Syria

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Syria's civil war and the rise of the terrorist group known as the Islamic State has contributed to an unprecedented global refugee crisis, with millions of Syrians displaced internally or seeking refuge elsewhere. RAND's work has analyzed military options for the United States in Syria, strategies for defeating the Islamic State, and pathways to restoring peace.

  • Children hold up letters spelling the word 'peace' during a day of activities and prayers at the Zaitoune historic church in old Damascus, Syria, June 1, 2016, photo by Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

    Report

    Decentralization of Governance Could Help Syria

    Jun 7, 2016

    With the international community trying to bring peace to Syria, decentralization of governance could be part of the solution. Devolution of authority to localities could help lower the stakes of the conflict and provide security to Syrians who have lost trust in the state.

  • The sun sets over Aleppo, Syria as seen from the rebel-held part of the city, October 5, 2016, photo by Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

    Commentary

    Only the U.S. Can Save Syrians

    Oct 6, 2016

    Washington must act soon to raise the costs of Syrian and Russian killing in Aleppo. Otherwise, the quarter-million people who live there could be in danger, and the Kremlin might think that it can mount further challenges to the West.

Explore Syria

  • A Kurdish fighter from the People's Protection Units watches smoke rise after a coalition airstrike in Raqqa, Syria, June 16, 2017

    Commentary

    The Islamic State's Disposable Army

    To leaders of the Islamic State group, murder of its own and collective suicide are keys to its defense strategy. The group targets malcontents and the most suggestible, knowing they are desperate to belong to something and willing to die for it.

    Jun 20, 2017

  • Smoke rises from the al-Mishlab district in Raqqa's southeastern outskirts, Syria, June 7, 2017

    Commentary

    When the Caliphate Falls, What Then for U.S. Policy?

    The eventual fall of ISIS-controlled Raqqa will necessitate a review of U.S. policy in Syria. Policymakers can start thinking about the questions it will raise now.

    Jun 16, 2017

  • Vehicles drive near Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River, in the town of Tabqa, after Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured it from Islamic State militants, Syria May 12, 2017

    Commentary

    Developing a Comprehensive Strategy for Countering the Islamic State

    Despite substantial policy and military focus, U.S. attempts to stop the Islamic State group have met with only varying degrees of success. A patient, long-term U.S. investment in governance—including a renewed commitment to addressing the root causes of instability in the Middle East—is needed in Iraq and Syria.

    Jun 5, 2017

  • A soldier sets up voice intercept equipment during a cyber integration exercise on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, October 21, 2015

    Commentary

    What Happens After ISIS Goes Underground

    As the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria suffers defeats on the battlefield, it is expanding its cyber presence to continue to encourage attacks abroad. The more the group relies on cyberspace, the more likely it will expose important segments of its organization to detection and disruption.

    May 30, 2017

  • Shi'ite worshippers attend Friday prayers in Kufa mosque near Najaf, south of Baghdad, March 31, 2017

    Report

    The Future of Sectarian Relations in the Middle East

    Sectarianism is shaping developments across the Middle East. But sectarianism is only one lens for understanding the region's conflicts, and some of its drivers are amenable to policy interventions.

    May 22, 2017

  • A former Islamic State prison in the town of Tabqa, after Syrian Democratic Forces captured it from Islamic State militants, Syria, May 12, 2017.

    Commentary

    ISIS: Weakened but Still Potent

    ISIS is being defeated as an insurgency while preparing to transform into a clandestine terrorist group. But ISIS will continue to pose a serious threat to the countries where it operates and to the Western nations that it targets as it evolves.

    May 18, 2017

  • Displaced Iraqi people pass a torn Islamic State banner as the battle between the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service and Islamic State militants continues nearby, in western Mosul, Iraq, April 23, 2017

    Commentary

    Can the Islamic State Survive Financially?

    Significant gains have been made in attacking the Islamic State's cash and diminishing its ability to finance high-frequency attacks in Iraq and Syria. But the group may retain enough money to support sporadic attacks in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.

    May 15, 2017

  • U.S. Army Special Forces members train Iraqi fighters from Hashid Shaabi at Makhmur camp in Iraq, December 11, 2016

    Commentary

    SOF's Evolving Role: Warfare 'By, With, and Through' Local Forces

    U.S. special operations forces are not providing the muscle of the frontline combat troops fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Instead, they are providing meaningful support to the various indigenous forces. If they succeed, this model could become a standard option in the U.S. military playbook.

    May 9, 2017

  • Members of the Free Syrian Army distribute humanitarian aid to residents left in Harem town, Idlib Governorate, October 28, 2012, after Syrian jets bombarded Sunni Muslim regions across the country

    Report

    The U.S. Strategy to Defeat the Islamic State Needs an Overhaul

    A broader strategy to beat the Islamic State should address the conditions that allowed the group to emerge and thrive. A long-term commitment is required to establish legitimate governance in Iraq and Syria and reconcile the disenfranchised Sunni Arab populations with their governments.

    May 8, 2017

  • In an interview with Russian state television on September 12, 2013, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad said Damascus would send documents to the United Nations needed to join a convention that prohibits chemical weapons

    Commentary

    Regional Action Needed to Prevent Syrian Chemical Attacks

    Action must be taken to deter future use of chemical weapons. Regional leaders could call for the International Criminal Court to indict Assad for war crimes. Also, borders with Syria could be sealed to prevent any of the remaining stocks from leaving the country.

    May 8, 2017

  • An Iraqi security guard walks inside Al-Salam hospital destroyed during the fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants east of Mosul, Iraq May 2, 2017.

    Commentary

    The Caliphate Is Crumbling: What Comes Next?

    ISIL's caliphate is crumbling. But unless the U.S.-led coalition can reduce the many possibilities that might give ISIL's down-and-out members a reason to fight on, the militants will continue to contribute to disorder in the region.

    May 3, 2017

  • Refugees, who were rescued in international waters off the Libyan coast, are transferred from one boat to another, December 2016

    Essay

    Migrant Crisis in the Mediterranean: What You Need to Know

    The countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea are facing unprecedented stress. A former lieutenant with the Italian Navy is now a RAND researcher, working to help others appreciate the scope of the crisis.

    May 2, 2017

  • U.S. Army soldiers, deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve, use a rooftop as an observation post in Mosul, Iraq, March 7, 2017

    Commentary

    NATO's Role in Post-Caliphate Stability Operations

    Steps are needed to fill the vacuum left as the caliphate collapses, lest forces on the ground turn on each other to gain control. The answer is for NATO to act under U.S. leadership. The alternative is either chaos or Iran — backed by Russia — filling the void.

    May 2, 2017

  • Multimedia

    Direction of Foreign Policy in Trump Administration's First 100 Days

    In this Call with the Experts, RAND senior fellow, James Dobbins, as well as RAND senior international policy analyst, Linda Robinson, discuss the Trump administration's emerging foreign policy strategy as it approaches the symbolic 100-day milestone.

    Apr 26, 2017

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) meet with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem in Moscow, June 29, 2015

    Commentary

    How the West Can Press Putin to Keep Assad in Order

    Moscow has achieved tactical successes in Syria, but without Western and regional help, its long-term strategic interests could be at risk. Denying strong evidence that the regime of Bashar al-Assad attacked civilians with sarin gas makes it harder for Moscow to obtain the Western and regional help it needs to secure its interests there.

    Apr 24, 2017

  • News Release

    Islamic State Control of People Down 83% in Iraq and 56% in Syria from Peak Levels

    The Islamic State has lost substantial control of territory and people but still conducts and inspires attacks around the world. The U.S. should pursue a light rollback strategy that relies on local forces backed by U.S. special operations forces, intelligence assets, and airpower.

    Apr 20, 2017

  • Iraqi forces advance against Islamic State militants in western Mosul, Iraq, March 6, 2017

    Report

    Rolling Back the Islamic State

    The Islamic State has lost substantial control of territory and people. But the group still conducts and inspires attacks around the world. The United States should pursue a light rollback strategy that relies on local forces backed by U.S. special operations troops, intelligence assets, and airpower.

    Apr 20, 2017

  • The guided-missile destroyer USS Ross fires a Tomahawk land attack missile April 7, 2017

    Commentary

    (Withholding) Judgment of the U.S. Missile Strike on Syria

    Will the U.S. missile strike in Syria constrain the Assad regime from future chemical weapons use? Rather than pass judgment, analysts should establish the benchmarks by which they will assess this decision once the facts are in.

    Apr 19, 2017

  • U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley prepares to speak at a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, April 12, 2017

    Commentary

    The Limits of Going It Alone in Syria

    Very little on the ground in Syria has changed since the U.S. missile strikes against the Assad regime. To translate this military action into policy gains, it will be necessary to follow up with increased diplomatic coordination with international partners and institutions.

    Apr 18, 2017

  • A man breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017.

    Commentary

    Why Would Assad Use Chemical Weapons?

    The use of chemical weapons today provokes international condemnation, if not always action. Those who order their deployment risk being charged with war crimes. So why would Syria's President Bashar Assad use them?

    Apr 14, 2017