Syria Digest November 16

Syria in the Nation's Capital

NDAA: The Senate is back in session this week with the resumption of floor debate of the FY 2023 Defense Authorization Bill (HR 7900). Before lawmakers left town in September to campaign for the midterm elections, Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-RI, and ranking member Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., agreed on a manager’s package of 75 amendments that will be added to the measure. Among them is the Senate companion (S 3392) version of the Captagon Act (HR 6265). The amendment was introduced by Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., and co-sponsored by Risch and Sen. Mike Rounds, R-SD. 

Midterm Elections: As vote results in Congressional races continued to be tabulated and certified, one House election almost resulted in the election of a candidate directly impacted by the Syrian conflict. Defeated by a very narrow margin, Republican Joe Kent decided to run for Washington State’s 3rd district in response to the January 2019 killing of his wife, Shannon Kent, a Navy linguist, in an attack in Manbej, Syria. Kent explained to National Public Radio that he met with then-President Donald Trump and that he agreed with his position that the U.S. should withdraw from the Middle East.  


Syria at the UN and Abroad

Turkish Bombing: Turkish military action in northern Syria may be imminent. A senior official in Ankara informed Reuters that they would pursue targets in northern Syria following the completion of a cross-border mission into Iraq against the PKK. This action is in response to a deadly bombing in Istanbul over the weekend that left six dead and over 80 injured. Turkey held the YPG responsible for the attack based on a suspect who allegedly confessed to having received training from the group and entering the country illegally from Syria. The YPG announced it categorically denied any link to the perpetrator of the attack. Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu warned, “We know what message those who carried out this action want to give us. We got this message. “Don’t worry, we will pay them back heavily.” 

Syria-Lebanon Border: Lebanon’s Deputy Speaker Elias Bou Saab recently called for negotiations with the Assad regime to delineate the maritime border between Lebanon and Syria. Saab specifically called for the next Lebanese government to “engage directly and publicly with the Syrian government... and publicly demarcate our sea border.” He stated that the disputed areas are an estimated 310 square miles. Saab also pointed out that Lebanon could not explore its northern Mediterranean region for natural gas until it settled the border dispute with Syria

Syrian Fighters in Ukraine: Accounts of Syrian fighters recruited by Russia and deployed to eastern Ukraine have surfaced. Middle East Eye reported that an estimated 500 Syrians received training in Russia and deployed for non-combat roles involving safeguarding facilities in Luhansk and Donetsk. The troops were recruited from pro-regime forces backed, trained, and supported by Russia, including the 25th Special Mission Forces Division, Fifth Corps, and Liwa al-Quds.  

Syria on the Ground

Opposition Reorientation: Turkey appears to be coaxing opposition groups in Northern Syria to reorganize into a unitary force in the aftermath of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) seizure of Afrin. Al-Monitor reported several groups recently met with Turkish officials and were persuaded to unite under a joint command, shut separate operation rooms, cede all urban checkpoints to a joint security apparatus, and hand over control of crossings. Citing several media publications, the duration and nature of the meetings varied. In one instance, the factions were given until the year's end to complete the steps and denied any Turkish pledge to punish factions collaborating with HTS. 

Israeli Airstrikes: The Shayrat military airbase southeast of Homs was the subject of Israeli airstrikes that left two dead and three wounded. The airstrikes targeted a shipment of weapons intended for Hezbollah, which was on its way to Lebanon near the airbase. The Jerusalem Post reported that the runway and underground facilities at Shayrat, including aircraft shelters, have undergone a significant expansion by the Russian military in the last three years. 

Child Malnutrition: Recently, Save the Children announced that the number of malnourished children in Northeastern Syria has surged by 150 percent. This spike is attributed to growing poverty and the inability to afford food. The aid group noted that more than 10,000 malnourished children were recorded from April to September, compared to 6,650 in the previous six months. 



The Case for Keeping U.S. Troops in Syria”: James Jeffrey with The Wilson Center writes in Foreign Affairs a rebuttal to an article published in October by Christopher Alkhoury that argued in favor of a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria

Frozen Syria: Assessing the State of Play and Opportunities for Engagement”: The Middle East Institute’s Gregory Waters argues Western countries should re-examine the breadth of options they now have for policymaking to further stabilize the regions outside the Assad regime’s control.

Syria and Lebanon at Risk for Rapidly Spreading Cholera Epidemic”: For the Middle East Institute, Danny Makki writes that the number of cases of Cholera in Syria could spread across the country, given the country’s needs in terms of water treatment infrastructure are far greater than its current capacity.