Charles Lister Profile picture
Senior Fellow & Director of @MEI_Syria & @MEI_CTE programs at @MiddleEastInst. Author of #TheSyrianJihad & @aawsat_News Columnist. American-British in DC.
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24 Aug
All 45 participants - 15 from regime, 15 independents, 15 opposition - were tested before flying to #Geneva.

Quite how 3/45 slipped through the cracks is extraordinary.

If they [presumably] came from #Damascus, it speaks volumes about the crisis there.
Two sources confirm to me all 3 positive cases came from #Damascus.

What's troubling is that all 45 participants had been tested for #COVID *before* traveling to #Geneva & tested again on arrival in #Switzerland.

Somehow 3 positive cases slipped through that @UN-run process.
@UN NEW - Official statement from UN S/E Pedersen's office confirms #Syria's Constitutional Committee sessions in #Geneva are "on hold" after 3/45 participants tested positive for #COVID19. Image
Read 8 tweets
9 Jul
"Life Inside #Syria's al-Hol Camp"

- After interviewing 20 camp residents, @MEI_CTE scholar @vera_mironov delves deep into who lives in al-Hol? How do they relate to #ISIS? Who's escaping? How do they acquire money? & more.

REALLY important work:

mei.edu/publications/l…
@MEI_CTE @vera_mironov According to @vera_mironov's work, only a small minority of al-Hol residents genuinely support #ISIS - many others fake loyalty as a source of financial support (from #ISIS directly or foreign donors).

This drives many expressions of ultra radicalism or fake claims of attacks.
@MEI_CTE @vera_mironov One al-Hol resident claimed to @vera_mironov:

- "What #ISIS enforcement can we talk about, I feel like we're in #Europe here. Many females have sex with male camp workers... We constantly hear about 13-year-old boys having sex with girls or even try to rape other younger boys."
Read 6 tweets
30 Jun
This thread by @hxhassan is worth a read -- #HTS's violent response to #AlQaeda affiliate Huras Al-Din's overreach will have significant consequences.

A few additional notes of my own, to follow:

- This is all entirely consistent with #HTS/#JFS/#Nusra policy since ~2014.
@hxhassan My understanding of events leading up to the all-out fight differs somewhat -- #HTS's arrest of Abu Saloh al-Uzbeki
& Abu Malik al-Talli were *very* inflammatory to HaD. Both were crucial sources of finance & external networks. Plus, they came amid several escalatory accusations:
@hxhassan 1. After Abu Saloh's arrest, rumor swirled that #Turkey's MIT had transferred messages from #Moscow to #HTS, requesting his extradition via #Ankara in exchange for political & economic rewards.

Abu Saloh is accused of coordinating multiple attacks in #Russia in recent yrs.
Read 14 tweets
23 Jun
The intra-jihadi dynamic in #Idlib is rapidly intensifying, as #HTS is seeking to re-assert itself vis-a-vis (1) the opposition, (2) local civil society, (3) #Turkey & (4) increasingly exasperated #AlQaeda-leaning factions.

In doing so, it's revealing its multiple identities.
In recent weeks, we've seen escalatory events:

1. Khaled al-Aruri's death in a US drone strike

2. Formation of the #AlQaeda-leaning 'Stand Firm' ops room

3. #HTS arrest of:
- Sirajideen Makhtarov (Abu Saloh al-Uzbeki)
- Jamal Hassan Zayniya (Abu Malik al-Talli)
- Tauqir Sharif
Weeks ago, #HTS was attempting to [re-]build bridges with #Idlib civil society & now it's cracking down on divisive #AlQaeda loyalists & defecting critics.

Hard not to see the drivers involved here:

- Protect internal unity & regional primacy
- Undermine #AQ
- Message #Turkey
Read 33 tweets
24 Apr
This is a masterclass in research by @Elizrael & @Qussai_jukhadar -- I'm proud to be publishing it on @MiddleEastInst.

- "Ravaged by war, #Syria’s health care system is utterly unprepared for the #COVID19 pandemic."

mei.edu/publications/r…
@Elizrael @Qussai_jukhadar @MiddleEastInst #pt: While most health experts project terrible #COVID19 implications for #Syria, the @WHO insists a "minor outbreak" is more likely.

Why? @WHO's analysis is based on #Wuhan/#China data - which is absurd, given the contrasts in governance, security & healthcare capacity.
@Elizrael @Qussai_jukhadar @MiddleEastInst @WHO #pt: If equating #Syria's capacity to deal w. #COVID19 with #China's wasn't crazy enough, @WHO went further - predicting #Idlib would witness a 50% less infection rate than #Wuhan:

- 2,413 infections
- 121 ICU cases

Out of 4 million people, most in IDP camps w. no services.
Read 6 tweets
4 Mar
A lot has changed in #Idlib/NW #Syria in recent days & much of the focus has been on hour-by-hour developments & less has been said on what it all means going forward.

Here's a lengthy thread laying out some of my thinking.
2 weeks ago, pro-#Assad forces were rampaging through #Idlib, overwhelming opposition defenses & swallowing up #Turkey's military observation posts almost at will.

The world stood virtually silent - or indifferent - as 1 million people were methodically & brutally displaced.
#pt: Amid the pro-#Assad advances, #Turkey ramped up arms supplies & intel sharing with #NLF/#SNA opposition proxies - in an attempt to bolster their offensive & defensive capabilities.

Then #TSK artillery support was added, along with a low-tempo campaign of covert UAV strikes.
Read 26 tweets
24 Feb
In 85 days, ~1 million people have fled their homes in #Idlib, #Syria.

60% are kids & 20% women.

They're now homeless, hemmed onto a shut #Turkey border. There are no tents left & little food. Kids are freezing to death.

Where the Hell is the world's attention? WAKE UP.
#pt: The #Idlib crisis is unprecedented, BUT not just for #Syria - this is the biggest humanitarian crisis in modern history AND it happened rapidly, in 2-3 months.

This isn't just "someone else's problem," it's a global one. If left untouched, the consequences WILL be global.
#pt: 1 million people, including 600,000 kids, with the clothes on their back & some blankets, if they're lucky. In the winter.

The @UN has run out of cross-border funds & #Syria is blocking supplies from elsewhere.

Meanwhile, #Russia is flattening hospitals, schools & markets.
Read 14 tweets
12 Feb
#Turkey's #Erdogan produced a blistering speech today aimed [primarily] at #Assad, declaring that #Syria's aircraft would not be able to "move freely anymore" & that #TSK would "chase" Syrian forces out of the #Sochi-delineated borders.

A good overview:

middleeasteye.net/news/turkey-hi… Image
#pt: Despite #Erdogan's threats & #Turkey's escalatory moves, neither #Assad nor #Russia appear to be stepping down.

Ground maneuvers remain at high tempo but interestingly, @Sentry_Syria says *only* #Russia aircraft have been flying today (amid reports of #TSK MANPADS in play].
@Sentry_Syria #pt: However, pro-#Assad casualties have been very high, as noted by monitors like @SchoenbornTrent & @GregoryPWaters.

563 dead in 6 weeks is significant - #Russia does take note of these details...

Read 82 tweets
16 Jan
NEW, via sources - After a series of meetings btw #NLF & #Turkey (MiT), a conclusion is being drawn that #Assad/#Russia may not be stopped in #Idlib.

#Turkey has upped arms supplies (mainly Grads, mortars & small-arms ammo, plus some ATGMs) & intel sharing, but outlook not good.
#Turkey's confidence in being able to contain the situation in #Idlib & deter the pro-#Assad coalition from escalating further has been declining for some time.

Meetings I had in December indicated where we were going:

#pts: But while confidence is low & the pro-#Assad offensive continues, let's keep some context in mind:

- In 9 months, #Assad has retaken *only* 1/3 of the #Idlib "DMZ" - equating to ~10-15% of the entire NW region.

There's a *long* way to go, if the whole NW is to fall. Image
Read 85 tweets
3 Jan
The consequences of killing Soleimani are hard to grasp; this is the biggest news in the #MiddleEast for years.

For starters, the US will have to leave #Syria soon & the #Iraq presence is likely on its way out too.

Plus Hezb-#Israel; the Gulf, US Embassies & assets region-wide.
This is insane.

Reports now of US Marines “arresting” Qais al-Khazali & Hadi al-Ameri in #Baghdad.

#Trump wanted a “royal flush?” Jesus.

War is coming, the only questions are the important ones: where, in what form & when?

Messaging coming out or #Tehran is already ominous - “strikes,” “earthquakes,” etc.

Killing #Soleimani is an extraordinarily bold move by #Trump - but is he prepared for the consequences?
Read 9 tweets
29 Dec 19
Taking a brief foray back to Twitter to note the strategic significance of today's U.S. strikes on Kataib #Hezbollah in #Syria & #Iraq.

19 dead (incl. 3 #IRGC) & 35+ wounded is a major response by the U.S. - alike #Israel's retaliatory modus operandi - BUT note: U.S is exposed.
#pt: The U.S. government apparatus (esp. IC) has known for a long time - and feared - this scenario, whereby the death of an American would necessitate a serious response, which in turn would leave U.S. personnel in #Syria & especially #Iraq exposed to #IRGC counter-retaliation.
#pt: #IRGC-linked rocket attacks in #Iraq are hardly new, but the death of an American was.

Likewise, the death of 19+ KH fighters is new & a marked walk up the escalation ladder.

#Iran holds the cards now & re-escalation seems likely -- leaving #Trump in a position he fears.
Read 12 tweets
26 Oct 19
BREAKING - reports of a (US?) helicopter-borne raid on a convoy of Huras al-Din (#AlQaeda in #Syria) leaders traveling near Barisha in #Idlib.

Locals say as many as 6 choppers involved - gave chase to convoy, 2 landed & assaulted vehicles. Possibly took bodies or evidence away.
#pt: Barisha is ~3-4km from the #Turkey border. It's in long-time #AlQaeda territory, spanning between Al-Dana-Sarmada-Salqin.

As I recall, a helicopter-borne raid on AQ in NW #Syria has never happened - this would suggest a very high-level target.
#pt: In more recent years, the Turkistan Islamic Party (#TIP) has probably been the most significant authority in the Barisha region (stretching NE to Jisr al-Shughour).

Unverified reports have claimed 1 #TIP fatality, in what looks like a series of successive clashes. #Idlib
Read 33 tweets
21 Oct 19
Using an #America-centric lens to criticize #Turkey for making national security judgements based on a #Turkey-centric lens is analytically dubious.

Whether we like it or not, #Turkey has fought a 40-year #PKK insurgency & sees the #PKK as its No.1 national security threat.
#pt: And FWIW, using Aldar Khalil as the sole source to claim that the #PYD-#PKK relationship is solely defined by "intellectual lineage" & 'sympathy with one another's political goals' is analytically disingenuous.

Perhaps instead read the #PYD itself:

#pt: If the #PYD's very own website (deleted - but archived - after teaming up with the U.S. military in 2014) wasn't enough, take the public assessments of U.S. government's dedicated National CounterTerrorism Center (part of the Intelligence Community):

Read 7 tweets
15 Oct 19
Never has the self-suicide of #Syria's mainstream opposition been more clear than in recent days.

#Afrin was really bad, but this NE incursion (its manner; its consequences etc.) is truly beyond the pale -- in truth, what we've witnessed is a #Turkish campaign through-&-through.
It's clear now that the Dec 2016 loss of #Aleppo - in large part due to #Turkey selling it out to #Russia - was *the* turning point.

Opposition factions lost any sense of autonomy of action & over the years that followed, everyone but #JFS-#HTS & #AlQaeda existed *for* #Ankara.
An #American presence in NE #Syria kept at least some of this #Turkish ambition under wraps (just ), but #Trump's naive (or malicious?) "green light" decision after speaking with #Erdogan let everything loose.

Only now are we seeing the consequences -- and they're not yet clear.
Read 15 tweets
13 Oct 19
That “1000” is, roughly, the entire US presence in #Syria.

What does “northern #Syria” mean? Are they being drawn down to Deir ez Zour? Are we seeing an Arab-focused last chance strategy in slow formation?
The U.S. withdrawal from #Syria is underway, as directed overnight by #Trump & supported by @DeptofDefense.

As I wrote a few days ago, opening the doors to #Turkey put the writing on the wall.

- "Making America Great Again” has never sounded so vapid."

mei.edu/blog/trump-pav…
@DeptofDefense HUGE developments in north #Syria, as the #SDF agrees a de facto surrender deal w. the #Assad regime, in return for a #Russia-backed #SAA move to block #Turkey's advances.

Looks like #Manbij, #Kobani, #Qamishli & possibly #Raqqa are all included in this agreement.

#SAA moving.
Read 10 tweets
8 Oct 19
I've made my thoughts clear on how *bad* #Trump's decisions have been for #Syria policy (& the #SDF).

But let's just get something straight:

- The U.S. knowingly decided to ally with a designated terrorist organization (the #PYD/#YPG) in 2014 to fight #ISIS in #Kobani & beyond.
#pt: The State Dept, NCTC & CIA all viewed the #PYD as the #PKK's #Syria affiliate in 2013 -- that's in public documents.

That label was [quietly] removed in 2014.

In #Turkey - a #NATO state, whether we like it or not - the #PKK is viewed as *the* existential security threat.
#pt: #Turkey was complicit in terrible #Syria border control & ties to #Nusra. No doubt.

But put that aside for minute:

Imagine if a foreign state brought #ISIS to #Mexico & armed it to fight cartels, while assuring #Washington: "don't worry, they're only interested in Mexico."
Read 8 tweets
17 Sep 19
The #Trump admin has totally skewered #Iran policy. Maximum pressure has lacked *any* substantive strategy or realistic end-game.

Now we lack allies & credibility.

#Iran's hardliners are laughing - they calculated they could hit #Saudi with a high probability of impunity.
Following #Iran's attack on @Saudi_Aramco, @stevenacook writes:

- "Events in the Persian Gulf have demonstrated to #Iran’s leaders that they can escalate with impunity... If #Trump does not respond militarily, the U.S. should just pack up and go home."

foreignpolicy.com/2019/09/17/thi…
@Saudi_Aramco @stevenacook Few if any people like the prospect of *any* military action, but just take stock of what took place the other day in #Saudi.

If the U.S. fails to respond here, we invite more malign acts.

As one colleague just said to me: it'd be *THE* inflection point for U.S in #MiddleEast.
Read 12 tweets
7 Aug 19
Amid the ongoing conflict in NW #Syria, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (#HTS) continues to evolve in intriguing ways - into a more politically mature & intelligent jihadist movement.

It's current leadership clearly seeks to position itself somewhere between #MuslimBrotherhood & #AlQaeda.
There's now little question that #HTS no longer represents #AlQaeda.

It's clearly still an extremist movement, but signs continue to add up indicating that it's developing into something qualitatively different than the Jabhat al-Nusra of 2014-15 - a "Shami #Taliban," perhaps.
Most recently in the public space, #HTS issued a statement acknowledging its willingness to abide by an externally-negotiated (by #Turkey, #Iran & #Russia) ceasefire.

That was a first.

Its never happened before in #Syria & it's not a move any #AlQaeda affiliate would ever take.
Read 15 tweets
30 Jun 19
Senior US officials have told me they'd only consider taking the risk of breaking #Russia's air-ban on NW #Syria on 2 conditions:

a) A senior AQ figure emerged as clear target
b) External attack plotting was detected.

I'd treat these "US strike" reports w. some caution for now.
According to well-placed sources in NW #Syria, Huras al-Din figures have on [at least] several occasions raised the importance of re-asserting attention on attacking the West from #Idlib/#Aleppo.

That's a very unpopular proposition, so raising it speaks volumes re. confidence.
Overnight, @CENTCOM confirmed yesterday's strike on #AlQaeda's Huras al-Din in western #Aleppo.

Their reasoning confirms one of the two conditions U.S. officials had previously told me they'd need to break #Russia's air ban over NW #Syria: "plotting external attacks..."
Read 9 tweets
29 Apr 19
BREAKING - #ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-#Baghdadi revealed in-person on new #ISIS video post-#Caliphate defeat in #Syria-#Iraq.

He appears in fine health, despite reports of severe injury.
I'm honestly unconvinced that this "diminished" point translates over to #ISIS & its existing/possible support base.

To me, this seems like a Western-centric point from which to analyze a video containing #Baghdadi's 2nd appearance in ~5yrs - a big deal.

#pt: For #ISIS, the struggle is theologically infinite - it isn't "defeated" or "prevented" by territorial losses.

e.g. #Trump's #Syria withdrawal announcement in #Dec '18 would have been perceived as a sign of eventual victory.

- #Baghdadi's video = fuel, not sign of weakness.
Read 10 tweets
22 Apr 19
The scale of the #SriLanka attacks is hard to fathom - 290 dead & 500+ wounded.

Target choice, scope, coordination & device success rate makes an international nexus here *highly* likely.

Both #ISIS & #AQIS have reported links w. Sri Lanka/ns, but no evidence yet links to this.
#pt: #SriLanka authorities have pinned initial blame on indigenous Islamist movement @ntjinfo, but I'd be amazed if they - or any similar local organization - had the capacity to conduct such a complex series of mass-casualty attacks.

The bomb-maker alone appears very adept.
@ntjinfo #pt: As @RobertPostings has revealed, one of the allegedly-identified #SriLanka suicide bombers, "Zahran Hashim," was an overt #ISIS supporter (as of late-2017), with a social media following of 4,000+.

#SriLanka has also acknowledged ~40 citizens joined #ISIS in #Syria/#Iraq.
Read 11 tweets