Local community resistance to extremist groups in Syria

This paper examines events in Atarib city in the period before, during and after its local community and armed groups came together in early 2014 to resist an attempt by ISIS to seize full control of the city. As elsewhere, ISIS had previously intensified efforts to impose its authority over the city through coercion and intimidation. The strength of relations between civilians, the city’s authorities and local rebel groups meant that they were able to work together successfully to defend the city.

A sole focus on defeating ISIS in Syria militarily will likely further enable al-Nusra, which has been able to exploit the power vacuum where its rival has collapsed. If the progress made by the international military coalition in the fight against ISIS in Syria is to endure, it will be critical to engage local communities, and to forge a clear, comprehensive and participatory strategy that takes account of specific community dynamics, sets the protection of civilians as a priority, and addresses the deep-rooted political, economic, social and cultural issues that have seen extremist groups rise and flourish. Strong local communities that are empowered to create their own alternatives and solutions will have the incentive to fight for them.

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