News / Middle East

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    A child navigates rubble and barbed wire in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 11, 2016.
    A child navigates rubble and barbed wire in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 11, 2016.

    While world powers gathered in Munich negotiate an “ambitious” cease-fire plan for Syria, forces on the ground are growing increasingly desperate, resorting to shifting strategies and alliances to survive.

    It is a scenario likely only to further confuse the military situation on the ground and potentially worsen a humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions.

    The Syrian Center for Policy Research reported Thursday that at least 470 thousand people have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the war.

    Some Western officials are beginning to despair of a solution.

    FILE - A Free Syrian Army fighter fires a shell toward Islamic State fighters in the northern Aleppo countryside, Syria.
    FILE - A Free Syrian Army fighter fires a shell toward Islamic State fighters in the northern Aleppo countryside, Syria.

    ​“It is an absolute mess there,” a U.S. official told VOA, citing a part of northern Syria known as the Manbij pocket as an example.

    “There are so many competing parties," the official said. “It’s really difficult to tell you what the ground truth is.”

    Officials say alliances among the various rebels groups in Syria often shift by the day. 

    “It’s difficult to plan when things are constantly changing,” the U.S. official added.

    Although Russian and Iranian support for the regime of President Bashar al Assad is clear, there is no consensus on how far the Russians and the Iranians are willing to go once pro-regime forces ultimately take the city of Aleppo.

    It is also unclear what the U.S. will do to protect its partners on the ground, such as the Syrian opposition rebels or the Syrian Kurds.

    FILE - Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters take up positions inside a damaged building in al-Vilat al-Homor neighborhood in Hasaka city, Syria.
    FILE - Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters take up positions inside a damaged building in al-Vilat al-Homor neighborhood in Hasaka city, Syria.

    Kurds open office in Moscow

    Perhaps sensing that the tide of power is changing as the Russian and Iranian-backed regime forces decimate the Syrian opposition, Syria’s Kurds on Wednesday opened up a representation office in Moscow.

    “Russia is a great power and an important actor in the Middle East. It is, in fact, not only an actor, but also it writes the script,” said Merab Shomoyev, chairman of the International Union of Kurdish Public Associations at the opening.

    Michael Pregent, a former U.S. intelligence officer now an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, said the move both helps protect the Kurds and allows Moscow to antagonize neighboring Turkey by allying itself with a Turkish enemy.

    “It’s a brilliant move by the Kurds and a brilliant move by the Russians,” Pregent told VOA.

    “It creates a buffer zone [with Turkey] and makes it look like Russia is establishing alliances on the ground,” Pregent said. “The Kurds on the ground now have a guarantor in Russia that they couldn’t find in the U.S.”

    Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) stand near the Tishrin dam, after they captured it from Islamic State militants, south of Kobani, Syria, Dec. 27, 2015.
    Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) stand near the Tishrin dam, after they captured it from Islamic State militants, south of Kobani, Syria, Dec. 27, 2015.

    Still friends with US

    Henri Barkey of the Wilson Institute said the Syrian Kurds’ decision would not significantly impact the United States, which has been working closely with the group to fight Islamic State (IS) extremists.

    “The Syrian Kurds are looking to make as many friends as possible, and the Russians clearly want to show the Americans and everyone else that ‘if you don’t treat the Kurds well, we will take advantage,'” said Barkey.

    “I would not say it is a game changer by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “Fundamentally, from the Syrian Kurd perspective, the most important relationship is the one with Washington.”

    According to Barkey, the United States has trained the Syrian Kurds since 2014, when IS swept up large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria; supplied them with equipment; invited Syrian Kurd representatives to the U.S. operations cell in Irbil, northern Iraq.
     
    “This relationship is much deeper than people think,” said Barkey.

    FILE - A Russian Tu-22M3 bomber bombs a target in a photo made from video footage provided by the Russian Defense Ministry, December 2015.
    FILE - A Russian Tu-22M3 bomber bombs a target in a photo made from video footage provided by the Russian Defense Ministry, December 2015.

    Protection from Turkey

    “Everyone is playing to the benefit of their own interests,” explained Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian diplomat turned co-founder of the international development organization, People Demand Change.

    “The Russians benefit because they want to give Turkey a tough time, and Turkey cannot attack the Kurds because they are under the protection of Russian planes," said Barabandi.

    Turkey historically has had contentious relations with its own ethnic Kurds, who have agitated for autonomy inside Turkey and maintained armed wings in neighboring Iraq.

    Ankara is trying to prevent Syrian Kurdish fighters, or YPG, from forming a proto-state along its border in the fear that it would further galvanize Kurds in Turkey.

    “We’re not going to let Ankara, Tehran or Damascus ... any of those people break the bonds of brotherhood that holds Kurds together,” said Osman Baydemir of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP) in Turkey.

    Russia’s outreach to the Kurds while conducting a brutal bombing campaign against the Syrian opposition has effectively changed the dynamics on the ground in the fight against IS, according to Barabandi.

    “The people are asking the anti-regime fighters to give up in order to stop the Russian attacks,” he said. “We will soon be reaching a point where there is no military opposition with heavy weight, and Russia will tell the world ‘you chose us, or them.'”

    Seeking new allies

    Analysts fear a different outcome: that the currently West-supported moderate Syrian opposition groups who are quickly losing ground could turn to the al Qaida affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al Nusra, for a chance to fight back.

    Russia and Iran, already working through various militias and Hezbollah in Syria, also may be looking for new allies.

    “Both the Russians and the Iranians are growing increasingly interested in using proxies rather than their own forces to fight in Syria,” U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told lawmakers this past Tuesday.

    “The Russians are incurring casualties. The Iranians are,” he said.

    The shifting alliances do not bode well for an end to the conflict.

    “From a humanitarian point of view, it is sad,” Barabandi said. “The people, they lost everything.”


    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.


    Jeff Seldin

    Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

    You May Like

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: AHMED from: INDIA
    February 12, 2016 9:17 PM
    If USA, Saudi Arab, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and UAE cannot give relief to Syrians in their daily life so what is the use to increase their endless pain and tears.
    God does not like Proud peoples, we are accountable in front of God one day how we will safe our self from God Justice.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    February 12, 2016 8:25 PM
    No matter what the terrorist/rebels say; they have only a few options left, and they must either continue on fighting the Syrian army and die for their cause as martyrs on the battlefield, or be executed as terrorists, or escape to safe havens in Turkey and Jordan, and mighty Allah will decide (whenever they die) if they died the death of a martyr, or not be recognized on judgement day? .. If the cause is worthy enough to fight and die as a martyr for, then mighty Allah would expect them to martyr themselves for it? .. or mighty Allah will not recognize them on judgement day? .. Martyrs don't whine and cry? .. they seek paradise?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora