Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the Middle East

Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the Middle East

Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response *

Article excerpt

Overview

Fighting continues across Syria, pitting government forces and their foreign allies against a range of anti-government insurgents, some of whom also are fighting amongst themselves. Government forces are fighting on multiple fronts and have lost or ceded control of large areas of the country since 2011, but hold most major cities and have advanced in key areas in recent months. The Asad government continues to receive support from Russia and Iran, and, contrary to some observers' predictions, has shown no indication of an imminent collapse. Opposition forces are formidable but lack unity of purpose, unity of command, and unified international support. Various opposition groups have, depending on the circumstances, cooperated and competed. At present, significant elements of the opposition are engaged in outright conflict against one another. Some observers suggest that more than 75% of the armed opposition may seek to replace the Asad government with a state ruled according to some form of Sunni Islamic law,1 which non-Sunni minority groups oppose. Kurdish groups control areas of northeastern Syria and may seek autonomy or independence in the future.

Meanwhile, chemical weapons inspectors work to oversee and implement the terms of the September 2013 chemical disarmament agreement endorsed by the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council in Resolution 2118. Some rebel groups and regional governments have criticized the U.S. decision to forego a threatened military strike against Syrian government forces in response to the Syrian military's alleged use of chemical weapons in August. Members of Congress expressed a broad range of views regarding the potential use of force in Syria during intense debate in September, and Obama Administration officials have stated that they believe that the threat of the use of force by the United States was instrumental in convincing Syrian President Bashar al Asad to commit to the disarmament plan. Recent allegations of the use of chlorine gas by government forces have revived debates about appropriate responses.

With internationally supervised disarmament proceeding, U.S. diplomatic efforts seek to shape the terms and conditions for negotiation to end the fighting and establish a transitional governing body as called for by a communiqué agreed to in Geneva in June 2012. That communiqué was further endorsed in Resolutions 2118 and 2139, and served as the basis for the January-February 2014 -Geneva II" talks in Switzerland involving some members of the Syrian opposition, representatives of the Syrian government, and delegates from dozens of countries. Those talks failed to address the establishment of a transitional body, based largely on Syrian government insistence that terrorism concerns be resolved first. Several unarmed and armed groups rejected the Geneva II talks outright, and opposition forces remain divided over questions of whether and under what conditions to participate in negotiations with the Asad government. Inside Syria, neither pro-Asad forces nor their opponents appear capable of consolidating their battlefield gains or achieving outright victory in the short term. In February 2014, the U.S. intelligence community reported to Congress that a stalemate prevails in Syria, and that -decisively altering the course of the conflict in the next six months will prove difficult for either side." According to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the Syrian government and its allies have gained some ground in recent months. However, improved coordination among some anti-government forces and attrition in government ranks makes a swift reassertion of state control across all of Syria improbable.

Combat between Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, a.k.a. ISIS)8 and other anti-Asad forces across northern Syria has intensified since late December 2013. In spite of an apparent shared antipathy among opposition groups toward ISIL's brutality, many anti-Asad armed forces and their activist counterparts remain divided over tactics, strategy, and their long-term political goals for Syria. …

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