Lost in non-stop, explosive domestic American political dysfunction and controversy was a July 16, 2019 statement by President Donald Trump reiterating his December 19, 2018 determination to quit Syria quickly and completely. Here are the precise words, spoken at the White House:
We did a great job. As Mike [Secretary of State Michael Pompeo] said, we did a great job with the [ISIS] caliphate. We have 100 percent of the caliphate, and we’re rapidly pulling out of Syria. We’ll be out of there pretty soon. And let them handle their own problems. Syria can handle their own problems—along with Iran, along with Russia, along with Iraq, along with Turkey. We’re 7,000 miles away.
Despite the lack of focus on the Syrian Arab tribes’ social and political roles, they continue to be an important player between the conflicting parties in Syria, especially the Euphrates region and in northern Syria. At times, they have been able to change the balance of the conflict in various areas. During the past eight years, tribes have changed their allegiances by supporting the dominant power who can protect their interests.
In Idlib, Syria, where villages are being razed and hospitals mercilessly targeted by Syrian and Russian forces, children who have been displaced several times over are showing signs of severe psychosocial distress, crying and screaming as they watch their world once again collapse before their eyes. To the northeast, the al-Hol camp houses 43,500 children under the age of twelve, 480 of them unaccompanied. After being born into extreme violence and trauma under the rule of the Islamic State (ISIS), the children now lack regular access to the most basic healthcare and education, and they continue to fester in sordid conditions as their home countries decide whether to take them in.
The United States has invested nearly 5 years and tens of billions of dollars in northeastern Syria to terminate the terrorist “caliphate” of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, IS). The battle against thousands of at-large ISIL operatives continues. But for how long?
The tactic of placing civilians on the bullseye has sent shock waves of destabilization radiating well beyond Syria, thereby placing the national security of the United States and its allies at risk. This deliberate targeting—by the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran—continues. The threat it presents to Western security endures. There is no end in sight.
Back in June 2014, at the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq; Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the establishment of an Islamic State (ISIS) and named himself its caliph. Over the subsequent years, the Islamic State quickly managed to control wide swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, until it became so dangerous it took an international coalition of eighty states and unions to cripple it.
Deliberate, systematic, and relentless targeting of defenseless civilians is the headline of eight-plus years of conflict in Syria. Mass murder by aircraft, artillery and missiles, ‘starve or surrender’ sieges, illegal detentions, horrific torture: these have been the hallmark tactics of a ruling regime determined to survive politically at any cost; one that has inflicted industrial scale state terror on civilians residing in rebel-controlled areas. The results inside Syria have been catastrophic. But they have not been limited to Syria. What has happened in Syria—one of history’s most sustained assaults on innocent human life—has not stayed in Syria. The consequences of mass homicide threaten the security of the United States and the entire Western alliance.
The relationship between the Islamic State (ISIS) and its female members has always been complicated. On the one hand, the extremist group imposed rigid restrictions on women’s dress and their ability to appear in public places. On the other hand, it conscripted and trained many women to undertake various tasks within its ranks. Now, as the military defeat of ISIS draws near, many women want to go back to their lives before they joined.
In light of what appears to be Assad’s victory in Syria, domestic and international attention is increasingly shifting towards Syria’s reconstruction phase and the future of post-war Syria. But for many Syrians, the horrors of war are far from over.