Highest Rated Comments

theindependentonline832 karma

Great first question! The insurgency has already restarted. Thousands of Isis fighters have gone underground and formed sleeper cells across Iraq and Syria in preparation for the caliphate’s defeat, and they are already carrying out attacks. In parts of Iraq, Isis fighters are moving freely in towns and villages at night, and there has been an uptick in bomb attacks in Syria since the caliphate’s fall. It’s important to note that the defeat of the Isis caliphate was just that — it lost its territory, but not its vast resources and its ability to operate. Isis was an insurgency for longer than it was a “state”.

In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces was able to defeat Isis in large part due to the support of the US military. But Donald Trump has signalled that the US doesn’t want to stay there forever. The SDF is worried that they may struggle to maintain security in the recently recaptured areas of the country — areas that have been utterly destroyed by the war.

You may have seen interviews with people leaving Isis areas in the caliphate’s final days. It’s clear that the ideology has not been completely defeated. The large number of civilian casualties caused by the fight to defeat Isis didn’t help that.

More generally, stopping Isis in the long term requires removing the conditions that allowed it to rise in the first place. Isis was able to capitalise on legitimate grievances of the local population in both Syria in Iraq — everything from a weak state to rampant sectarianism, poverty, environmental change, you name it. It requires a huge international effort to give people in these devastated areas a chance to live a normal life.

theindependentonline256 karma

This question comes up a lot, so I’m glad someone asked. The White Helmets have been the target of a coordinated propaganda campaign amplified by the Russian and Syrian governments, and pursued relentlessly by conspiracy theorists. I really don’t blame you for being uncertain, given the effort that has been put into this campaign. The theories surrounding them are so muddled that it’s worth going through them: One is that the White Helmets are funded by the British and US governments to fake atrocities in order to create the conditions to enact regime change (ie. remove Assad from power). The group did receive funding from both, but there was already enough evidence of war crimes before the White Helmets came along, from a myriad of independent sources. The US and UK undoubtedly wanted Assad to go, and funded rebel groups to try to make that happen, but why on earth would they need to manufacture crimes that the world had already seen? Another is that the White Helmets were a kind of conduit for funding extremist groups in Syria. The reality is that the US was funding rebel groups in Syria to counter the rising threats of these groups. When these efforts failed and weapons began ending up in the hands of extremists, the US got pulled back on that funding. The other is that a lot of White Helmets were actually extremists themselves, and were working with those groups. Is it possible that some White Helmets were former fighters? Of course. Could some of them have exaggerated or manipulated scenes? Yes. This is an organisation of over 4,000 volunteers afterall. But to suggest the organisation is part of some grand conspiracy is absurd. These theories have been fuelled by grainy photographs of unknown figures in white helmets standing alongside fighters, poorly sourced reports from bloggers who gave up any impartiality a long time ago, and a constant drip, drip of propaganda from Russian state news outlets. Why? The answer is pretty simple. While rescuing people from the rubble of buildings bombed by Russian and Syrian jets, they would also film the carnage. Their footage of these atrocities was extremely damaging to both, and countered the government narrative that this was a war against terrorists.
I’ve maintained contact with a number of White Helmet volunteers over the years, and the vast majority are normal people who just wanted to do something to help. (Sorry for the ramble!) You can read more about all this here: https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/syria-s-white-helmets-all-we-care-about-is-saving-lives-1.756229

theindependentonline245 karma

You’re right about that. There has been far less coverage of HTS, largely because they have deliberately tried to avoid the spotlight. The group is a descendant of Al Qaeda, and I’m sure you’re all familiar with their beliefs. In recent years it has dissociated itself from Al Qaeda, but the core beliefs remain the same. It has played a much smarter game than Isis in trying to achieve its goals. It has undoubtedly committed war crimes, but while Isis was broadcasting its gruesome atrocities to the world, HTS tried to keep a lower profile, and made itself invaluable to other rebel groups who might not share its beliefs. Eventually, it came to dominate those groups and now rules over most of Idlib province. Despite its cleverness, HTS is an authoritarian group that a vast number of Syrians oppose. We recently wrote a story about a HTS crackdown that you can read here: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-syria-hayat-tahrir-al-sham-idlib-middle-east-a8850511.html

theindependentonline196 karma

I wouldn't really consider myself a conflict journalist, so the danger is minimal. I can walk away from a dangerous situation any time I want. This question might be better put to a Syrian or Iraqi journalist who reports on their home country. They are at far greater risk.

theindependentonline129 karma

That’s what many people want, but I think an independent state is unlikely any time soon. The Syrian government has repeatedly stated that it will not stop until it regains control of the entire country, and it has a powerful ally in Russia to help it do so. The Syrian Kurds know they can’t rely on the US to be there forever, and so they have to reach an agreement with Assad. They are pushing for some kind of autonomy in the areas they control (which is close to a third of the country), but so far the talks haven’t gone very far. SDF commanders are far more concerned about what Turkey will do right now.