Showing posts tagged as "syria"

Showing posts tagged syria

23 Jul
Why Triumphant Jihadis In Iraq Will Help Assad Crush Opposition In Aleppo | Noah Bonsey
Noah Bonsey is Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Syria.
The world’s most feared jihadi group, the Islamic State (ISIS), is parlaying its dramatic gains in Iraq into Syria. Already flush with cash and weapons, ISIS stands to receive another, invaluable windfall in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city prior to the war. Regime forces there are on the verge of encircling opposition militants. Their success in doing so would benefit ISIS as much as it would Bashar al-Assad, throttling the more moderate rebel enemy both share.
ISIS’s recent victory in eastern Deir al-Zour province — where it defeated a rebel alliance including jihadi rival Jabhat al-Nusra, and where it now controls all major oil fields and most population centers — enables the group to turn its attention elsewhere. Having gained resources and freed up manpower, ISIS can move to retake ground lost to rebel factions in and around Aleppo in early 2014.
Rebels there, weakened by that battle and the regime’s simultaneous campaign that exploited it, lack the organization and resources to halt the regime’s progress in severing rebel supply lines. Should ISIS escalate against rebels in the northern countryside, as the regime attempts to besiege their allies inside the city, it could potentially deal a terminal blow to the rebellion in Aleppo. ISIS would likely regain valuable territory along the Turkish border, positioning itself to attack the pragmatic rebel factions that dominate Aleppo’s western countryside and much of Idlib province.
Aleppo is the Prize
Given Aleppo’s importance in the war with the regime, the defeat of anti-ISIS rebels there would shatter the backbone of the mainstream armed opposition. In seeking the destruction of the mainstream opposition, as in so much else over the past year, regime and ISIS interests coincide.
For the former, it would render the possibility of an effective Western-rebel partnership even more remote, leaving the regime as the lone apparent alternative to ISIS rule. For the latter, it would create a vacuum in the anti-regime struggle that ISIS would seek to fill, hoping to eventually redeem its reputation among anti-Assad Syrians by emerging as their defender of last resort.
ISIS recently authored this very playbook in Iraq. There, in 2007, as in Syria in 2013, ISIS’s authoritarianism within opposition strongholds alienated civilians and turned rebel allies into foes. This fueled a backlash that eventually, with American help, drove the jihadis to the verge of defeat. Yet, in Iraq, ISIS — known then as the Islamic State of Iraq — laid the groundwork for its reemergence through lethal campaigns targeting the Sunnis who had turned against it.
It was helped by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose desire to monopolize power proved devastating to the cohesiveness, influence and credibility of any alternative Sunni leadership. The result, ultimately, is the current scene in Iraq: many who once fought ISIS now cheer it, or assist it by default, in their struggle against Shia-dominated forces that are viewed as corrupt occupiers by much of the Sunni population.
Turning from Iraq to Syria
The potential for ISIS to engineer a similar resurgence in Syria is real. Should it succeed, ISIS would be well-positioned to present itself to Sunnis in the region at large as the only remaining force with the strength to oppose reviled regimes in Baghdad and Damascus.
The American role in supporting rebels may be the key variable here. Recent, modest shifts in the U.S. approach have helped improve coordination among the opposition’s main regional backers (Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey), resulting in a drop in support to leading Islamist factions. But efforts to increase assistance to more moderate rebels remain hamstrung by familiar problems: the limited capacity and geographic scope of groups meeting Washington’s criteria; the parsimonious support delivered to rebels on key fronts, including Aleppo; and the regime’s freedom to bomb indiscriminately from the sky.
Although the current U.S. approach seems to aim solely at keeping rebel forces alive, it is on the verge of failing to do so. The U.S. has consistently avoided tough decisions in Syria, preferring supposedly lower-risk options that in practice contribute to the jihadi ascent. It did the same in Iraq during the past several years. If the outcome there is any indication, the need for a coherent American policy in Syria today is truly urgent.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE (Huffington Post)
Photo: james_gordon_losangeles/flickr

Why Triumphant Jihadis In Iraq Will Help Assad Crush Opposition In Aleppo | Noah Bonsey

Noah Bonsey is Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Syria.

The world’s most feared jihadi group, the Islamic State (ISIS), is parlaying its dramatic gains in Iraq into Syria. Already flush with cash and weapons, ISIS stands to receive another, invaluable windfall in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city prior to the war. Regime forces there are on the verge of encircling opposition militants. Their success in doing so would benefit ISIS as much as it would Bashar al-Assad, throttling the more moderate rebel enemy both share.

ISIS’s recent victory in eastern Deir al-Zour province — where it defeated a rebel alliance including jihadi rival Jabhat al-Nusra, and where it now controls all major oil fields and most population centers — enables the group to turn its attention elsewhere. Having gained resources and freed up manpower, ISIS can move to retake ground lost to rebel factions in and around Aleppo in early 2014.

Rebels there, weakened by that battle and the regime’s simultaneous campaign that exploited it, lack the organization and resources to halt the regime’s progress in severing rebel supply lines. Should ISIS escalate against rebels in the northern countryside, as the regime attempts to besiege their allies inside the city, it could potentially deal a terminal blow to the rebellion in Aleppo. ISIS would likely regain valuable territory along the Turkish border, positioning itself to attack the pragmatic rebel factions that dominate Aleppo’s western countryside and much of Idlib province.

Aleppo is the Prize

Given Aleppo’s importance in the war with the regime, the defeat of anti-ISIS rebels there would shatter the backbone of the mainstream armed opposition. In seeking the destruction of the mainstream opposition, as in so much else over the past year, regime and ISIS interests coincide.

For the former, it would render the possibility of an effective Western-rebel partnership even more remote, leaving the regime as the lone apparent alternative to ISIS rule. For the latter, it would create a vacuum in the anti-regime struggle that ISIS would seek to fill, hoping to eventually redeem its reputation among anti-Assad Syrians by emerging as their defender of last resort.

ISIS recently authored this very playbook in Iraq. There, in 2007, as in Syria in 2013, ISIS’s authoritarianism within opposition strongholds alienated civilians and turned rebel allies into foes. This fueled a backlash that eventually, with American help, drove the jihadis to the verge of defeat. Yet, in Iraq, ISIS — known then as the Islamic State of Iraq — laid the groundwork for its reemergence through lethal campaigns targeting the Sunnis who had turned against it.

It was helped by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose desire to monopolize power proved devastating to the cohesiveness, influence and credibility of any alternative Sunni leadership. The result, ultimately, is the current scene in Iraq: many who once fought ISIS now cheer it, or assist it by default, in their struggle against Shia-dominated forces that are viewed as corrupt occupiers by much of the Sunni population.

Turning from Iraq to Syria

The potential for ISIS to engineer a similar resurgence in Syria is real. Should it succeed, ISIS would be well-positioned to present itself to Sunnis in the region at large as the only remaining force with the strength to oppose reviled regimes in Baghdad and Damascus.

The American role in supporting rebels may be the key variable here. Recent, modest shifts in the U.S. approach have helped improve coordination among the opposition’s main regional backers (Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey), resulting in a drop in support to leading Islamist factions. But efforts to increase assistance to more moderate rebels remain hamstrung by familiar problems: the limited capacity and geographic scope of groups meeting Washington’s criteria; the parsimonious support delivered to rebels on key fronts, including Aleppo; and the regime’s freedom to bomb indiscriminately from the sky.

Although the current U.S. approach seems to aim solely at keeping rebel forces alive, it is on the verge of failing to do so. The U.S. has consistently avoided tough decisions in Syria, preferring supposedly lower-risk options that in practice contribute to the jihadi ascent. It did the same in Iraq during the past several years. If the outcome there is any indication, the need for a coherent American policy in Syria today is truly urgent.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE (Huffington Post)

Photo: james_gordon_losangeles/flickr

24 Jun
Refugee-hit Turkey’s new Syrian Kurdish Dilemmas | Hugh Pope (@HughPope)
Şenyurt, Turkey: Fleeing from fighting and hunger in north-eastern Syria a year and a half ago, Abdullah’s family found refuge in a crowded refugee camp in Turkey. Nine months later, his three-year-old son Mohammed caught meningitis. Fearing for the health of his other two children, Abdullah rented a room in a mud-brick house here in the small town of Şenyurt, joining the little-seen Kurdish minority among Turkey’s one million Syrian “urban refugees”.
As Mohammed lay immobile, Turkish hospitals tried to treat him. But doctors’ advice was largely unintelligible to Abdullah’s Kurdish- and Arabic-speaking family. Above all, Abdullah felt that the Turkish medicines weren’t good enough. So he returned to the country from which he had escaped, even taking the daily Syrian Airways flight from the northern town of Qamishli to Damascus in search of “stronger” medicine. “At least his eyes are open now”, Abdullah said.
Abdullah’s journeys are just one of many paradoxes on the eastern end of Turkey’s 911km-long border with Syria. Many stem from Turkey’s conflicted and evolving view of ethnic Kurds, who are the majority on both sides of the frontier here in Mardin province. Some in Turkey challenge the legitimacy of the border itself, which, drawn a century ago by imperial Britain and France, cuts a once united town in half along the railway line – Syria’s al-Darbasiya to the south, Turkey’s Şenyurt to the north. Others believe Turkey would be mad to do anything to open up the border and empower the Syrian Kurds who dominate three cantons south of the border. They believe they have a mortal enemy in the main Syrian Kurdish militia, the Democratic Union Party (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat, PYD), the Syrian sister party of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkarane Kurdistan, PKK), which has waged an insurgent war against Ankara for three decades. (For more on the PYD, see Crisis Group’s 8 May report Flight of Icarus: The PYD’s Precarious Rise in Syria.)
Şenyurt represents a compromise between these two positions: little aid ever gets across the Syrian Kurdish sections of the border, but most days Turkish soldiers allow 500-600 Syrians, mostly Kurds, to cross each way between an improvised chicane of sandbags by a railway siding. Just ten metres away flies the flag of the PYD’s first checkpoint. To many Kurds in the region, such normalisation is a glimpse of hope that a peace process sporadically under way since the late 2000s between Turkey and the PKK may be leading to more relaxed policies, not just in Turkey, but also towards the PYD.
FULL ARTICLE (Crisis Group: In Pursuit of Peace)
Photo: CRISIS GROUP/Hugh Pope

Refugee-hit Turkey’s new Syrian Kurdish Dilemmas | Hugh Pope (@HughPope)

Şenyurt, Turkey: Fleeing from fighting and hunger in north-eastern Syria a year and a half ago, Abdullah’s family found refuge in a crowded refugee camp in Turkey. Nine months later, his three-year-old son Mohammed caught meningitis. Fearing for the health of his other two children, Abdullah rented a room in a mud-brick house here in the small town of Şenyurt, joining the little-seen Kurdish minority among Turkey’s one million Syrian “urban refugees”.

As Mohammed lay immobile, Turkish hospitals tried to treat him. But doctors’ advice was largely unintelligible to Abdullah’s Kurdish- and Arabic-speaking family. Above all, Abdullah felt that the Turkish medicines weren’t good enough. So he returned to the country from which he had escaped, even taking the daily Syrian Airways flight from the northern town of Qamishli to Damascus in search of “stronger” medicine. “At least his eyes are open now”, Abdullah said.

Abdullah’s journeys are just one of many paradoxes on the eastern end of Turkey’s 911km-long border with Syria. Many stem from Turkey’s conflicted and evolving view of ethnic Kurds, who are the majority on both sides of the frontier here in Mardin province. Some in Turkey challenge the legitimacy of the border itself, which, drawn a century ago by imperial Britain and France, cuts a once united town in half along the railway line – Syria’s al-Darbasiya to the south, Turkey’s Şenyurt to the north. Others believe Turkey would be mad to do anything to open up the border and empower the Syrian Kurds who dominate three cantons south of the border. They believe they have a mortal enemy in the main Syrian Kurdish militia, the Democratic Union Party (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat, PYD), the Syrian sister party of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkarane Kurdistan, PKK), which has waged an insurgent war against Ankara for three decades. (For more on the PYD, see Crisis Group’s 8 May report Flight of Icarus: The PYD’s Precarious Rise in Syria.)

Şenyurt represents a compromise between these two positions: little aid ever gets across the Syrian Kurdish sections of the border, but most days Turkish soldiers allow 500-600 Syrians, mostly Kurds, to cross each way between an improvised chicane of sandbags by a railway siding. Just ten metres away flies the flag of the PYD’s first checkpoint. To many Kurds in the region, such normalisation is a glimpse of hope that a peace process sporadically under way since the late 2000s between Turkey and the PKK may be leading to more relaxed policies, not just in Turkey, but also towards the PYD.

FULL ARTICLE (Crisis Group: In Pursuit of Peace)

Photo: CRISIS GROUP/Hugh Pope

13 Jun
For ISIS, Iraq’s Spoils Could Tip Balance in Eastern Syria | Karen Leigh
On Wednesday, images surfaced of militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) driving U.S.-made humvees across the Iraqi border, into the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor. If real, the photos prove that the border between Iraq and Syria is now an open road for ISIS fighters hoping to establish a Sunni caliphate in the region. To the leaders of the extremist group, the battles in Iraq and Syria are part of a single, broader fight.
Analysts say the financial and strategic spoils of ISIS’s capture of Mosul and Tikrit could provide a significant, nearly unstoppable boon to its Syrian arm, helping turn the tide in the months-long battle for Deir Ezzor.
"The weapons and money that they’re gaining through the takeover of Mosul and other areas in Iraq can be used not only to consolidate what they’re doing in Iraq, but to send money back into Syria, both to their operation in Deir Ezzor and to push further into the northern part of country, Aleppo and Idlib, where they’d been operating but been pushed back," says Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who studies the Syrian jihad.
FULL ARTICLE (Syria Deeply)
Photo: Jayel Aheram/flickr

For ISIS, Iraq’s Spoils Could Tip Balance in Eastern Syria | Karen Leigh

On Wednesday, images surfaced of militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) driving U.S.-made humvees across the Iraqi border, into the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor. If real, the photos prove that the border between Iraq and Syria is now an open road for ISIS fighters hoping to establish a Sunni caliphate in the region. To the leaders of the extremist group, the battles in Iraq and Syria are part of a single, broader fight.

Analysts say the financial and strategic spoils of ISIS’s capture of Mosul and Tikrit could provide a significant, nearly unstoppable boon to its Syrian arm, helping turn the tide in the months-long battle for Deir Ezzor.

"The weapons and money that they’re gaining through the takeover of Mosul and other areas in Iraq can be used not only to consolidate what they’re doing in Iraq, but to send money back into Syria, both to their operation in Deir Ezzor and to push further into the northern part of country, Aleppo and Idlib, where they’d been operating but been pushed back," says Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who studies the Syrian jihad.

FULL ARTICLE (Syria Deeply)

Photo: Jayel Aheram/flickr

6 Jun
How Hezbollah Is Changing the War in Syria - and Vice Versa | Sahar Atrache
Hezbollah is changing the shape of the war in Syria - but the war is also changing Hezbollah, with potentially far-reaching results.
Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria has achieved significant gains: it has provided the Syrian regime momentum, averting its military defeat; dislodged rebels from areas adjacent to the borders; stopped further outrages against Shiites; and prevented a detrimental recalibration of the regional balance of power.
From Hezbollah’s perspective, its intervention became a strategic necessity as the initial Syrian uprising morphed into a zero-sum regional war. It has come to see the potential loss of its Damascus ally as an existential threat, placing it next in line, and frames the war as being aimed at the so-called “axis of resistance” against Israel, which includes Hezbollah, Iran and the Syrian regime.
Moreover, the flow of foreign jihadis into the armed opposition constituted a genuine, long-term threat to Hezbollah. It declared a preemptive war against what it labels takfiris (Islamists who denounce others as infidels or impious), regardless of the differences and divergences among Syrian armed groups. In May 2013, Hezbollah publicly spearheaded an assault against Syrian rebels in the border town of Qusayr.
In February 2014, Hezbollah sent its troops to the Qalamoun mountains north of Damascus and led the campaign to capture Yabroud, allegedly the transit hub for car bombs smuggled into Lebanon that targeted the party, Iranian assets and predominantly Shiite neighborhoods. The party’s detractors accuse it of deploying fighters across Syria, in particular in Deraa, Aleppo and Idlib, in addition to Damascus and its suburbs.
The result of this, however, has been that Hezbollah (“party of God” in Arabic), once widely respected by Sunnis in Syria and the region for its military struggle against Israel, is now frequently dubbed the “Party of Satan.” However extreme, this labeling reflects the depth of the shift.
Hezbollah is being transformed by the conflict. Over many years, it meticulously built its reputation as an organization of principle. But it is now losing its hard-won soft power and growing more accustomed to relying on hard power to achieve its strategic objectives. The enmity this metamorphosis engenders is, ironically, fuelling the very same threats the party strives to repel. Its involvement ignites the extremism it is combatting as it deepens the regional sectarian rift. It also endangers its own strategic depth as it alienates wide segments of the Syrian population.
Despite the fact that the Syrian regime’s immediate survival is no longer at stake and Lebanese-Syrian borders largely secured, as party leader Hassan Nasrallah has affirmed, Hezbollah is not providing signs that it will withdraw from Syria anytime soon. Some among the movement’s regional and wider international critics might see a silver lining in these developments: Hezbollah is mired in a war of attrition in Syria, fighting a determined and radical enemy, and is distracted from its traditional focus on Israel. But the same vortex is pulling in both Hezbollah and its enemies, with no prospect of escape for either. Nor will the critics relish the spread of the Shiite jihadism that, alongside a growing Sunni jihadism, the Syrian war is nurturing.
This has grim implications for Lebanon, which depends for its well being on an always difficult balancing act among Shiites, Sunnis, Christians and Druze. Lebanon is holding itself together for now, through what is known as “the security plan,” but the respite is likely temporary. Lebanon’s Sunnis are frustrated; Shiites, whose memories of oppression and marginalization are still vivid, are eager not to lose political and social gains they have acquired in the past decades; and other confessional groups are caught in the middle.
The past two years’ escalation - clashes in Tripoli, Saida and Arsal along with unprecedented waves of suicide attacks against Shiites - is only a foretaste of what could ensue if the security agreement breaks down. Lebanon has long lamented its political paralysis, the latest evidence of which is the leadership void as parliamentarians have failed repeatedly to agree on a new president. Yet, as the Syrian conflict deteriorates further, many Lebanese are hoping for just such a standstill - as a best-case scenario.
Sahar Atrache is a Lebanon analyst for the International Crisis Group, whose latest report is "Lebanon’s Hezbollah Turns Eastward to Syria."
This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
Photo: Giorgio Montersino/flickr

How Hezbollah Is Changing the War in Syria - and Vice Versa | Sahar Atrache

Hezbollah is changing the shape of the war in Syria - but the war is also changing Hezbollah, with potentially far-reaching results.

Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria has achieved significant gains: it has provided the Syrian regime momentum, averting its military defeat; dislodged rebels from areas adjacent to the borders; stopped further outrages against Shiites; and prevented a detrimental recalibration of the regional balance of power.

From Hezbollah’s perspective, its intervention became a strategic necessity as the initial Syrian uprising morphed into a zero-sum regional war. It has come to see the potential loss of its Damascus ally as an existential threat, placing it next in line, and frames the war as being aimed at the so-called “axis of resistance” against Israel, which includes Hezbollah, Iran and the Syrian regime.

Moreover, the flow of foreign jihadis into the armed opposition constituted a genuine, long-term threat to Hezbollah. It declared a preemptive war against what it labels takfiris (Islamists who denounce others as infidels or impious), regardless of the differences and divergences among Syrian armed groups. In May 2013, Hezbollah publicly spearheaded an assault against Syrian rebels in the border town of Qusayr.

In February 2014, Hezbollah sent its troops to the Qalamoun mountains north of Damascus and led the campaign to capture Yabroud, allegedly the transit hub for car bombs smuggled into Lebanon that targeted the party, Iranian assets and predominantly Shiite neighborhoods. The party’s detractors accuse it of deploying fighters across Syria, in particular in Deraa, Aleppo and Idlib, in addition to Damascus and its suburbs.

The result of this, however, has been that Hezbollah (“party of God” in Arabic), once widely respected by Sunnis in Syria and the region for its military struggle against Israel, is now frequently dubbed the “Party of Satan.” However extreme, this labeling reflects the depth of the shift.

Hezbollah is being transformed by the conflict. Over many years, it meticulously built its reputation as an organization of principle. But it is now losing its hard-won soft power and growing more accustomed to relying on hard power to achieve its strategic objectives. The enmity this metamorphosis engenders is, ironically, fuelling the very same threats the party strives to repel. Its involvement ignites the extremism it is combatting as it deepens the regional sectarian rift. It also endangers its own strategic depth as it alienates wide segments of the Syrian population.

Despite the fact that the Syrian regime’s immediate survival is no longer at stake and Lebanese-Syrian borders largely secured, as party leader Hassan Nasrallah has affirmed, Hezbollah is not providing signs that it will withdraw from Syria anytime soon. Some among the movement’s regional and wider international critics might see a silver lining in these developments: Hezbollah is mired in a war of attrition in Syria, fighting a determined and radical enemy, and is distracted from its traditional focus on Israel. But the same vortex is pulling in both Hezbollah and its enemies, with no prospect of escape for either. Nor will the critics relish the spread of the Shiite jihadism that, alongside a growing Sunni jihadism, the Syrian war is nurturing.

This has grim implications for Lebanon, which depends for its well being on an always difficult balancing act among Shiites, Sunnis, Christians and Druze. Lebanon is holding itself together for now, through what is known as “the security plan,” but the respite is likely temporary. Lebanon’s Sunnis are frustrated; Shiites, whose memories of oppression and marginalization are still vivid, are eager not to lose political and social gains they have acquired in the past decades; and other confessional groups are caught in the middle.

The past two years’ escalation - clashes in Tripoli, Saida and Arsal along with unprecedented waves of suicide attacks against Shiites - is only a foretaste of what could ensue if the security agreement breaks down. Lebanon has long lamented its political paralysis, the latest evidence of which is the leadership void as parliamentarians have failed repeatedly to agree on a new president. Yet, as the Syrian conflict deteriorates further, many Lebanese are hoping for just such a standstill - as a best-case scenario.

Sahar Atrache is a Lebanon analyst for the International Crisis Group, whose latest report is "Lebanon’s Hezbollah Turns Eastward to Syria."

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Photo: Giorgio Montersino/flickr

ICG: Fighting Syria’s War Is Hurting Hezbollah at Home | Karen Leigh
The Lebanese militant group has backed Assad since the start of the war. But at what price to its own cause?
As Hezbollah continues to support the Syrian regime, fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad, it risks losing its popularity both in Lebanon and among the Syrian population, says the International Crisis Group (ICG) in a new report .
"Hezbollah’s original military objectives in Syria were clear: to save a regime it sees as a vital ally and distance Sunni jihadis from its borders and neighborhoods," the report says.
"Its contributions have been crucial. Its forces reversed the regime’s flagging momentum and enabled it to gain the relative advantage it enjoys today. Its fight against the Syrian opposition, which it has cast in harsh sectarian terms, has shored up its support base. But the long-term costs … could be steep."
Hezbollah has exaggerated, and thereby exacerbated, the sectarianism of the Syrian opposition.
It goes on to posit that Hezbollah’s role in Syria is shifting the group’s identity by creating new problems for Lebanon, its home country, where it holds significant political sway.
Hezbollah’s fight in Syria “has deepened the regional sectarian divide, fueled the very extremism it purports to combat and eroded the movement’s legitimacy among constituencies that previously were supportive,” the report says.
"By framing its fight as a pre-emptive attack on takfiris – those who declare other Muslims to be apostates – Hezbollah has tarred all shades of the opposition, and indeed sometimes all Sunnis, with the same radicalizing brush. It has exaggerated, and thereby exacerbated, the sectarianism of the Syrian opposition as well as its own domestic opponents."
Syria Deeply asked Sahar Atrache, a Beirut-based International Crisis Group analyst and the paper’s main author, to weigh in.
FULL INTERVIEW (Syria Deeply)
Photo: maHidoodi/flickr

ICG: Fighting Syria’s War Is Hurting Hezbollah at Home | Karen Leigh

The Lebanese militant group has backed Assad since the start of the war. But at what price to its own cause?

As Hezbollah continues to support the Syrian regime, fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad, it risks losing its popularity both in Lebanon and among the Syrian population, says the International Crisis Group (ICG) in a new report .

"Hezbollah’s original military objectives in Syria were clear: to save a regime it sees as a vital ally and distance Sunni jihadis from its borders and neighborhoods," the report says.

"Its contributions have been crucial. Its forces reversed the regime’s flagging momentum and enabled it to gain the relative advantage it enjoys today. Its fight against the Syrian opposition, which it has cast in harsh sectarian terms, has shored up its support base. But the long-term costs … could be steep."

Hezbollah has exaggerated, and thereby exacerbated, the sectarianism of the Syrian opposition.

It goes on to posit that Hezbollah’s role in Syria is shifting the group’s identity by creating new problems for Lebanon, its home country, where it holds significant political sway.

Hezbollah’s fight in Syria “has deepened the regional sectarian divide, fueled the very extremism it purports to combat and eroded the movement’s legitimacy among constituencies that previously were supportive,” the report says.

"By framing its fight as a pre-emptive attack on takfiris – those who declare other Muslims to be apostates – Hezbollah has tarred all shades of the opposition, and indeed sometimes all Sunnis, with the same radicalizing brush. It has exaggerated, and thereby exacerbated, the sectarianism of the Syrian opposition as well as its own domestic opponents."

Syria Deeply asked Sahar Atrache, a Beirut-based International Crisis Group analyst and the paper’s main author, to weigh in.

FULL INTERVIEW (Syria Deeply)

Photo: maHidoodi/flickr

5 Jun
"At different levels of Turkish policy-making, including at the top, radical elements from Syria are now very clearly recognized as a main security threat to Turkey."

Didem Collinsworth, “Turkey Blacklists Al Qaeda-Linked Syrian Rebel Group In Sign Of Growing Concern Over Extremists”, Huffington Post

4 Jun
Turkey Blacklists Al Qaeda-Linked Syrian Rebel Group In Sign Of Growing Concern Over Extremists | Sophia Jones
A year and a half after the United States designated the al Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra a terrorist organization, Turkey has followed suit, signaling what experts say is a shift in its approach to the Syrian civil war.
The country’s Official Gazette said in a statement that Turkey will now freeze any assets linked to the group. Turkey, which backs the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad and hosts more than 700,000 Syrian refugees, has been accused of aiding extremist Islamist militants and failing to stop them from crossing the border to join the fight against Assad. The change in policy, experts say, shows that the country wants to put a stop to those claims and is increasingly concerned about the rise of extremists.
“Significant shifts have been underway behind the scenes in recent months within a number of key opposition-supporting states, including Turkey, which have had as their focus the adoption of a dual-track policy of bolstering moderate rebels and isolating extremists,” said Charles Lister, a Syria analyst and visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.
FULL ARTICLE (Huffington Post)
Photo: Asitimes/flickr

Turkey Blacklists Al Qaeda-Linked Syrian Rebel Group In Sign Of Growing Concern Over Extremists | Sophia Jones

A year and a half after the United States designated the al Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra a terrorist organization, Turkey has followed suit, signaling what experts say is a shift in its approach to the Syrian civil war.

The country’s Official Gazette said in a statement that Turkey will now freeze any assets linked to the group. Turkey, which backs the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad and hosts more than 700,000 Syrian refugees, has been accused of aiding extremist Islamist militants and failing to stop them from crossing the border to join the fight against Assad. The change in policy, experts say, shows that the country wants to put a stop to those claims and is increasingly concerned about the rise of extremists.

“Significant shifts have been underway behind the scenes in recent months within a number of key opposition-supporting states, including Turkey, which have had as their focus the adoption of a dual-track policy of bolstering moderate rebels and isolating extremists,” said Charles Lister, a Syria analyst and visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.

FULL ARTICLE (Huffington Post)

Photo: Asitimes/flickr

3 Jun
How Obama Thinks About Counterterrorism | David Rohde
In a foreign-policy address last week, President Obama gave his clearest outline yet of his counterterrorism strategy. Al-Qaeda splinter groups remain the largest threat to the United States, he said, but Washington must respond to it in a new way: by training local security forces, not deploying American ground troops.
“We have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat—one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments,” Obama said. “We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.”
But critics say America’s past efforts to train local security forces have had mixed results. Washington has a poor track record of applying the long-term resources, funding, and attention needed to carry out such efforts successfully. In Libya, training by U.S. Special Forces soldiers was suspended after a local militia stole a cache of American-provided weapons. In Mali, American-trained military officers carried out a coup. And in Afghanistan, the United States failed to mount a major training effort until nine years after the fall of the Taliban.
FULL ARTICLE (The Atlantic)
Photo: cmccain202dc/flickr

How Obama Thinks About Counterterrorism | David Rohde

In a foreign-policy address last week, President Obama gave his clearest outline yet of his counterterrorism strategy. Al-Qaeda splinter groups remain the largest threat to the United States, he said, but Washington must respond to it in a new way: by training local security forces, not deploying American ground troops.

“We have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat—one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments,” Obama said. “We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.”

But critics say America’s past efforts to train local security forces have had mixed results. Washington has a poor track record of applying the long-term resources, funding, and attention needed to carry out such efforts successfully. In Libya, training by U.S. Special Forces soldiers was suspended after a local militia stole a cache of American-provided weapons. In Mali, American-trained military officers carried out a coup. And in Afghanistan, the United States failed to mount a major training effort until nine years after the fall of the Taliban.

FULL ARTICLE (The Atlantic)

Photo: cmccain202dc/flickr

What Syria’s President Seeks From A Not-So-Democratic Election | Deborah Amos
The Turkish border city of Gaziantep becomes more Syrian by the day. New waves of refugees have arrived since January. In the market, Syrian craftsmen hammer out copper pots and plates, as they did back home in Aleppo.
"We left to save our children," says Ali Abu Hassan. "The bombs come every day."
Back in Syria, President Bashar Assad is universally expected to win in Tuesday’s election, a sign to Hassan and his family that they should expect an indefinite stay in Turkey alongside the swelling ranks of refugees. Turkish officials have now floated a proposal for an eight-year residency permit for Syrians, replacing the one-year card.
Last year, Turkey was convinced Assad would go soon. But no one in Turkey is saying that now. All of Syria’s neighbors are adjusting policy to the new timeline.
The Syrian ballot is taking place during a civil war that’s in its fourth year and still raging.
FULL ARTICLE (NPR)
Photo: Beshroffline/flickr

What Syria’s President Seeks From A Not-So-Democratic Election | Deborah Amos

The Turkish border city of Gaziantep becomes more Syrian by the day. New waves of refugees have arrived since January. In the market, Syrian craftsmen hammer out copper pots and plates, as they did back home in Aleppo.

"We left to save our children," says Ali Abu Hassan. "The bombs come every day."

Back in Syria, President Bashar Assad is universally expected to win in Tuesday’s election, a sign to Hassan and his family that they should expect an indefinite stay in Turkey alongside the swelling ranks of refugees. Turkish officials have now floated a proposal for an eight-year residency permit for Syrians, replacing the one-year card.

Last year, Turkey was convinced Assad would go soon. But no one in Turkey is saying that now. All of Syria’s neighbors are adjusting policy to the new timeline.

The Syrian ballot is taking place during a civil war that’s in its fourth year and still raging.

FULL ARTICLE (NPR)

Photo: Beshroffline/flickr

2 Jun
Obama’s counterterrorism doctrine: Let locals lead the fight | David Rohde
In a foreign policy address this week, U.S. President Barack Obama gave his clearest outline yet of his counterterrorism strategy. Al Qaeda splinter groups remain the largest threat to the United States, he said, but Washington must respond to it in a new way: by training local security forces, not deploying American ground troops.
“We have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat - one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments,” Obama said. “We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.”
But critics say America’s past efforts to train local security forces have had mixed results. Washington has a poor track record of applying the long-term resources, funding and attention needed to carry out such efforts successfully.
FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)
Photo: NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/flickr

Obama’s counterterrorism doctrine: Let locals lead the fight | David Rohde

In a foreign policy address this week, U.S. President Barack Obama gave his clearest outline yet of his counterterrorism strategy. Al Qaeda splinter groups remain the largest threat to the United States, he said, but Washington must respond to it in a new way: by training local security forces, not deploying American ground troops.

“We have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat - one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments,” Obama said. “We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.”

But critics say America’s past efforts to train local security forces have had mixed results. Washington has a poor track record of applying the long-term resources, funding and attention needed to carry out such efforts successfully.

FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)

Photo: NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/flickr