Syria 2019 –

Written by  //  June 24, 2020  //  Russia, Syria, Turkey  //  No comments

Syria 2017 – 2018
Trump administration U.S. – Russia relations

Gwynne Dyer: Syria the newest poster child for futile sanctions
Last week the United States imposed new sanctions on Syria: a “sustained campaign of economic and political pressure” to end the nine-year war by forcing President Bashar al-Assad to UN-brokered peace talks where he would negotiate his departure from power.
Ordinary Syrians’ incomes are collapsing (down by three-quarters since the beginning of the year). The price of food in Syria has doubled. Lebanon next-door, already in financial meltdown, is now seeing its large trade with Syria vanish as well.
The Syrian tragedy is mainly due to endless foreign interventions. The Syrians who called for an end to Assad’s regime in the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011 were just like the young men and women who started demanding the fall of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak at the same time. They were both genuinely popular movements, not fronts for jihadis.

28 February
Turkey-Syria tensions escalate after troops killed: Live updates
(Al Jazeera) Turkey officials met with a Russian delegation in Ankara on Friday and said a sustainable ceasefire in Idlib region must be established immediately.
“We stressed to the Russian side the necessity of declaration of a sustainable truce, de-escalation [of the situation on the field], and withdrawal of the regime forces to the borders agreed in the Sochi deal,” Turkish Foreign Minister spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement.
Erdogan, Putin discuss Syria as Turkey demands truce in Idlib
Both presidents seek to ‘normalise situation’ as international concern grows over killing of 33 Turkish troops in Idlib.
After a Face-Off in Syria, Turkey and Russia Try to Pull Back From the Brink
(NYT) Turkey and Russia tried on Friday to step back from the brink of a war that neither side wants, after 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in northwest Syria by forces backing the government in Damascus.
But tensions between the two nations — one a nuclear power, the other a NATO member — remained high, not just because of the fight in Syria, but more broadly as a contest over who will be the pre-eminent regional power as the United States scales back its global role.
Turkey wants to protect its border with Syria, while Russia wants show that its military intervention has preserved Syria as a client state. Both sides have said they want to de-escalate, but neither side has been willing to back down, leading to fears of sliding into war. Emotions are running high and the source of their antagonism — the fate of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria — festers dangerously.
Will an attack on Turkish troops in Syria change the course of the war?
The battle for Idlib is raising fears of a big-power conflict
(The Economist) Diplomats have hoped for years that Russia might be able to restrain Mr Assad. They have consistently overestimated both its will and its ability to do so. Though the Russian foreign ministry is unhappy about the Syrian offensive in Idlib —because it complicates ties with Turkey— Russia’s defence ministry would be happy to see the regime conquer the province. Even Iran, Syria’s other key foreign ally, has been dragged into Idlib, a fight it had little interest in. It has dispatched planeloads of militiamen to aid the regime.

25 February
Turkey-backed rebels say they’ve seized town in Syria’s Idlib in first advance
Syrian rebels backed by the Turkish military seized the town of Nairab in northwest Syria’s Idlib, Turkish and rebel officials said, the first area to be taken back from Syrian government forces advancing in the province. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, supported by Russian air power, are trying to retake the last large rebel-held region in Syria after nine years of war. Nearly a million Syrians have been displaced by the latest fighting.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, supported by Russian air power, are trying to retake the last large rebel-held region in Syria after nine years of war. Nearly a million Syrians have been displaced by the latest fighting.
Turkey has responded by sending thousands of troops and equipment into the region to support the rebels in resisting the offensive.


2 November
Car bomb explodes in Syrian town captured by Turkey from Kurds
A car bomb exploded in a northern Syrian town along the border with Turkey on Saturday, killing 13 people. Turkey’s defence ministry said about 20 others were wounded when the bomb exploded in central Tal Abyad, which forces backed by Ankara captured from Kurdish-led fighters last month.
The ministry harshly condemned the attack, which it blamed on Syrian Kurdish fighters, and called on the international community to take a stance against this “cruel terror organisation”. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

28 October
Syria Peace Talks to Open After a Long, Strange Month
A United States pullout, a Turkish invasion and a newly strengthened Syrian leader have reshaped the board for negotiations in Geneva.
(NYT) On Thursday, after months of intensive but low-key diplomacy, the United Nations special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, plans to bring 150 Syrians to Geneva. There, they will begin work on a constitutional committee intended to shift attention from the battlefield to what happens when, sooner or later, the fighting in their country stops.”
The Geneva talks are meant to be a first step under a United Nations Security Council mandate that calls for a nationwide cease-fire and elections under United Nations supervision.
A senior State Department official said Monday that the United States and other nations had several points of leverage to try to get Mr. Assad to work on a political settlement. The official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, said that could include keeping reconstruction assistance from Mr. Assad’s government, barring Syria’s re-entry into the Arab League and refusing to restore diplomatic ties with Damascus.

25 October
U.S. sending armored vehicles into Syria to protect oil fields, Pentagon chief confirms
(Politico) The Pentagon plans to use armored vehicles to defend northeastern Syria’s oil fields from attack by Islamic State fighters, Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed today, minutes after President Donald Trump tweeted that the troops are coming home.
Esper this week said the U.S. forces leaving Syria would head into western Iraq. But after Iraqi leaders said those troops can’t stay there, Esper said they will be deployed in Iraq only temporarily before coming home. The defense chief also said today that Kurdish troops are recapturing ISIS members who escaped from Kurdish-run prisons in the northeast since the start of Turkey’s incursion into Syria.

President Trump Is Obsessed With Stealing Syria’s Oil
(New York) …there is one thing about the chaotic situation that does seem to preoccupy the president: oil. Precious, precious oil. Over the past weeks, through tweets and public statements, he has made it clear that he considers the protection of it a very high priority.
As the Washington Post explains, oil production in Syria has plummeted during the course of its devastating civil war, which began in 2011. But the country is still rich in the resource — that ISIS managed to turn into a moneymaking enterprise when it swept across parts of the country in 2014. The Kurdish force that was until recently backed by the United States still controls oil fields in the northern and eastern parts of the country; in 2018, hundreds of Russian mercenaries and pro-government Syria forces were killed when they clashed with U.S. soldiers and Kurds in an attempt to wrest some of the oil fields away. But it’s not clear whether the Kurdish-controlled fields are currently functional.

24 October
Russia and Turkey agree to carve up northern Syria
(The Economist) America’s retreat cleared the way for Turkey to invade and dislodge a Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), that controlled the region. Backed by a raggedy crew of Syrian Arab mercenaries, the Turkish invasion was a fatal blow to Kurdish autonomy. The YPG had no choice but to seek protection from Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s dictator, and surrender most of its self-rule in return.
At first Mr Trump acquiesced to the Turkish offensive. Then he dispatched his vice-president, Mike Pence, to Ankara, where he secured a five-day ceasefire laden with concessions to Turkey. But that agreement was merely a sideshow. The real diplomacy took place on October 22nd in Sochi, where President Vladimir Putin of Russia hosted his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They struck a deal that leaves Turkish troops in a zone between the Syrian towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain, much of which they already control.
Russian military police and Syrian border guards will enter areas to the east and west to ensure that the YPG vacates them as well. The Kurds will have until October 29th to withdraw to a depth of 30km along the whole border and disarm. Russian and Turkish forces will then begin patrolling the border together.
Implications of the new order in Syria
(Brookings) The new situation upends the region and has potentially profound consequences for the United States and its allies. However, and without dwelling on this point, President Trump’s actions suggest a different conception and prioritization of traditional U.S. interests in the Middle East. The U.S. departure helps Iran and the Islamic State, hurts Israel and Saudi Arabia, and otherwise goes against historic U.S. concerns. The president, however, appears to prioritize removing U.S. troops from active war zones over these long-standing interests.
… All of these are negative outcomes. Many are not primarily caused by the Trump administration’s latest decisions, but they all are exacerbated by them. Should a different administration take office, it will have to navigate far more difficult terrain in the Middle East as a result.

23 October
Russian police deploy in Syria’s Kobani, Trump says ceasefire permanent
(Reuters) Russia warned Syrian Kurdish YPG forces they face further armed conflict with Turkey if they fail to comply with a Russian-Turkish accord calling for their withdrawal from the entire length of Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey. Moscow’s warning came shortly before Russian and Syrian security forces were due to start overseeing the removal of YPG fighters and weapons at least 19 miles into Syria, under the deal struck by presidents Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan.
A complete pullout of the YPG, which Ankara considers terrorists because of their links to insurgents inside Turkey, would mark a victory for Erdogan who has said he is seeking to create a “safe zone” for the return of Syrian refugees.
Kobani, where the Russian military police deployed, is of special significance to the Kurdish fighters, who fought off Islamic State militants trying to seize the city in 2014-15 in one of the fiercest battles of Syria’s conflict.
Turkey, Russia agreement cements power in Syria in place of U.S. forces

22 October
Putin, Erdogan agree to share patrols in northeastern Syria
Bashar al-Assad, angered by Turkish incursion, calls Erdogan ‘a thief’
(AP via CBC) Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also agreed that their troops will conduct joint patrols of the border area after meeting Tuesday in Sochi.
The agreement gives Kurdish fighters another 150 hours beginning Wednesday afternoon to clear all remaining areas alongside the 440-kilometre Turkey-Syria border.
Russia has strengthened its power broker role in Syria, especially after the U.S. abruptly decided to pull its troops out of northeast Syria two weeks ago.
The UN said Tuesday that since Turkey launched its offensive, more than 176,000 people have been displaced, including nearly 80,000 children, and “critical infrastructure has been damaged.”
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday that power lines have been damaged, reportedly affecting at least four medical facilities.
Assad called Erdogan “a thief, he stole the factories and the wheat and the oil in co-operation with Daesh (the Islamic State group) and now is stealing the land.”
He said his government had offered a clemency to Kurdish fighters — whom it considers separatists — to “ensure that everyone is ready to resist the aggression” and fight the Turkish assault.
Syrian state media reported Tuesday that government forces entered new areas in Hassakeh province at the far eastern end of the border, under the arrangement with the Kurds.

21 October
U.S. mulls leaving some troops in Syria to guard oil: Pentagon
Reuters) – The Pentagon is considering keeping some U.S. troops near oilfields in northeastern Syria alongside Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to help deny oil to Islamic State militants, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday.
U.S. troops are crossing into Iraq as part of a broader withdrawal from Syria ordered by President Donald Trump, a decision that allowed Turkey to launch an offensive against the SDF which for years was a U.S. ally battling Islamic State.

18 October
Fighting continues in Syrian border town despite Turkish agreement to halt offensive
Turkey agreed to pause its eight-day military operation after Vice President Pence led a U.S. delegation to Ankara on Thursday and met with Erdogan and other Turkish officials. The 13-point deal they hammered out envisions a permanent halt to the offensive after 120 hours — or five days — if Syrian Kurdish militias, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), withdraw from an area of northern Syria that Turkey refers to as a “safe zone.”
Profoundly touching
A letter to Kurdish soldiers from a US military wife

17 October
U.S., Turkey agree to 5-day cease-fire in Syria, Pence says, to let Kurds withdraw after U.S. pullout sparked violence
(WaPo) Pence, speaking after hours of meetings at the presidential palace with Erdogan and other Turkish officials, said that Turkey had agreed to pause its offensive for five days while the United States helped facilitate the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters from a large swath of territory that stretched from Turkey’s border nearly 20 miles into Syria.
Following the completion of the withdrawal, Turkey’s military operation would be “halted entirely,” Pence said. The United States had already been in contact with the Syrian Kurdish militias, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and “we have already begun to facilitate their safe withdrawal,” Pence added.

15 October
John Cassidy: Trump’s Syria Policy Is a Strategic and Political Disaster
(The New Yorker) The Turkish invasion of northern Syria, which Donald Trump green-lighted last week, has already turned into a humanitarian disaster for the Kurds, at least a hundred thousand of whom have been displaced. It is now mushrooming into a strategic disaster for the United States, which appears weak, powerless, and isolated. It also risks turning into a political disaster for Trump, whose bungling incompetence and boundless arrogance may finally be catching up with him. If the analysis of James Mattis, his own former Secretary of Defense, proves accurate, Trump could well go into the 2020 election as the President who allowed ISIS to make a comeback. Arguably, that would be a bigger threat to his prospects of reëlection than the Democrats’ efforts to impeach him.
This was the context for Monday evening’s announcement from the White House that the United States was demanding a ceasefire and imposing economic sanctions on Turkey. In a phone call with the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Trump “communicated to him very clearly that the United States of America wants Turkey to stop the invasion, to implement an immediate ceasefire, and to begin to negotiate with Kurdish forces in Syria to bring an end to the violence,” Vice-President Mike Pence told reporters. Pence also said that he and Robert O’Brien, the new national-security adviser, would travel to Turkey for talks.
US pullout from Syria and the Kurds’ ‘costly deal’ with al-Assad
Damascus has much to gain from deal with Kurds, but its ability to halt Turkey’s push depends on Russia, say analysts.
(Al Jazeera) In a major shift in alliances, the Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria announced on Sunday a deal with President Bashar al-Assad‘s government to allow Syrian troops to deploy along the border with Turkey to stave off a military offensive by Ankara.
The pact, brokered by Russia, came hours after the United States announced it was pulling its troops from Syria to avoid getting caught in clashes between the Turkish military and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Mazloum Abdi, the SDF’s commander in chief, said his people were forced into an alliance with Washington’s foes, Syria and Russia, because the US’s pullback had left them vulnerable to a Turkish assault.

8 October
Genocide Watch: Turkey is planning genocide and crimes against humanity in Northeastern Syria
Genocide Warning: January 17, 2018, renewed October 8, 2019
Kurds, Christians, and Yezidis in Northeast Syria are at grave risk of genocide by the armies of Turkey and Syria. The genocide will be supported by Russia and Iran. Turkey and Iran have sizable Kurdish minority populations, which they consider threats to ethnic and national unity. 100,000 Christians live in the area Turkey will invade. Turkey and its predecessor, the Ottoman Empire, have a century old history of genocide against Christians.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced his intention to create a “twenty-mile buffer zone” in northeastern Syria, an area now controlled by the Kurdish and Arab Syrian Democratic Forces. He has conducted a diplomatic offensive to get promises of non-interference from Russia, Iran, and the US for his invasion of Syria. Turkey has already stationed tens of thousands of troops, tanks, and heavy artillery along the Syrian border. When President Trump announced that US troops would withdraw from Syria in 2018, he did so after a call from Erdoğan. That announcement was met by a bipartisan Senate resolution against US abandonment of America’s Kurdish allies in northeastern Syria. 1000 US troops remain there. After another call with Erdoğan in October 2019, President Trump has again announced a US pull-out from northeast Syria. Both Republican and Democratic leaders remain opposed to US withdrawal.
Turkey began its invasion of Syrian Kurdish territory on January 20, 2018 when the Turkish Army launched cross-border military operations into Afrin in northwestern Syria with the code name “Operation Olive Branch,” The mission aimed to oust Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (or YPG) from the district of Afrin.

21 July
Al-Assad’s Nuremberg moment: Page by page, an NGO and its Canadian founder build a case for Syrian war crimes
Shrouded in secrecy, William Wiley and the Commission for International Justice and Accountability are collecting smuggled documents that he says makes the case for the Syrian President’s key role in atrocities
(Globe & Mail) Anwar Raslan likely thought he was safe living as a refugee in Germany – his past forgotten – until the day in February when police arrested him over the alleged role he played years earlier in the torture of prisoners by Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
Should Mr. Raslan eventually be convicted, it will be due in large part to the work of a veteran Canadian war-crimes investigator and his team, who over the past seven years have smuggled hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence out of Syria and Iraq – documents that are now being used to build war-crimes cases against Mr. al-Assad and his henchmen, as well as senior figures in the Islamic State (IS).
If you haven’t heard of William Wiley or the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, the non-profit organization that he established in 2012, that’s because he likes it that way. CIJA has no website, and there’s no sign on the door of the office that Mr. Wiley and his team work out of. The Globe and Mail agreed not to name the European country that CIJA’s head office staff are located in, out of concern that the group’s work could make it a target.
But the project is well-known to Western governments, including Canada’s, which collectively provide $8-million in annual funding for the group’s 150 investigators, most of whom are at work on the ground in Syria and Iraq.
Much of CIJA’s team are now focused on assembling evidence implicating senior IS members in alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The investigators also have their sights set on new targets, in other parts of the world, but Mr. Wiley says it’s too early to talk publicly about those efforts without jeopardizing them.
In addition to assembling a ready body of evidence for the day that war-crimes suspects are brought to justice, CIJA’s work has developed a more immediate purpose that wasn’t foreseen when the group started work in Syria seven years ago.
Through its war-crimes research, the group has assembled a database of Syrian regime and IS documents that Western governments can use to conduct background checks on some of the million-plus refugees and migrants who arrived in Europe since 2015.

13 January
Saudi Prince al-Faisal warns against US Syria pullout
(BBC) A senior member of the Saudi royal family has warned against a US troop withdrawal from Syria.
Prince Turki al-Faisal told the BBC the action would have a negative impact, further entrenching Iran, Russia and the rule of President Bashar al-Assad
Prince Faisal was speaking ahead of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Riyadh.
Mr Pompeo is on a tour of the Middle East, and has already visited Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Bahrain.

9 January
Reuters Commentary: U.S. should review its approach to Syria’s Assad. As President Donald Trump and his national security team hammer out the details of U.S. military withdrawal from Syria, Washington should review its attitude toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, writes James Dobbins, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state. Washington’s strategy, under Obama as well as Trump, has been to “impose costs” on the government in Damascus by diplomatic ostracism and economic sanctions. This approach is morally satisfying and politically expedient, but it helps perpetuate the conflict and sustain Assad’s dependency on Iran.

8 January
Trump’s Syria Plans Hit Another Wall After Erdogan Snubs Bolton
(Bloomberg) Donald Trump’s national security adviser miscalculated if he thought he was going to dissuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from his planned offensive against U.S. allies in Syria.
Erdogan rebuffed a meeting in Ankara on Tuesday with National Security Adviser John Bolton, then took to live television instead to insult him for a lack of perspective.
The impasse highlights how Trump’s hasty announcement of a U.S. exit from the war-torn country is causing confusion and generating blowback from allies and adversaries alike. Erdogan has been massing Turkish troops on the Syrian border for weeks, preparing for an invasion to eradicate Kurdish forces that the U.S. has vowed to protect.
… Bolton, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and top American military officials have frustrated Turkey by setting more specific conditions to what Trump initially suggested would be a quick withdrawal. The delay has restricted Turkey’s ability to launch an offensive against the YPG, a group of Kurdish fighters it considers terrorists, but who served as allies to the U.S. coalition to defeat Islamic State.
“A faction within the U.S. wants to turn U.S. positions over to Turkey and reach some sort of broader compromise on the Kurds” that would make their continued hold over a small area more palatable to Ankara, said Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. “Instead, Bolton’s rhetoric blew up the talks,” with the Turkish snub underscoring Turkish concerns about “U.S. intentions, their lack of serious planning, and just how disorganized all of this is.”
Erdogan echoed that sentiment in remarks he made to parliament after putting Bolton on hold for a meeting that ultimately didn’t happen. Before arriving in Ankara, Bolton had made clear that he was going to warn Turkey, and had drawn Turkish ire for using the general term “Kurds” in referring to the YPG. Turkey says it has no issue with the Kurds as an ethnic group, but it views the YPG as the Syrian extension of a separatist group in Turkey, the PKK, which the U.S. also classifies as a terrorist organization.

6 January
John Bolton: US to leave Syria once IS beaten, Kurds safe
(PBS Newshour) U.S. troops will not leave northeastern Syria until Islamic State militants are defeated and American-allied Kurdish fighters are protected, a top White House aide said Sunday, signaling a pause to a withdrawal abruptly announced last month and initially expected to be completed within weeks.
While U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said there is now no timetable, President Donald Trump reaffirmed his commitment to withdrawing U.S. troops, though he said “we won’t be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone.” … Bolton said Trump has made clear he would not allow Turkey to kill the Kurds. “That’s what the president said, the ones that fought with us,” Bolton said.
Bolton said the U.S. has asked the Kurds to “stand fast now” and refrain from seeking protection from Russia or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. “I think they know who their friends are,” he added, speaking of the Kurds.
Kurds seek help from Syrians as U.S. prepares to withdraw — The Kurds’ invitation to Syrian troops shows they’d rather let Syria’s Russian- and Iranian-backed government fill the void left by the Americans, than face the prospect of being overwhelmed by their top rival Turkey.

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