Report on the armed conflict in Syria and the US response

The following is the July 27, 2020 report from the Congressional Research Service, Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and US Response.

From the report

From 2020, Syria faces increasing economic instability and pockets of renewed political unrest, amid ongoing interventions by external states and new public health challenges posed by the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19 ). The government of Syrian President Bashar al Asad, backed by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, has taken over most areas once held by opposition forces, but faces persistent challenges from linked fighters to the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL / ISIS), as well as further protests resulting from deteriorating economic conditions. Local US-backed forces have reclaimed most of the territory formerly held by ISIS, but the group continues to maintain a low-level insurgency.

U.S. policy toward Syria since 2014 has prioritized counterterrorism operations against Islamic State, which sought to direct external attacks from areas under the group’s control in northeastern Syria. Since 2015, US forces deployed in Syria have trained, equipped and advised local partners under special authorization from Congress and have worked primarily “by, with and through” these local partners to recapture nearly all areas formerly held by the state. Islamic. As of July 2020, around 600 US troops remained in Syria, where they continue to support the operations of local partner forces against remnants of the Islamic State.

In addition to counterterrorism operations against Islamic State, the United States has also responded to the ongoing civil conflict in Syria by providing non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition and civil society groups, encouraging diplomatic efforts to achieving a political settlement of the civil war and serving as the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Syria and to countries in the region affected by the exodus of refugees.

The Trump administration has described US policy toward Syria as seeking (1) the lasting defeat of the Islamic State; (2) a political settlement of the Syrian civil war; and (3) the withdrawal of Iranian-commanded forces.

  • Lasting defeat of Daesh. US-backed partner forces recaptured ISIS’s remaining territorial strongholds in Syria in March 2019. However, US military officials estimated in 2020 that the group was maintaining a low-level insurgency in Syria and Iraq. and probably retained command and control intact. structure. The Defense Ministry did not break down the costs of military operations in Syria against the overall cost of the anti-ISIS campaign in Syria and Iraq (known as Operation Inherent Resolve, OIR), which had reached 40, $ 5 billion as of September 30, 2019.
  • Politics conflict resolution. The United States continues to advocate for a negotiated settlement between the government of Syrian President Bashar al Asad and the Syrian opposition forces in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 2254 (which calls for the drafting of ‘a new constitution and UN supervised elections). However, the Assad government forcibly retook most of the areas held by the opposition, reducing the pressure on Damascus to negotiate. U.S. intelligence officials said in 2019 that Asad had little incentive to make significant concessions to the opposition.
  • Withdrawal of forces commanded by Iran. Administration officials say Iran’s withdrawal from Syria is a political rather than a military goal, and stressed that the United States will seek to counter Iranian activities in Syria primarily through the use of economic tools. such as penalties. The United States has occasionally carried out strikes against Iranian-backed militias in Syria when those forces appeared to endanger U.S. or coalition personnel.

External actors. A series of foreign states have intervened in Syria to support the Assad government or the Syrian opposition forces, as well as to pursue their own security objectives. Pro-Assad forces operating in Syria include Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran and Russia. The United States and a range of regional and European states have at times supported parts of the Syrian opposition, while also expressing concern over reported links between some armed opposition groups and extremist elements. Israel has admitted to carrying out more than 200 military strikes in Syria, mainly targeting Hezbollah and / or Iranian targets. In addition, Turkey is maintaining military forces in northern Syria as part of a larger campaign targeting Kurdish fighters.

Humanitarian situation. As of mid-2020, around half of Syria’s pre-war population remained internally displaced (6.2 million) or registered as refugees in neighboring states (5.6 million). The United States has spent more than $ 11.3 billion in Syria-related humanitarian assistance since fiscal 2012, and Congress has allocated billions more for security and stabilization initiatives in Syria and neighboring countries. In July 2020, the Security Council re-authorized cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria for a period of one year. The vote limited aid to a single crossing point in Bab al Hawa following vetoes from Russia and China.

Public health. Syria has struggled to provide adequate testing for the novel COVID-19 virus, and the extent of the virus’s spread in the country is believed to exceed official Health Ministry figures. As of mid-July, Syria reported fewer than 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19, compared to more than 86,000 cases in neighboring Iraq and more than 267,000 cases in Iran. Syria is home to many populations particularly vulnerable to infection, including thousands of internally displaced people and detainees living in overcrowded conditions without access to adequate sanitation facilities. The Syrian health system has also deteriorated considerably since the start of the conflict in 2011 due to attacks by pro-regime forces on health workers and infrastructure.

Additional national challenges. Syria is facing an economic crisis, with the value of the Syrian pound falling to record highs and the cost of commodities rising by more than 100% since 2019. In 2020, the Asad government also faced a resurgence of armed opposition in previously recaptured areas. south of the capital, as well as increasing criticism from domestic and external allies.

The 116th Congress requested clarification from the administration regarding its overall policy in Syria, plans for the withdrawal of US military forces, the role of the United States in securing a lasting defeat to the Islamic State, US investments and approaches post-conflict stabilization program, the future of Syrian refugees. and US partners inside Syria, and the challenges of dealing with Assad’s government aligned with Iran and Russia.

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