Aleppo province and in Rural Damascus.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Civil War
  • Political Geography: Syria
  • Publication Date: 05-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Carter Center
  • Abstract: This reporting period, intra-opposition strife continued in Aleppo province but has eased in Rural Damascus. Evacuation deals continued, most notably in Damascus and Homs. Coalition warplanes struck pro-government Iranian-backed militias in the southeastern Syrian desert as the groups advanced against FSA forces in the area. ISIS forces continued to crumble on fronts in Aleppo, Homs, and Raqqa.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Civil War
  • Political Geography: Syria
  • Publication Date: 08-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS)
  • Abstract: Current data on the political and military situation in Syria indicate that the military as- pect remains the dominant factor in the crisis due to the faltering political track at Geneva and Astana. Nonetheless, significant political changes that developed recently cannot be underestimated in determining the future of the crisis.
  • Topic: International Relations, International Security, International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Publication Date: 08-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS)
  • Abstract: The so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is making steady progress on the ground in Raqqa, ISIS’ main stronghold in Syria. The alliance of militias recently announced that they retook 70% of the city from the terrorist group following a successful plan to divide the city into an eastern and western zone and storm the city from both sides. The SDF militants advancing from the eastern and western parts of the city linked up for the first time on August 11 prevent- ing ISIS from reaching the Euphrates River and keeping its fighters with civilians who remain besieged by both groups.
  • Topic: Democratization, International Security, International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria