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.

  • Workers in a textile factory in Igdir, Turkey, May 20, 2017

    Research Brief

    Win-Win Solutions for Syrian Refugees—and Their Hosts

    Dec 13, 2018

    Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan have generously received the majority of Syrian refugees. Many are working, but their sheer numbers have strained local labor markets, public services, and social harmony. Which policies might help create new economic opportunities for both the refugees and host-nation workers?

  • A convoy of U.S. vehicles after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq, October 21, 2019, photo by Ari Jalal/Reuters

    Commentary

    How the U.S. Withdrawal from Syria Provides a Boost to ISIS

    Oct 21, 2019

    President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria could provide the ISIS terrorist group with the time and space to regrow its organization and extend its networks throughout the Middle East. The longer-term strategic effects of the decision could reverberate in the region for years to come.

Explore Syria

  • Russian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Vladimir Safronkov (right) attends a meeting on Syria at U.N. headquarters in New York City, April 5, 2017

    Commentary

    Why the Syria Chemical Attack Is a Big Problem for Putin

    The growing use of chemicals and toxins as tools of assassination and terrorism are troubling trends. Global expressions of outrage over the latest attack in Syria could weaken Assad’s international support. Russia should listen and abandon its support for the regime while joining the international chorus of denunciation.

    Apr 6, 2017

  • People leave candles in memory of victims of a blast in the St. Petersburg metro, Russia, April 4, 2017

    Commentary

    Attacks on Russia Will Only Increase

    As Russia gets more involved with the Syrian civil war, it's likely that Sunni militants will intensify their campaign against Russia. But the key reason why Sunni attacks on Russia proper will increase is the fallout between Sunni jihadists in the Caucasus.

    Apr 4, 2017

  • Fighters of the Syrian Islamist rebel group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham cheer on a pickup truck after a Russian helicopter was shot down in the north of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province, August 1, 2016

    Commentary

    Al Qaeda in Syria Can Change Its Name, but Not Its Stripes

    Al Qaeda in Syria, by any name, remains a dangerous and capable terrorist organization with the ability to conduct attacks in the West. Those seeking to grapple with the threat the group poses should focus less on its names and more on its actions.

    Mar 23, 2017

  • People rush to a site hit by what activists said was heavy shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, June 16, 2015

    Commentary

    Holding Assad Accountable for Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

    With two no votes from China and Russia, the UN Security Council failed to pass a resolution punishing Syrian officials for their roles in chlorine attacks in 2014 and 2015. Leadership from the United States on this issue could show allies that despite a change in government, the U.S. remains committed to holding those who use chemical weapons accountable.

    Mar 22, 2017

  • Shi'ite fighters during an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in Balad, north of Baghdad, Iraq, December 22, 2014

    Report

    Understanding ISIL and Principles for Defeating It

    U.S. policymakers weighing options to accelerate ISIL's defeat must develop specific courses of action that address both ISIL and the regional security issues that would emerge after its fall.

    Mar 21, 2017

  • Pakistani soldiers at an army post in the Shawal mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, near a known haven for al Qaeda militants, April 29, 2006

    Commentary

    Beware the New Mujahideen: The Threat from Future Jihadist Networks

    Today's terrorist networks will multiply far beyond the wars in Iraq and Syria. When one conflict ends, these fighters often join another. It is critical they be denied safe haven and the ability to train and network in ungoverned territories.

    Mar 14, 2017

  • Iraqi civilians walk in Al Mansour District as fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State fighters continues in western Mosul, Iraq, March 10, 2017

    Commentary

    Why a Dying ISIS Could Be an Even Bigger Threat

    The collapse of the so-called caliphate won't eliminate ISIS or similar groups. In the short term, the threat of ISIS-related attacks on the West may even grow.

    Mar 13, 2017

  • A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter watches a convoy of his forces advancing north of Raqqa, Syria, February 5, 2017

    Commentary

    To Take Raqqa, the U.S. Must Work with Its Partner in the Fight Against the Islamic State Group

    Turkey strongly opposes the U.S. bid to arm the Syrian Kurds. Rushing into Raqqa without reaching agreement with Turkey would jeopardize larger U.S. regional and even global geopolitical objectives.

    Mar 13, 2017

  • Smoke rises in the background as Syrian Democratic Forces fighters stand near rubble of a destroyed building, north of Raqqa, Syria, November 7, 2016

    Commentary

    Where Do ISIS Fighters Go When the Caliphate Falls?

    When a conflict ends, transnational terrorists are likely to disperse in many directions and switch their allegiances among terrorist groups. For the West, countering these different groups will require a range of strategies.

    Mar 6, 2017

  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) listens to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (2ndR) at the start of a meeting at the World Conference Center in Bonn, Germany, February 16, 2017

    Commentary

    U.S. Should Test Russia on Islamic State

    The United States should consider accepting Russia's offer to help on ISIS, especially if the Trump administration is considering sending more troops or establishing safe zones in Syria.

    Feb 28, 2017

  • People fleeing violence in ISIS-controlled al-Bab, Syria arrive in the town's rebel-held outskirts, February 3, 2017

    Report

    Finding a Way Forward in Syria

    After six years of fighting in Syria, the odds of removing the Assad regime are worse than ever. But the new U.S. administration could help de-escalate the conflict by focusing on a realistic outcome: a decentralized Syria with agreed regional zones backed by external powers.

    Feb 8, 2017

  • Iraqi army gather during a fight with Islamic State militants in Rashidiya, North of Mosul, Iraq, January 30, 2017.

    Commentary

    The Need for a Targeted Counter-ISIL Strategy

    Defeating ISIL is only possible if political conditions change in the Middle East, North and West Africa, and South Asia, and in ways that are exceedingly unlikely. The coalition should focus on reducing ISIL's ability to conduct attacks and on removing the underlying conditions that feed Sunni grievances.

    Feb 5, 2017

  • U.S. soldiers execute a fire mission to support Iraqi security forces during the Mosul counteroffensive in northern Iraq, December 24, 2016

    Report

    Countering ISIL as a Transregional Threat

    The U.S. counter-ISIL strategy must recognize the long-term nature of the global violent jihadi threat. U.S. diplomatic and military actions should focus on reducing the appeal of ISIL and disrupting the transregional network that supports it.

    Jan 31, 2017

  • A family walks next to an Iraqi tank during a fight with ISIS militants in Rashidiya, north of Mosul, Iraq, January 30, 2017

    Commentary

    Is ISIS Breaking Apart?

    The coalition tasked with countering ISIS has made progress, and ISIS is sure to break apart further over the next few years. Any splinter groups that result could differ from their parent organization, so counterterrorism strategies will need to adjust.

    Jan 31, 2017

  • Hezbollah members salute during the funeral of Ali Fayyad, a senior commander who was killed fighting in Syria, Lebanon, March 2, 2016

    Commentary

    Hezbollah Is Winning the War in Syria

    Most parties have been on the losing side of the war in Syria. Meanwhile, Lebanese terrorist militia Hezbollah has cemented its status as a regional power player. The group has gained fighting experience and benefited from a growing alliance with the Assad regime, Iran, and Russia.

    Jan 30, 2017

  • Report

    Troubled waters: a snapshot of security challenges in the Mediterranean region

    This publication is part of a series of four RAND Perspectives (PE) each focusing on different challenges in the Mediterranean region. The focus of this PE is on defence and security issues and their implications for regional stability.

    Jan 25, 2017

  • Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) talks with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani as they meet during a summit of Caspian Sea regional leaders in the southern city of Astrakhan September 29, 2014

    Commentary

    Iran Is at Putin's Mercy

    Russia and Iran have forged an unprecedented but fragile alliance in the Middle East. But there's no guarantee that Putin won't sell Iran out if he manages to forge better U.S. relations under Trump.

    Jan 12, 2017

  • Silhouettes of people on a Syrian national flag are seen at a peace march in Damascus, September 21, 2016

    Report

    How to Prevent State Collapse in Syria

    Syria will likely be a weak state in a volatile region when its civil war ends. How can U.S. policy create conditions for a transition that helps fight terrorism and preserve state institutions?

    Jan 9, 2017

  • A Peshmerga soldier talks with a boy who is fleeing the fighting between Islamic State and the Iraqi army in Mosul, Iraq, November 14, 2016

    Commentary

    What the Battles of Mosul and Aleppo Tell Us About Their Countries' Futures

    The battle of Mosul is not just about defeating ISIS. It is about restoring Mosul to the multi-ethnic city it once was. The Syrian government's style of warfare in Aleppo, however, accepts that Syria will remain a divided country.

    Nov 14, 2016

  • Smoke rises during clashes in the town of Bashiqa, east of Mosul, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, November 8, 2016

    Commentary

    How Will Jihadist Strategy Evolve As the Islamic State Declines?

    As ISIL experiences ongoing battlefield losses it will have to rework its strategy to sustain itself as a preeminent jihadist brand. Meanwhile, the group will likely place greater emphasis on smaller scale strikes that require less central direction.

    Nov 10, 2016