The Nexus Between Terrorism and Civil Conflict

Civil conflict and terrorism have primarily been studied separately by various scholars and using different approaches. Even though some researchers pursue mutually exclusive characterizations to distinguish terrorist attacks from conventional warfare, other scholars are more interested in how terrorism, as well as indirect targeting, is manifested in dozens of armed conflicts around the world. There is an enhanced interest in the relationship between terrorism and civil war. However, a considerable portion of current research focuses on quantifying the use of terrorist tactics in a binary way, there is still an inadequacy of variation interpretation, or why certain conflicts record an overboard utilization of these tactics while other armed conflicts only have occasional use or no use (Oslo (PRIO), 2016). Rebel groups such as Colombia’s FARC guerrillas employed terrorist attacks to challenge government forces while the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq carried out similar attacks on civilian targets. Insurgent groups that employ terrorist tactics are more likely to sustain their armed struggle for more extended periods and solidify their position in the conflict. This paper will focus on the role played by terrorist groups such as ISIS, YPG, Nusra Front, and SMC in propagating the Syrian civil war. Furthermore, the paper will also explain how bargaining has contributed to the de-escalation of the conflict in Syria.

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The presence of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State or Al Qaeda has substantially altered the prospects of all the parties involved in the conflict. The Assad regime has exploited both Al Qaeda and ISIS to advance his interests and edge closer to victory. According to a 2018 Al Jazeera news piece, the Syrian government was using Al Qaeda militants to stall efforts toward a ceasefire. In May 2018, the Assad administration facilitated the transport of about 1,600 Islamic State fighters as well as their families from Hajar al-Aswad and the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, an ISIL to Badiya, a vast desert region in the southeast (Behravesh, 2018). This transfer set the stage for the government of Bashar Al Assad to take over the control of the region after several years. Such involvement of terrorist groups in the Syrian civil war is a massive setback to conflict cessation efforts. The main reason why war broke out in Syria was to depose the authoritarian government of Bashar Al Assad. Opposition militias made massive progress during the initial stages of the conflicts, and they managed to put vast Syrian territory under their control. The exploits of opposition militias significantly undermined the position of forces loyal to Assad, and the goal of their armed struggle was close to being realized. However, the involvement of Al Qaeda and ISIS enabled Assad’s forces to recapture key towns and cities, reversing earlier progress. Granting the Syrian government forces such a lifeline only prolongs the civil war because the opposition forces and forces loyal to Assad keep on fighting for control over the country.

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While the conflict dynamic of terrorism prolongs armed conflicts in Syria, the framework of bargaining leads to conflict de-escalation. Bargaining refers to an arrangement where one party gains at the expense of the other in a conflict. Since war is a bargaining interaction of sorts, it is costly, and parties involved use resources such as troops and finance. As such, the bargaining framework assumes that armed conflict is unwanted by all actors, and only occurs when certain conditions are met. In the Syrian civil war, there has been a series of efforts by international players such as the Arab League and the United Nations to broker peace deals without much success. In 2019, the United States Vice President, Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan brokered a peace deal to facilitate the withdrawal of the Kurds fighters from Nothern Syria (Voytko, 2019). The deal was supposed to reduce the intensity of fighting between the Kurdish Democratic Forces and the Turkish government, which views the Kurds as a threat to its national security. Since Turkey is militarily powerful relative to the Kurdish Democratic Forces, the latter was required to make enormous concessions for the bargaining agreement to be accepted by Turkey. Essentially, Turkey was meant to reap massive benefits from this ceasefire agreement at the expense of the Kurds, who were American allies in the war against ISIS. The willingness by both the Turkish government and the Kurds led to a de-escalation of the conflict for about five days before fighting broke out again. Initially, Turkey demanded that the Kurds move about 20 miles away from the Syria-Turkey border to de-escalate the fighting between the two parties. This request was accepted by the Kurds only for the Turkish military to launch an onslaught against their partners in the ceasefire agreement. Although one of the parties in the bargaining agreement failed to hold up their end of the deal, the conflict resolution strategy served its purpose of de-escalating fighting between Turkey and the Kurds in Syria for a few days.


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