Syria

By Patrick Lim

Za’atari Refugee Camp in Northern Jordan, the country’s fourth largest “city.” It is home to over 80,000 refugees. Its main road – the “Champs Elysees” – is visible in the center of the picture. Source: State Department.

March 15 marked the fifth year since the start of the Syrian Civil War, a war that has claimed over 220,000 people and displaced millions more. This crisis has resulted in the international aid’s inability to keep up with the growing demand on the ground, sparking criticism from aid agencies and requiring the countries involved to the rethink the actions they should take.

The effects of the war are evident throughout the region: Lebanon and Jordan have welcomed almost two million refugees. In Jordan, a survey of 40,000 refugees found that two-thirds were living below the poverty line and, in Lebanon, half of the Syrian refugee population are living in insecure dwellings. The resources of both countries are being pushed to the limit and it is not certain how many more refugees they can support and for how much longer.

Why is there a lack of aid?

It is not only because of increasing number of refugees, but also the lack of action of the international community. A report entitled “Failing Syria,” which was signed by more than twenty aid agencies including Oxfam and Save the Children, criticizes the actions of states and their failure to implement resolutions 2139, 2165, and 2191 from United Nations Security Council. Resolution 2139’s provisions included: protecting civilians, increased humanitarian access and a comprehensive approach “leading to a genuine political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.” The report calls on all parties to ensure to “go beyond words and ensure that the resolutions are fully implemented.”

However, it is not only the lack of action on behalf of the international community, but also the difficulty of getting aid to the people that has not helped the situation.  According to the report, 4.8 million people reside in areas the United Nations define as “hard to reach.” For example, early March saw the arrival ofthe first aid convoy in Damascus in three months.

What should countries do?

Although it is crucial to meet the basic necessities of refugees now, it is equally as important to think of the future. There is not foreseeable end to the conflict and, as a result, refugee camps are starting to show signs of permanency despite the hopes of millions. Some fortunate families in Za’atari live in caravans, which demand concrete foundations. Furthermore, the main road of the camp is a bustling street with hundreds of shops. Azraq Camp has a well-stocked hospital and supermarket, and includes metal shelters for families.

Two trends should make countries think about distributing more aid to the urban populations. First, certain countries have made it more difficult for refugees to flee across their borders, citing national security reasons, especially with ISIS threatening to send fighters in disguise. As a result, many refugees may seek to escape without being officially registered, although this would deny them many benefits. These refugees would therefore settle in areas with access to benefits, such as cities, which is where the majority of Syrian refugees have settled in Jordan. Second, refugees have recently expressed a reluctance to live in the camps because of the rough conditions, despite having access to daily needs. Coupled with the lack of proper security in camps (Za’atari, for example, had many issues with uprisings and crime in its early days), these trends could cause the urban refugee population to swell even more, putting an ever greater strain on their already limited resources.

Countries must also find different avenues to distribute aid, with a special focus on Syria. Of the thirty-four border crossings in the country, only five are open for humanitarian convoys, nine are restricted, and the rest are closed.  Negotiating with the Syrian government to find more avenues into the country is an option that some countries are not willing to entertain. However, working with government officials, local law enforcement, or more local NGO representatives may open up more channels. This would certainly improve the present situation by limiting regional spillover while simultaneously bringing aid to the people rather than forcing them to flee to receive it.

Finally, Turkey has nearly 1.7 million Syrian refugees – the most of any country – and has spent $6 billion to help them, granting them access to free education and health care. Following Turkey’s lead, providing greater access to necessities and benefits is something more countries have undertaken and other should begin to explore. For example, the Netherlands welcomes thousands of Syrians every month; Canada and Germany are known for funding scholarships, even offering Permanent Residency to lucky recipients in some cases as well.

The refugee crisis that has arisen because of the Syrian Civil War is being called the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. The world can neither continue to ignore this atrocity nor accommodate the present situation for much longer.  We, the international community, must help those in need and, more importantly, show that we have not given up on them and their future.

By Benjamin Jury

Syrian refugee Mahmoud shown in the underground shelter where he and his family live in El Akbiya, Lebanon, 2013. He shares a tiny room measuring 2.5m x 3.5 metres with his parents and eight siblings. Source: UNHCR/S. Baldwin

When it comes to reporting on the Middle East, the Islamic State has quite literally become the new black. While hundreds of articles flood our Twitter feeds and morning e-mail brief dissecting every inch of the rebel group’s anatomy, readers simply cannot get enough about ISIS, leading to some rather bizarre headlines. The fifth year of the Syrian Civil War rages on, the Houthis continue their occupation of Yemen, and hundreds of migrant workers have died building the World Cup stadium in Qatar amount to footnotes in most major news networks’ Middle East coverage in the United States. Instead, we run endless counterfactual scenarios, playing “Choose Your Own Nuke Deal Adventure” and wondering what Israel could accomplish with Isaac Herzog at the helm.

Indeed, the situation in Syria appears more and more grim every day, with millions still in refugee camps with no hope to return to their homes in the foreseeable future. Just yesterday, Syria’s state news agency boasted that an American drone had been shot down near Latakia. President Bashar al-Assad continues his barrel bombing campaign on rebel-held Syrian cities and children like Mamoud suffer everyday from the lack of stability. In the United States, we maintained near radio silence until someone dropped the “drone” buzzword.

In Yemen, the situation has gone from chaotic to catastrophic. The Pentagon announced yesterday that they believe $500 million worth of weapons and equipment given to government forces have been compromised by either the Houthi occupation forces in the north or al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula in the south. The evacuation of US embassies in Yemen, too, is deeply troubling considering the growing conception of the crisis there as an escalation of the Saudi-Iran proxy war.

Qatar has its own set of domestic problems slowing spilling onto global news radars. The conditions for migrant workers, many of them South Asian, building the stadiums for the 2022 World Cup are appalling. According to Qatar’s commissioned DLA Piper investigation, hundreds have died since the beginning of construction while working long hours at temperatures up to 50°C (122°F). Labor law reform, while promised, has been dismally slow.

There are no feature articles on these issues. Instead, we read page after page of “What ISIS Really Wants”, hoping to ‘get inside their heads’ and understand their agenda.

Without unbiased, well-rounded coverage of the Middle East, the United States faces a perpetuation of the same dangerous stereotypes of Islam, the people of the Middle East, and the instability of the Middle East that encourages the occupation of war-torn countries and continued unrest.

No news agency, writer, or blog will ever be able to package and deliver the current events of every region of the Middle East. Those who disseminate ‘hard news’ and op-eds do, however, need to search beyond the hot topics and deliver content that needs to be heard, our own blog included. Let’s work together to make uncovering the truth the new, new black. Until then, I think I’ll just keep tweeting about Macklemore joining ISIS.

By Josh Donovan

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Sean Hannity speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Source: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

In the wake of September 11, the United States was reeling from the worst attack on American soil in its history. Among the changes wrought by the tragedy was a fundamental reframing of American policy. Finally, it seemed, American foreign policy made sense again. President Bush drew clear battle lines, vowing to “win the war against terrorism.” Fourteen years later, the world is every bit as scary as it was before. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan taught us something: there are limits to the long-term political changes that the American military can impose. The lines are blurred.

Recognizing this, President Obama has been treading a careful line in dealing with ISIS: tactical support and limited arms, rather than flooding the region with weapons; thousands of airstrikes, but no boots on the ground; and cautious diplomacy with Russia and Iran. To be sure, this lacks the “grand vision” many may be familiar with. But rebuilding Syria will not come solely, or even primarily, through a military solution. While some hawks such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have specifically called for American boots on the ground, many politicians—and most Americans—are too war-weary to consider this palatable. American military leaders, too, seem skeptical about deploying troops.

Enter the prospective Republican presidential candidates. As 2016 draws closer, many Party favorites are speaking out on foreign policy issues—including ISIL. Naturally, they seek to draw contrast between themselves and President Obama. However, given the complexity of the current crisis, this has proven to be somewhat difficult (with the exception of those calling for ground troops).

Take Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), for example. When asked by Sean Hannity at the recent Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) convention how he would deal with the threat of global terrorism if he were president, Sen. Rubio took a page out of Obama’s book: the United States needed to send intelligence and logistical support, launch airstrikes, and build a coalition of Middle Eastern states (Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, etc.) to combat ISIS. Despite tacitly admitting that Obama was on the right track, the Senator simultaneously accused Obama of “not putting in place a military strategy to defeat ISIS” because he is afraid of upsetting Iran—despite the fact that Iran has been heavily involved in combatting ISIS and has called on other nations to join in the fight.

In a recent interview, another likely presidential contender, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) accused the Obama administration of failing to adequately arm the Kurds (despite the fact that the US has sent over 3 million pounds of ammunition to the Peshmerga) and accused the President, who authorized over 2,100 airstrikes on ISIS targets, of “leading from behind.” Rand Paul, in anticipation of Hilary Clinton’s likely run for the White House in 2016, recently said he “blamed her for a lot of this”. Paul argued that the United States’ 2011 intervention in Libya created a “breeding ground for terrorists” and voiced opposition to the Obama/Clinton plan to provide arms to Syrian rebels. Remarkably, in the same interview, Paul did an about-face on arming rebels, suggesting that Obama needed to arm Kurdish militias and “do much more.” Perhaps the most embarrassing 2016-fueled response to ISIS came from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who assured Americans that his experiences in “dealing with” peaceful Wisconsin protesters made up for his lack of experience and an actual plan.

Fortunately, the GOP rank-and-file seems largely unwilling to obstruct or interfere with the President’s response to ISIS, for now. Further, many Republicans who are not running for President in 2016, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, seem ready to engage in a serious debate about what form the United States’ continuing struggle against ISIS should take. With the serious exception of sending a controversial letter to the leaders of Iran in an attempt to undermine the United States’ uneasy relationship with a now critical regional partner (like it or not), we must hope that if Republicans participate in foreign policy making (as they should), they set aside election politics and do so in a responsible and constructive way.

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By Yasmin Faruki

Abdullah II meets with U.S. President Barack Obama. Source: Executive Office of the President of the United States

The world is reeling from recent demonstrations of terror by Daesh (also known as ISIS, or ISIL). In Jordan, citizens are aghast by the brutal immolation of Lt. Moaz al-Kasesbeh, a 26 year-old pilot whose plane crashed during a coalition mission in December. In the week prior, Japanese citizens mourned the loss of Kenji Goto and Haruna Yakawa. The latest string of events has important implications for future of Daesh’s support in the region, as well as the resiliency of the U.S.-led coalition.

The fact that Lt. Kasabeh’s died as a result of immolation is very significant. According to the New York Times, burning someone alive is strictly prohibited in Islam because it is considered an act only punishable by God in hell. Though beheadings of hostages are not at all favorable among Muslims, its application has been at least rarely accepted in certain contexts; Saudi Arabia, for example, uses beheadings as a state-sponsored form of capital punishment. Muslims are already sickened by Daesh’s exclusive focus on takfirism (the belief that the Muslim community has been weakened by deviation in the practice of Islam) and wicked distortion of Islam’s teachings. The first widely publicized immolation of a Muslim hostage has therefore struck a very sensitive nerve in many Muslims throughout the world, and raises important questions for Arab partners in the coalition.

The Jordanian government intends to dial up the ante. Before the release of the immolation video, King Abdullah had considered releasing two Iraqi prisoners affiliated with Daesh – Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouli. Within a matter of hours of the video released yesterday morning, King Abdullah ordered the execution of the two prisoners during his visit in Washington in an act of vengeance. Though there remains a small contingency of Jordanians who disagree with their country’s involvement in the coalition, Lt. Kasabeh’s death has brought out a hardened and confrontational attitude in the King, who has vociferously vowed retaliation and continued involvement in the U.S.-led coalition.

Though Kasabeh’s grisly killing has fostered greater acceptance of the war against Daesh in Jordan, some partners are not assured of contributions to the fight.  One country has already withdrawn from the coalition in fear of retaliation by Daesh. This is in fact the United Arab Emirates, one of the United States’ most important Arab partners in matters relating to counterterrorism. Other key countries like Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have been defending their participation in the coalition despite unfavorable public opinion regarding involvement in Syria. Continued vetting and solicitation of support from majority-Sunni Muslim nations is therefore crucial to sustain the coalition and its credibility.

So where does Daesh stand, following the death of Lt. Kasabeh? Daesh’s latest showing of terror will ultimately hurt its movement in the long term. Though the organization might appeal to the most extreme of extremists, this particular killing repels more potential supporters than it attracts them. Given Daesh’s dampened momentum in Kobani, Diyala, and Mosul, it appears foolish to turn away potential recruits. Nonetheless, Daesh maintains controls 50,000 square kilometers of Iraq and approximately 30% of Syria;its presence is far from diminished. The United States’ and coalition members would raise the campaign by publicly exploiting Daesh’s latest strategic miscalculation and supporting each other during the grave loss of human beings.

By Terrence Kim

In only a few months the Syrian conflict will mark its fourth anniversary, regrettably marking the continuing calamity that has distorted a once colorful and blossoming nation into the harrowed and war-stricken land that it is today. The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that by the end of 2014, 6.5 of 22 million Syrians will be classified as internally displaced persons, while over 2.5 million will have fled Syria as refugees. This struggle has displaced millions of people, while claiming the lives of over 190,000. While international aid organizations invariably endeavor in the minimization of casualties, their equally meaningful objective is providing educational opportunities for Syria’s youth. As war rages on, efforts to educate and nurture the generations that will rebuild Syria must endure.

The Syrian conflict was never meant to last this long. It was supposed to be a minor inconvenience of which some government, or some deity, was to resolve so that shopkeepers could continue selling their teas and coffees and so that teachers could continue shaping their tullab (students) into the country’s future doctors, teachers, lawyers, and parents. Months turned into a year and a year turned into four. Parents, backed by confidence in their imminent return to Syria, had initially scoffed at the idea of matriculating their children into their host-country’s schools. This mindset is causing students to be out of school for so long that re-admittance into public education is no longer an option for many. International aid organizations, such as the U.N., have been campaigning continuing education efforts for students into either host-country schools or specialized programs for refugee and displaced children.

The United Nations, in partnership with international aid organizations like Save the Children and Mercy Corps, launched the No Lost Generation Initiative (NLGI) about one year ago in October 2014. No Lost Generation calls for a $1 billion investment in expanding access to learning, providing a protective environment, and broadening opportunities for children and adolescents in Syria and neighboring countries. According to a UNICEF report on the war’s impact of the conflict in Syria, almost all of Syria’s children were enrolled in school and 5% of the country’s annual GDP was spent on public education before the war; with the conflict approaching four years, almost 3 million school-aged Syrian children are no longer in school.

For the children who remained in Syria, more than 18% of schools have been damaged, destroyed, or occupied by displaced people or military personnel. The lack of schools and perilous environment make getting to schools a difficult, off-putting struggle. And for the refugees who sought asylum outside of Syria, host governments are struggling to accommodate not only educational needs for children, but are also adjusting political and economic policies in dealing with rising costs of basic services, food, and rents.

So what has #NoLostGeneration accomplished a year into its inception? Note: the following reflects samples of rounded data gathered from No Lost Generation’s first year report.In Syria:

  • 440,000 more children in school over the last year than the previous year
  • 46% temporary learning spaces established inside Syria
  • 32 (of 4,200) damaged schools repaired
  • 1.5 million children in 14 governorates received school supplies
  • 350,000 students are engaged in school feeding programs
  • 550 teachers received psychosocial training
  • 70,000 children have received psychosocial support
  • 27,000 children have received life skills and vocational training, remedial secondary classes, and psychosocial support

Neighboring Countries:

–  489,000 student increase in formal and non-formal enrollment in schools
–  587,000 children have received psychosocial support
–  27,000 students are engaged in school feeding programs in Jordan and Iraq

Lebanon: ‘Reaching All Children with Education’ (RACE) committed to 413,000 Syrian students for the next three years by opening second shifts in public schools

  • Targets 630 high-risk Syrian and Lebanese children formerly associated with armed parties to the conflict
  • Psychosocial support
  • Activities on conflict resolution
  • <span “font-family:wingdings;mso-fareast-font-family:wingdings;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” wingdings”=””> Vocational training
  • Individual and group counseling
  • Access to health, legal, and protection services
  • Ministry of Social Affairs established decentralized national case management system which is the first tertiary-level child protection program in the country
  • 200,000 caregivers received psychosocial training
  • Doctors and nurses received training on clinical management of sexual violence

Jordan: public schools are operating on double shifts

  • Hygiene, recreation, psychosocial, and educational programs

Turkey: progress has been made in normalizing the status of Syrian refugee teachers

  • Strengthened capacity of local child protection actors
  • Child Protection in Emergency Training

No Lost Generation Initiative is an effort to not only rebuild childhoods, but to shape futures that will restore Syria into the bourgeoning nation it used to be. There are roughly 4.3 million children in Syria affected by the conflict and more than half of Syrian refugees are under the age of 18. The greatest victims of this conflict are indisputably the young and vulnerable who hold no say in any political agenda. These children are growing too old too soon. Innocence is lost as their lives are compelled into violence with Kalashnikovs forced into their hands to fight a war that is not their own. Political matters aside, the international community holds a fundamental responsibility to Syria’s vulnerable youth in promoting peace and providing aid through education initiatives. Education’s catalytic effect on children’s well-being and development may potentially be paving the path for peace, stability, and economic development.

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By Lidiya Chikalova

Source: PanARMENIAN Photo / Vahan Stepanyan ©

The unstable economic situation and hostilities under Assad’s regime have and continue to force Syrians of Armenian origin to abandon their country and turn to their homeland in search of better living conditions and peace around the world. Armenia has provided such home to Armenian repats. While moving to Armenia may initially seem easy, returnees experience social, cultural and language barriers. Thus, the Armenian government proposed integration programs to smooth adjustment into the new culture, as the inflow continues.

Shanto Kehyeian, 22, arrived to Yerevan alone in 2012 from Aleppo where he left both his family and his job as an archeologist behind. It took him two years to adjust to the Western dialect of the language, find leasable housing and acquire a job in the IT industry. With the help of RepatArmenia and EYP, non-government organizations locals recommended to him, he was able to make new friends and seek new opportunities.  “I learnt about NGOs through local Armenians. There are a number of charity NGOs that help repatriates overcome obstacles, but not everyone’s story is as successful as mine,” said Shanto Kehyeian.

Source: PanARMENIAN Photo / Vahan Stepanyan ©
Source: PanARMENIAN Photo / Vahan Stepanyan ©

Education programs for repatriates in Armenia

An enthusiastic community in Armenia created the RepatArmenia Foundation, and initiated numerous projects to help the repatriates to integrate. “Priorities are given to the non-formal educational programEYP Armenia and RepatArmenia, which help repatriates to acquire a well-paid job, launch a start-up, find a house and many more issues that they may encounter in the first stages of their settling in Armenia,” stated Hovsep Patvakanyan, president at European Youth Parliament in Armenia.

The Armenian government took a flexible position and now adjusts to the needs of repatriates, as returnees just like Shanto from Syria are struggling with the language barrier. Based on the Syrian refugee initiative the Armenian government developed a high-school program in 2013 for 400 students to easily integrate into Armenian educational system. “Among returnees were teachers with personal libraries, thus we had no problem finding instructors. The program lasted for a year and in 2014 academic year students can study in Armenian schools without a problem. Starting this year we asked ministry of education to integrate the Arabic language, as we want Armenians from Syria to keep their identity they grew up with,” stated Firdus Zakaryan, head of the Working Group on Syrian refugees.

Many of returned Armenians do not have outspoken language problems, however “the only difference is between Western and Eastern dialect, but once you are there you catch up with it quickly. When it comes to Russian, that is when it becomes very complicated and here is when the language barrier appears for many Syrian and Lebanese Armenians.  The programs and education remind of a Soviet Armenia,” added Shant Kerbabian, Syrian journalist of Armenian origin in Beirut. Yet, American University in Armenia is currently implementing Syrian-Armenian Assistance Program to raise funds for scholarships for returnees.

Situation in Armenia

According to the 2014 Index of Economic FreedomArmenia has advanced from economic repression 20 years ago to a ‘moderately free’ economy today. The broad advancement of economic freedom has greatly reduced poverty. Now more than ever, the country is capable of attracting returnees of Armenian origin.  According to the Armenian Ministry of Diaspora statistics, approximately 12,000-13,000 returnees obtained Armenian citizenship for the period of 2013 and 2014.

Only 1,000 people returned from Lebanon; the rest came from Syria because of the growing hostilities in the region. “There are a lot of Syrian Armenians in Armenia. A lot of them profoundly believe that Armenia is their homeland.  It is a safe refuge,” added a Syrian Armenian journalist who fled Kessab 2012.

Unlike the refugee experience in other countries, the inflow of repatriates to Armenia boosts the economy. Shanto’s story is the case in point. “IT sector has benefited greatly with plenty of IT companies being established by the refugees from Lebanon or Syria. Moreover, those Diaspora Armenians have also brought here the culture of a good service, arts, crafts and largely revived the concept of ‘family business’,” added Hovsep Patvakanyan.

Repatriates have to find their own way of settling in Armenia. The living conditions of those who have settled there depend on amount of money they have, as the Armenian government cannot provide every repatriate with housing. According to Shant Kerbabian, around 5,000 families have recently joined the Syrian-Armenian community. “Rent is very expensive. Not all refugees get accommodations and housing. They will not just give you the house. Charity, saving, there is always a relative in America who can provide with money. There is always a way of getting some money. Moreover as UNHCR registered refugees, they receive food coupons, but they are not getting accommodation.”

Financing the repatriates

Out of all Syrian repatriates only 7-8% are refugees de facto and registered in UNHCR, the rest have either established dual citizenship or received a special residence permit. As the law on repatriation is still in under consideration in the parliament, unofficial repatriates can enter the country on the basis of their ethnicity,” added representative of the Syrian repatriates group at the Ministry of Diaspora.

Not everyone stays, however. Some repatriates are return to Aleppo, Damascus and Beirut, often owing to failed integration and unsatisfactory earnings. The move to Armenia is also a costly process. Many left their kids at Armenian universities, returning to Aleppo to earn money. The Armenian government, charities and Armenian-run NGOs from around the world all focus on improving integration methods. Additional financial help to support returnees comes from Kuwait, including a donation of $100,000 to provide with food and an additional $100,000 to integrate new educational systems in schools.

“We might experience some problems upon arrival to Armenia. But one can have these problems anywhere in the world. We are supported and get help. With time and efforts, we can achieve more,” concluded Vardan.

By Dana Busgang

On August 7th, 2014, President Obama announced that the US military would be joining a broad coalition of Western and Arab nations with the specific intent to stop the advance of the Salafi Jihadi militant group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). While the US military has been involved in Iraq off and on over the past decade, this would be the first time that US bombs would be dropped in Syria. About a year ago, the Obama administration was inches away from launching airstrikes against the Assad regime in Syria, but backed off at the last minute when a diplomatic agreement was reached with the assistance of Russia to rid Syria of chemical weapons—a “red line” for the Obama administration. Despite the lack of military action against the Syrian regime, the US government has continued to support “moderate” Syrian rebels fighting the regime.

The clear target of the anti-ISIS coalition is the aforementioned Islamic State group. However, the US has begun quietly targeting other groups. In early November, reports were released that US airstrikes had targeted the al-Qaeda linked group Jabhat al-Nusra in northwestern Syria. Back in April 2013, long before the international war against ISIS began, the head of the then Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced that al-Nusra had been a branch of ISI in Syria, and the two groups would now become one group—the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham. However, Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani, the leader of al-Nusra, rejected the merger, claiming he had not been consulted and confirmed his allegiance to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. After months of tension between the two groups following the proposed merger, al-Qaeda officially broke ties with ISIS in early February 2014, claiming that ISIS “is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group…does not have an organizational relationship with it and [al-Qaeda] is not the group responsible for their actions.” Following this announcement, open war broke out between al-Nusra and ISIS factions, culminating in an ISIS offensive in Syria’s al-Zor province that left hundreds of fighters from both groups dead.

In addition to launching strikes against al-Nusra, the US military has also conducted air strikes against the Khorasan group in Syria, another al-Qaeda affiliate that very little is known about. The strikes against Khorasan began in September 2014, and have continued into November, with US officials justifying the strikes by claiming that the group was involved in planning “imminent” attacks against the West and the US.

While both Jabhat al-Nusra and Khorasan are designated terrorist groups (although more moderate than ISIS) and part of the al-Qaeda network, the original strategy of defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria made no mention of combatting al-Qaeda and ISIS simultaneously. The two groups, at least for the moment, are sworn enemies and compete with each other for control of land and control of the broader Syria rebellion against the Assad regime. Trying to eliminate two major players, and two enemies, in the Syrian civil war could prove dangerous and counter productive to US led efforts. There have been reports of al-Nusra and ISIS co-operating in order to take on larger (and common) enemies, like the Syrian regime, or the US backed anti-ISIS coalition. While both groups are dangerous on their own, the two of them combined could pose an unprecedented threat to the future of the fragile region. Although the two groups still seem to be in opposition to each other, continued air strikes on both groups could lead to a reunion against a greater enemy.

The other often-ignored variable in this equation is the effect of US airstrikes on the beleaguered Syrian regime. The US has pretty much abandoned hopes of arming moderate rebels to fight Assad’s forces, as this has proven problematic and unsuccessful in the past. The US will also not engage in direct warfare against the Assad regime, in efforts to prevent US troops from being involved in another war in the Middle East. Despite the lack of action, the US still condemns the Assad regime and believes it needs to be deposed. However, it seems that while the US has been focused on defeating ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, the regime’s forces have been steadily regaining territory and strength. As the US bombs the two most powerful enemies of the Syrian regime, are they inadvertently helping Assad regain control of his country? The answer, unfortunately, seems to be affirmative. The Obama administration is currently targeting what it sees as the greater of two evils in Syria, but in order to ensure that Syria does not fall back into the hands of the authoritarian Baath regime, new policies to counteract the gains made by the regime at the expense of ISIS must be enacted.

By Sumer Shaikh

 

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