Syria Today – A New U.S. Plan for Northeast Syria?

The Pentagon has proposed a plan suggesting that the Syrian Kurdish allies, involved in the campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS), consider forming a partnership with the Syrian regime. This proposal is part of a comprehensive reevaluation of the United States’ Syria policy, currently in progress at the State Department. Notably, input from Turkey, a key NATO ally, is being sought for this review, according to sources “familiar with the discussions” who spoke to Al-Monitor under the condition of anonymity.

Pentagon floats plan for its Syrian Kurd allies to partner with Assad against ISIS

The Pentagon has floated a plan for its Syrian Kurdish allies in the campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS) to partner with the Syrian regime, part of a renewed review of the United States’ Syria policy that is currently ongoing at the State Department and for which Turkey, a key NATO ally, has been tapped for its input, according to well-placed sources with knowledge of the deliberations who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition they not be identified by name.

The outlines of the proposed strategy were taken up during a meeting convened by the White House National Security Council (NSC) at the request of the Department of Defense for an Interagency Policy Committee (IPC) bringing together representatives from the State Department, the CIA and other relevant stakeholders, which took place on Jan. 18 at the “sub” or desk officer level, the sources confirmed.

The sources did not elaborate on the substance of the Pentagon’s proposal, noting merely that its purpose was to “protect” the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against ISIS in the medium to long term.

The sources declined to comment on the elephant in the room, which is whether the meetings presage an eventual withdrawal of an estimated 900 US Special Forces currently deployed in northeast Syria, which the Biden administration has repeatedly stated both publicly and in private conversations with the SDF leadership is not in the cards, even as the State Department carries out a fresh review of its Syria policy. To be sure, there are growing indications that a withdrawal may be inevitable if not imminent amid escalating tensions between Iran-backed forces and the United States in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on Israel, analysts say.

Asian Cup: Syria make history reaching knockouts

Syria’s players hoisted Omar Khrbin into the air in celebration after the final whistle, recognizing the significance of the moment, DW reported.

Khribin’s goal, Syria’s only of the group stages, gave Syria a 1-0 win against India and sealed their first ever spot in the knockout rounds of the Asian Cup as one of the best third-placed sides. It was perhaps the most important goal in the country’s football history.

For a side that has seemingly not played a home game in over a decade due to an on-going conflict in the country, the emotion of the moment was tangible. In the post-game interview with head coach Hector Cuper, both the translator and the interviewer burst into tears.

“We are very happy with the qualification, very proud of my players, they made huge sacrifices to get this result,” Cuper said afterwards. “We played the game with one aim in our mind — to win, and we managed to do that. We don’t want to stop here.”

Argentinian coach Cuper has an esteemed history in football, twice taking Valencia to the Champions League final and Egypt to the Africa Cup of Nations final in 2017 and their first World Cup in 28 years in 2018. At 68, this might be his final hurrah in football, and if so then he has delivered a moment of joy to Syrian fans.

Country in conflict

That this has happened amidst the backdrop of a country locked in a tragic crisis makes the achievement all the more remarkable. Syria has been battling conflict for over a decade and as Nada al-Rashed, a director of the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets), told Al Jazeera earlier this month, Syrians had welcomed 2024 the same way they had bid farewell to 2023: “with bloodshed”.

Even beyond the bombings, the country has suffered. In February 2023, a devastating earthquake saw more than 6,000 people killed and according to the Syria Earthquake RDNA, the physical damages caused were estimated at $3.7 billion (€3.4 billion).

Just four days later, Cuper was appointed, and immediately said he had a greater desire to make Syrian fans happy after the suffering. “We know that we cannot remove the pain, but we try to ease the pain.”

SNHR’s 13th Annual Report: Most Notable Human Rights Violations in Syria in 2023

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released its 13th annual report since the start of the popular uprising in March 2011. The report, entitled, ‘Political Transition and Progression to Democracy is the Only Way to Stop Violations in Syria,’ summarizes the most notable violations of human rights at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria for the year 2023.

Most notably, the report reveals that 1,032 civilians; including 181 children and 119 women (adult female) as well as 59 victims who died due to torture, were killed in 2023, while a total of 2,317 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention were documented throughout the year, and approximately 195,000 people were displaced.

As the 189-page report explains, Syria’s protracted conflict continued throughout the past year of 2023, with its devastating effects continuing to wreck the lives of millions of Syrians. Over the past 13 years, SNHR has documented numerous types of violations at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria, many of which still persist.

While all parties have been responsible for violations, the Syrian regime remains by far the greatest culprit, being responsible for a massively greater number of abuses than any of the other parties.

These violations, which include, inter alia, killings, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, forcible displacement, torture, seizure of lands and properties, assassinations and remote bombings, have intensified in light of the prevalent state of insecurity; all have resulted in a catastrophic human rights crisis in Syria. The past year, 2023 was particularly marked by the resumption of military hostilities, as the year saw the most intensified escalation by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces in two years, targeting areas in northwestern Syria that are subject to the Cessation of Hostilities agreement of 2020.

The Man in the Matching Uniform: Investigating a Rusich Atrocity in Syria

Bellingcat, an independent investigative collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists, published a long, detailed report, which delves into an investigation by Bellingcat concerning a Russian neo-Nazi group’s involvement in atrocities in Syria. The focus is on Alexey Milchakov, a member of the far-right Rusich Group, which is linked to the Wagner Group. Rusich is known for its war crimes in Syria and Ukraine, including torture and mutilation.

A photograph posted on a Russian military blogger’s Telegram channel in 2020 shows a man in uniform holding a severed head in Syria, with the face censored. Bellingcat’s analysis suggests that the man could be Milchakov, based on the uniform’s camouflage pattern seen in his social media photos.

The report also includes a statement from Rusich on Telegram, dismissing the act as not constituting a war crime. However, Rusich did not confirm whether Milchakov was the man in the image. The report references a November 2019 article by Novaya Gazeta identifying a former Russian police officer as part of a group of Wagner mercenaries involved in similar acts of torture and mutilation in Syria in 2017.

Further, the report discusses the prevalence of severed heads and violence in Wagner’s online propaganda, especially in the context of the Syrian conflict and the war in Ukraine. The original photograph was first posted by Maxim Fomin, a Russian military blogger, and later republished by Rusich’s Telegram channel with additional blurring.

Bellingcat’s geolocation analysis indicates that the photograph was likely taken near Palmyra, Syria, around May 2017. Additionally, the report covers the identification of the uniform in the photograph through detailed analysis of its camouflage pattern, which matches that of Milchakov’s known uniform.

The investigation highlights the involvement of Rusich and Wagner mercenaries in atrocities in Syria, including the mutilation of dead bodies, a violation of war crimes statutes. The report underscores the gravity of these acts and the implications of such groups operating in conflict zones.

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