Saturday 15 Dec 2018 | 07:36 | SYDNEY
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Syria

The danger of mission creep in Syria

One of the ten principles of war taught at all military colleges is “Selection and Maintenance of the Aim”. It sounds simple enough, but when the principle is not adhered to then things often go awry. Think the invasion of Iraq – was the aim to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, or to

The crowded skies of Syria

The downing of a Russian Il-20 aircraft off the Syrian coast this week with the death of 15 personnel is another reminder of the cost to Moscow of its pro-regime military intervention. A little over six months ago, nearly 40 Russians died when a transport aircraft crashed on approach to

Idlib – the (nearly) final frontier

The latest front to attract the wavering interest of the international community in the Syrian conflict is Idlib, a province where the population of rebels of various ideological stripes and their dependents has grown every time the regime of Bashar al-Assad has bludgeoned and negotiated its

Dollars for Syria

Bashar al-Assad’s forces have continued to re-assert government control over most of the major population centres in Syria, yet these cities and towns remain only partially functional and in no fit state to host their former residents. But there has been some interesting manoeuvring

Syria: extinguishing the flame of the revolution

More than seven years after Deraa became the cradle of the Syrian uprising, the city has effectively surrendered to regime forces. Its final days reflected a familiar pattern, where Damascus was able to bring heavier firepower to pummel the armed opposition groups into submission

Europe: the movers and the shakers

The way in which the European Union and its member states responded to recent strikes by the US, France, and the UK on Syrian chemical weapons targets very clearly exposes the strengths and weaknesses of European power. One or two Europeans are movers, but most are shakers. When it came down to

Syria strikes: mission accomplished?

The US military claims the ability of the Syrian regime to use chemical weapons has been set back “for years” following strikes on Saturday. Given it is just one year since the US last struck Syrian targets following a chemical weapons attack, the latest claim won’t wash for many.

In Syria, Trump must collude with Russia

President Donald Trump is under enormous pressure to respond militarily to the latest provocation by the Assad regime, but he would do so against all of his instincts and earlier pronouncements to end US military involvement in the Syrian war. Just days before the chemical attacks in Douma,

Rouhani, Erdogan, and Putin’s bizarre love triangle

It appears a new regional security order is encircling Syria as the civil war grinds into its seventh year. This shift was visible last week, when the leaders of Turkey, Iran, and Russia met in Ankara to discuss solutions to the Syrian crisis. The detailed talks covered de-escalation zones

Sifting evil intent from charities doing good

The nexus between charitable aid and terrorism is a delicate and often difficult subject to discuss, let alone research. Some troubling relationships do exist, but the number of charities involved is small relative to the vast number of organisations doing good work. Although the sums

To Russia: a plea of caution on Syria

The recent UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria was arguably a vital step towards the delivery of much-needed humanitarian aid to 5.6 million Syrians deemed in “acute need”. Yet shortly after the resolution was unanimously adopted, the Syrian Government

Russia a reluctant driver in the Syrian war

As we witness the slaughter of civilians in yet another part of Syria – most recently, the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta – the country appears to enter the endgame of the confrontation between the regime and an array of rebel groups. But new battles await. Syria is increasingly

The depressing sameness of the fight for Ghouta

A little over a year ago, after the fall of eastern Aleppo in Syria, I asked “What exactly did the defence of East Aleppo achieve?”: Surely it was apparent from the time the encirclement was completed and the attempt to break the siege failed that only one outcome was possible: the defeat

Syria: a plan to name and shame chemical weapons suspects

Last month, France hosted the launch of the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. The effort is aimed at holding to account individuals and groups in the Syrian Government responsible for chemical weapons attacks, and to deter any possible further use of

Shot down over Syria

The downing of a Russian Su-25 aircraft this week marks the second aircraft lost to MANPADS surface-to-air missiles in six weeks. At the end of December, militants shot down a Syrian L-39 aircraft near Hama. Russia’s response has been swift and severe, conducting multiple

Washington's weak hand to play in Syria

With the change of administration in Washington came new clarity about US policy on Syria. The admirable, short-term aim was to defeat ISIS. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the organisation that would produce this outcome on the ground, was founded in late 2015 (the '

Putin’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment

Politicians have a track record of declaring military victory before it is achieved. Think the 'Mission Accomplished' banner unfurled behind George W. Bush aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on 1 May 2003, after which the war in Iraq continued for another eight years, claiming

Russia is not really withdrawing from Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin was reported this week to have ordered Russian military chiefs to redeploy ‘most’ of Russia’s Syria contingent back home. Exactly what constitutes ‘most', though, is anyone’s guess. There are reports that Russia

Russia in Syria: A course strewn with obstacles

Having vanquished Syria’s rebels militarily, Russia now faces the challenge of reconstructing a durable Syrian state. To convert military victory into a lasting political settlement that benefits it and its allies in Syria, Bashar Assad’s government and Iran, Moscow has moved quickly to

Kurds aren’t always the good guys

I have written recently about the recklessness of Kurdish leaders in staging their independence referendum. Rather than advance the Kurdish cause, it has probably set it back years, if not decades. Despite its laudable efforts against Islamic State, the Kurdish Regional Government has 

Iraq, the Kurds, and the mess America has made

Tensions between the Iraqi military and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are once again threatening to boil over. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered the military to 'impose security' in and around the oilfields and airport in the province of Kirkuk, a region the Kurds took back from Islamic

Syria: Five stages of grief (part 2)

Part 1 in this series described the changing mood in Syria towards acceptance of an eventual victory for the Assad regime. This post examines how the practicalities of re-establishing civil society are going to be worked out including, perhaps most importantly, determining who will pay. The

Syria: The five stages of grief (part 1)

Many people will be familiar with the oft-quoted five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. After my most recent research trip to the Middle East, I noticed a distinct feeling that as far as Syria is concerned, most actors are now in the final stage: an acceptance

Syria: Momentum now firmly with Assad

Earlier this week, Syrian state media announced Syrian government forces had broken the Islamic State (IS) siege of the Syrian military garrison at Dier az-Zour, the latest in a series of battlefield successes. The army is still a long way short of securing the city or the province, but the breaking

Cutting a deal with Islamic State

Negotiated deals between government forces and various armed groups have been a feature of the Syrian conflict. But a controversial deal involving several hundred Islamic State fighters who vacated the rugged Lebanese-Syrian border area is yet another example, if any more were needed, of how

Death of a Lebanese terrorist

They say that the wheels of justice turn slowly, but they do turn. And if the reports of the death of the terrorist Khalid Sharrouf are confirmed, then it meant that he died as a Lebanese, rather than Australian citizen (he was stripped of his Australian citizenship early this year). This doesn’t

Syria: A farewell to arms

Last week’s confirmation that the CIA-run program to vet and arm Syrian rebel groups in the north of the country was coming to an end was a tacit acknowledgement of the flaws in the scheme. It should also have come as little surprise as, if there has been one thing that Trump has been consistent

US making policy on the run in Syria

Two events overnight in Syria have demonstrated just how complicated the situation continues to be. In the first instance, Iran joined Russia and the United States in lobbing missiles at Islamic State targets inside Syrian territory. The statement from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)

Syria: The battle for the east

Sryian President Bashar al-Assad claimed in September 2016 that he intends to re-establish control over the whole of Syria, and recent actions indicate this remains his strategic aim. In the west of Syria, realising he did not have sufficient combat power to defeat the armed opposition militarily

Syrian safe zones: Not there yet

Last Thursday in Astana the latest agreement that attempts to establish some limited cessation of hostilities in Syria was signed. The signatories (and hence guarantors) were Turkey, Iran and Russia. Given this is the fourth attempt at a cessation of hostilities, prospects for its success appear

Missile strikes do not signal US shift on Syria

In a complex and confusing civil war in which decisions can result in unforeseen consequences, the Trump Administration was presented with a relatively straightforward choice and with a perfect target. Syrian military aircraft, launched from Shayrat airbase in Homs, carried out an attack

Assad and chemical weapons: The regional repercussions

The renewed use by the Assad regime of chemical weapons, possibly sarin, against civilian population centres in Syria - most recently in Idlib - is immoral, illegal, inhuman and counter-productive in every respect. It serves no military or political purpose. In terms of diplomacy, it is a complete

Assad set to outlast the many who wanted him out

The language emanating from the White House concerning the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad appeared to change last week, revealing another layer in an increasingly realist foreign policy approach from Washington. President Trump had signalled during the presidential debates that his focus was

Syrian safe zones: A planning nightmare

This is the first in what will be a regular weekly post from the Lowy Institute’s West Asia program to bring Interpreter readers up to speed with the latest issues in the Middle East. The Syrian safe zone concept is getting less clear by the day.  In January President Trump said that he '

Muddying the Syrian waters

The number of US boots on the ground in Syria is gradually increasing without, it would appear, a plan to inform the public about what broader purpose the troops' presence serves and, perhaps most importantly, what defines mission success and would allow the troops to redeploy. Before leaving

The race for Raqqa

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis is in the process of briefing his draft plan for defeating Islamic State, and is allegedly taking a global strategic perspective. This is only appropriate but, before the strategic can be addressed, the tactical must be planned. And now that Mosul is in the

The problem with any US strategy on Syria

The problem the United States has always had in crafting a Syria strategy is that Washington never possessed sufficient leverage to ameliorate Bashar al-Assad's behavior. Providing arms to opposition groups provided some leverage (but was always fraught because of the lack of

Once were moderate, vetted warriors

The day before President Obama left office, a US Air Force B-52 bomber struck a training camp used by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), the al-Qa'ida affiliate in Syria. The number of casualties varies: the US military put the total at around 100 while others cited lower figures. But as well as JFS, there

Syria and the problem with numbers

Syria has already been referred to as the most socially-mediated conflict ever. But while most have viewed Syria through this lens (often because it's the platform favoured by reporters), social media has proven to be a poor substitute for accuracy. The problem, of course, is that objective news

The Interpreter's best of 2016: Syria

It was another year of war for Syria, one in which the tide swung from forces opposed to the Assad regime back to the Syrian military and those aligned with it. The Lowy Institute Research Fellow Rodger Shanahan made sure Interpreter readers knew not just what was going on but what it meant. In the

'First we take Aleppo, then we take Idlib'

The gradual isolation and strangulation of Aleppo is part of a much broader strategy that has taken shape over the past year, albeit in the case of Aleppo on a much different scale. The actions follow a familiar pattern: encirclement; cutting off military and life support functions; limited

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