Syria Is Forcing Former Rebels to Fight Their Friends

The U.S. should withhold reconstruction funds until Assad ends forced conscription and makes other constitutional changes.
Syrian rebels holed up in Idlib may soon be fighting off their former allies. As opposition fighters have surrendered by the thousands in recent months, the government has pressed them into military service. Many have been sent to fight the Islamic State group, or ISG, in southern and eastern Syria. But many others are being deployed to Idlib to battle the men they fought alongside until early summer, local journalists report.

The desperate choices before the former rebels is another indication that Syria is very far from normal, even if it increasingly gives the appearance of being so. In recent conversations, refugees in Lebanon and Jordan cited forced conscription as their greatest fear in returning to their homes. As the United States wraps up its campaign to retake ISG territory, and as Kurds in eastern Syria accelerate their efforts to reach an autonomy agreement with Damascus, Washington has lost most of its leverage in Syria. But it can still withhold financing for the return of refugees and Syria’s reconstruction, and it should do so until the Assad regime offers guarantees about government behavior and constitutional reform — changes that will reduce the enduring threat to the United States and its allies.

This article was originally published on Defense One.

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Will Todman
Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Middle East Program