The Syrian conflict since 2011 is a constellation of overlapping crises. Each of its global, regional and sub-national dimensions demands a tailored response set within an overarching framework. Instead, chronic violence and worsening suffering have killed more than 250,000 people, fueling radicalisation, refugee flight and a self-sustaining war economy. Outside stakeholders must learn from the way the Syrian conflict has repeatedly dashed unrealistic expectations on all sides. Crisis Group pursues a comprehensive approach for achieving a sustainable decline in violence and, ultimately, a political settlement. We also seek to correct dominant narratives that focus on jihadism and migrant flows, which are the symptoms, rather than the causes, of the problem.
Since the Syrian uprising began in 2011, Ankara has been drawn ever deeper into the crisis. Its approach will likely hold steady for now. But the choices it makes next matter for the fate of millions of Syrians.
Deadly fighting escalated between Türkiye and Kurdish militants in north, while Russia and regime forces stepped up attacks in north west; Islamic State (ISIS) killed regime general in centre.
Hostilities surged between Türkiye and Kurdish forces in north. Kurdistan Workers’ Party 10 June terminated four-month unilateral ceasefire, citing Turkish operations in Syria and Iraq (see Türkiye and Iraq). Turkish drone strike 10 June killed senior People’s Protection Units (YPG) commander in Tel Rifaat, Aleppo province; YPG-linked forces next day shelled Turkish base east of Azaz, prompting Turkish forces to retaliate with counter-battery fire. IED 12 June killed Russian soldier in Tel Rifaat. YPG-linked Afrin Liberation Forces 13 June shelled Turkish base near Kafr Jannah, west of Azaz; Turkish forces 14 June struck Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Syrian regime positions in Tel Rifaat and Manbij areas, killing at least eight Syrian soldiers, over dozen SDF/YPG fighters and several civilians. Turkish drone 14 June killed commander of Syrian branch of Turkish Marxist-Leninist Communist Party and 20 June killed PYD co-chair of Qamishli canton near Qamishli. Attacks on both sides somewhat subsided late June.
Russia and regime forces increased attacks in north west. Russia steadily increased number of airstrikes on opposition-held Idlib to levels not witnessed since late 2021 after dominant rebel group Hei’at Tahir al-Sham (HTS) late May killed senior Russian officer. Notably, Russian warplanes 19 June carried out around 10 attacks near Idlib city and 23-27 June killed at least nine civilians across Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo provinces, causing displacement and aggravating humanitarian crisis. Large contingents of regime forces 19 June deployed to northern Aleppo, while regime stepped up artillery strikes; suspected HTS forces 22-23 June conducted four drone strikes in regime-held cities of Salhab, Qardaha and Deir Shamal. Russian airstrike 27 June reportedly hit HTS military post in Idlib’s Jabal al-Zawiya area, killing at least six militants.
ISIS continued intermittent attacks, Israel struck Damascus. ISIS struck mostly in eastern Homs, Deir al-Zour and Quneitra provinces; notably, IED attack 13 June killed regime general in Homs city – first attack in city since 2017. Syrian state media reported Israeli missiles 14 June injured Syrian soldier in capital Damascus.
Turkey is highly unlikely to compromise on troop withdrawal [from northern Syria].
It's important to remember that [Syrian president] Assad's return to the Arab League is a symbolic measure to begin the process of ending his regional isolation.
The U.S. and Europe have made it clear that they do not agree with Arab states normalizing with the Assad regime, but there doesn’t seem to be much they can do about it.
The UAE has, since 2021, embarked on a policy of diminishing tensions with other countries in the region, and normalizing with Assad is part of that.
If the UN fails to extend its operation [in Syria] via these [Turkish border] crossings, donor states should bypass the UN and do bilateral assistance themselves.
Whenever the American forces there [in Syria] are attacked, the question arises again: Why are they there?
The League of Arab States welcomed President Bashar al-Assad to its May summit, reinstating Syria’s membership, which it had suspended in 2011. The regime may look to have shrugged off the international opprobrium it earned for its brutality in repressing its opponents. But has it?
The rebels who control north-western Syria are dealing harshly with ISIS cells but have not yet crushed them entirely. The best way to stop jihadists from rebounding is to consolidate the area’s ceasefire. Outside powers can also help by sending more humanitarian aid.
Its self-declared caliphate is gone, but ISIS continues to stage attacks and intimidate the public in much of its former domain. The forces fighting the group need to hinder the militants’ movement between Syria’s regions – and, above all, to avoid debilitating conflicts with one another.
To prevent ISIS from resurging, forces fighting the group should stop it from moving across regions and avoid conflict with one another. This timeline catalogues some of the major ISIS attacks and counter-ISIS operations from 2017 to February 2022.
The UN Security Council is considering renewing an understanding whereby UN agencies transport aid to Idlib, an area held by Syrian rebels. In this Q&A, Crisis Group experts Richard Gowan, Dareen Khalifa and Ashish Pradhan explain why the arrangement remains essential.
This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood talks to experts Dareen Khalifa and Jerome Drevon about ISIS in Syria after the death of its leader Abdullah Qardash, the precarious calm that prevails across the country and the evolution of al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in the north west, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
Aleppo was devastated by bombing and shelling during the Syrian war. It remains unsafe, with residents subject to shakedowns by the regime’s security forces and various militias. Damascus and its outside backers should curb this predation as a crucial first step toward the city’s recovery.
Turkey is increasingly relying on airpower in its fight against the PKK. New parties have been drawn into the conflict as it spreads to new theatres in Iraq and Syria, which, for now at least, complicates potential efforts to settle things down.
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