Alright, since I have been tweeting mostly about the role of existing European and American sanctions, I feel I should offer some clarity regarding the Caesar Act, which went into force yesterday with the designation of three loyalist businessmen and their respective firms. /1
Caesar has divided even the Syrian opposition. Where past sanctions have mostly sought to limit the Syrian regime's ability to access Western resources for their butchery, Caesar effectively mandates the US employ its economic power deter third parties from engaging Damascus. /2
As a result, most larger companies around the world are likely to refuse any transactions involving the Syrian government (or its banks), effectively cutting off its last remaining sources of foreign currency and crippling any prospect of outside investment for reconstruction. /3
Just ten days ago, the European Union renewed its sanctions against the Syrian regime and its worst agents. Now, there is going to be a chorus blaming the current collapse on an economic "siege" by the West, demanding measures be lifted. They will be disappointed either way. /1
First, sanctions are unlikely to be lifted in near future. While some policy entrepreneurs keep searching for openings for normalization ("more for more"), the broad policy consensus holds. Nobody's chomping at the bits to send their tax euros to Assad. /2
Why? There are simply few incentives esp few "push" factors. Assad and Putin won the war, so let them chart a path forward then. They thought they had a trump card in the migration and returnees issue. But the "refugee crisis" was half a decade ago. Europe has mostly moved on. /3
Two years ago today, Syrian helicopters dropped Chlorine bombs on residential areas of Douma, killing at least 43 civilians. Despite rabid disinformation, the detailed @OPCW FFM report on the attack remains the single best account of events of that day: opcw.org/media-centre/n…
The @nytimes visual investigations team also produced a fantastic and very accessible feature on the incident, helping lay readers situate the jarring images of that day in time and place and slowly walking them through the steps of the investigation. nytimes.com/interactive/20…
Our friends at @bellingcat have also been indefatigable: Among the first to cover and correctly assess what had occurred that night as well as going through the works of responding to the myriad wild conspiracy theories that have cropped over the years:
It's 15 March - the anniversary of the Syrian uprising. I realized the other day that, somewhere along the way, I lost all my photos from 2011-13. Like from that blazing summer day on Tahrir when they first unfurled the massive Syrian independence flag. Feels like false memories.
A friend visited Rabaa recently. All cleared, no remembrance. Eventually, the collective conscience will move on, leaving a million individual memories strewn about to fight for themselves. A few years on, those who hold on to them will look ever stranger, even to their children.
It's one of the reasons I support the IIIM and other truth-seeking mechanisms. Not to endlessly rehash the past, but to allow those who lived through it to find if not justice or closure, then at least validation. There's something cathartic in enshrining memory into history.
Since @EliotHiggins and others asked the other day: How many of these Mi-8/17 helicopters, which have been responsible for so much suffering over the years, are actually still in action? Let me try and offer an estimate. As always, the answer has a lot of caveats. /1
First off, what are we talking about? The Mi-8/17 ("Hip") are relatively large, Soviet-designed transport helicopters. At the outset of the war, the Syrian air force had a relatively large fleet of these on the books (50+ airframes) in line with Soviet-influenced doctrine. /2
Since 2012, these were employed for (1) VIP transport, (2) reconnaissance, (3) supply of remote government-held pockets, and - most notoriously - (4) as improvised bombers, indiscriminately dropping explosive-filled barrels onto opposition-held towns. /3
Over the past week, Turkey has moved hundreds of tanks and other heavy military equipment as well as reportedly thousands of troops into northwestern Syria, where more than half a million people are on the run from a Russian and Iranian backed loyalist advance. A few thoughts: /1
Ergodan earlier this week gave the Syrian regime until the end of February to withdraw behind Turkish posts along the so-called "Sochi line." Loyalists had previously ignored and circumvented, and sometimes even shelled the Turkish forward positions, leaving them besieged. /2
Interpretations of the Turkish moves run the gamut: Many see in Turkey the only force capable of stopping a regime offensive that is quickly devolving into the worst atrocity of a horrific war. One that could set off another mass exodus of millions and radicalize a generation. /3
Viel Erfolg dabei. Ein paar Gedanken: Das heutige Votum im irakischen Parlament ist zwar noch nicht das Ende der internationalen anti-IS-Koalition im Irak (die formalen Schritte werden sich über Monate ziehen), aber die Signalwirkung ist eindeutig, die Mission ist quasi tot. /1
Das Pentagon geht bereits von einem Abzugsgesuch innerhalb der nächsten Monate aus. In der Zwischenzeit wird ausgeharrt. Das Schlagwort heißt 'force protection' - keine unnötigen Risiken. Die Bedrohung durch schiitische Milizen ist zu hoch um weiter frei operieren zu können. /2
Nun werden ISR-Kapazitäten, die für den Kampf vs IS gedacht waren, zum Schutz der eigenen Leute umgelenkt. Im Irak gibt es keine westlichen Basen, nur irakische Installationen mit internationalen Annexen. Der PM hat klar gemacht, dass diese keinen echten Schutz leisten können. /3
This whole issue will slowly fade from the minds of sensible and decent people until twenty years from now we elect or award a nobel prize to one of these loons and need to have another demeaning national discussion about whether, maybe, it was all more Complicated Than That.
It was not. But it's foreign peoples who drowned in their own lungs and it's really unfair to ruin Real People's careers over a historical footnote... alas.
(1) Der Syrienkonflikt ist kein Kinderspielplatz. Die verbleibenden Parteien verfolgen existenzielle Staats- oder Gruppeninteressen, für die sie notfalls bereit sind über Leichenberge zu gehen. Die Zeit, in der man sich auf die Seite der "Guten" hätte schlagen können, ist vorbei.
(2) 8,5 Jahre, 500.000 Tote, 2/3 der Bevölkerung vertrieben. Giftgas, Vernichtungslager, Hunger-Belagerungen. Die Idee, dass man das mit ein wenig Geld, Spucke und gutem Willen aus Moskau beiseite kehren und unbefangen "Schutz" oder gar "Frieden" durchsetzen könnte, ist absurd.
(3) Es braucht einiges an Hintergrund zum Krieg und den diplomatischen und militärischen Strategien der Hauptakteure, um die Absurdität mancher in der deutschen Presse zirkulierender Pläne wirklich begreifen zu können. Dafür fehlt hier der Platz.
Alright, here we go. Following a call between Presidents Erdogan the Trump, the United States will withdraw its forces from border areas in Northeast Syria and leave Turkey to invade the last redoubt of stability in the country.
A long-ish thread on the potential impact: /1
I am going to leave the extended background story to others. Suffice to say, this disaster has been five years in the making. Whatever officials claim publicly, none of this comes as a surprise to anyone involved. US officials appear to have run out of rope - on both ends. /2
Turkey has been advancing plans for a 32 kilometre "safe zone" (no such thing in Syria) along its entire border to push back what it considers "terrorists" of the US-backed YPG/SDF, threatening to invade and disrupt the war-torn country's last redoubt of relative stability. /3
In the early morning hours 19 May, rumour spread among humanitarians, diplomats and local Syrian reporters that Assad regime forces had once again employed chemical weapons in battle - this time against fighting positions along a remote front line near the town of Kbanah. /2
Kbanah is a crucial but remote front line in the hills of Latakia. Syrian government forces had been struggling to advance in the area for weeks - suffering high losses (and indeed have yet to progress). Rebels have dug into tunnels, trenches and interlocking positions /3