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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Military Movements after the April 2018 Chemical Weapons Attack


By Matti Suomenaro, Aaron Hesse, and the ISW Research Team

The U.S. has assessed that the Bashar al Assad regime is responsible for a chemical weapons attack in Damascus, Syria on April 7, 2018. The Assad-Russia-Iran coalition has been relocating its military assets and personnel in advance of an expected U.S.-led military operation intended to deter future use of chemical weapons. Iranian proxies are repositioning in order to mitigate the effects of a strike. The map accompanying the data below identifies key pro-regime military movements from April 8 – 12, 2018.


*Correction issued April 18, 2018: The map above has been updated since its original publication on April 12, 2018. The previous iteration of the map included ranges for two S-300 surface-to-air missile systems at Tartous and Latakia in Syria. ISW has changed the map to reflect the updated assessment that Russia likely had one S-300 system in Syria, based at Tartous, and that it withdrew that system in June 2017 (Russia deployed a new S-400 system to Masyaf in the months following this withdrawal). The previous iteration of this map also included a note regarding Russia’s deployment of multiple additional S-300 systems at unknown locations in Syria. ISW has removed this note based on a re-evaluation of reporting from 2016 on Russian deployments and the updated assessment regarding Russia’s current S-300 systems in Syria. Forthcoming ISW products will include updated assessments of Russia’s military posture in Syria and of the movement of the broader Russia-Iran-Bashar al Assad regime coalition’s movements since the April 14, 2018 U.S.-U.K.-France operation in Syria

Bashar al Assad Regime-Russia-Iran Coalition

Two Russian Su-24M ‘Fencer’ attack aircraft conducted several low-altitude passes in close proximity to the USS Donald Cook and the French frigate Aquitaine in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea on April 11. The Russian Navy conducted a firing drill off the Syrian coast in a likely attempt to deter U.S. and allied naval maneuvers near Syria on April 11.

Russia reportedly deployed four Tu-95MS ‘Bear’ and Tu-160M ‘Blackjack’ strategic bombers as well as an unspecified number of Il-78M tanker aircraft from the Engels Air Base in Southern Russia. Their final destination is unknown although they may be bound for Syria or the Hamedan Air Base in Western Iran. Russia previously targeted locations in Eastern Syria from the Engels Air Base. 

Russian and regime forces enhanced the air defenses around Syria’s capital, Damascus, where the regime conducted its chemical weapons attack on April 7. Pro-regime forces deployed short- to medium-range surface-to-air missiles, including six Russian Pantsir-S2s, to the Mezzeh Military Air Base and other sites in Damascus. Pro-regime officials also reportedly issued an alert to the Syrian Arab Army to evacuate personnel and assets from military bases across Syria.

Regime and Russian aircraft relocated closer to heavily-defended commercial airfields across Syria. Aircraft relocated from the Seen (Sayqal), Dumayr, Shayrat, and the T-4 (Tiyas) Air Bases to the Bassel al Assad International Airport in Latakia Province, the Nayrab Air Base outside Aleppo City, and the Damascus International Airport.

Iranian proxies, including Lebanese Hezbollah, reportedly began exiting Syria. Hezbollah reportedly relocated a number of fighters from Syria into Lebanon. Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies reportedly also entered Iraq from positions along the Syria-Iraq border, including Abu Kamal in Eastern Syria.

Unspecified pro-regime elements reportedly evacuated a branch of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) in Jamraya near Damascus. The SSRC is a Syrian government body responsible for research and development on advanced weapons systems, including ballistic missiles and chemical weapons.

Yemen

The Iranian-backed al Houthi movement escalated its series of ballistic missile strikes targeting Saudi Arabia. The strikes fit a pre-existing escalatory pattern but also coincide with Saudi Arabia’s expressed support for a military response in Syria. The al Houthi movement targeted Riyadh and two other locations in Saudi Arabia with a ballistic missile and kamikaze drones on April 11. It remains unclear if Iran directed the escalation against Saudi Arabia.

United States

The U.S. Navy announced that the guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook departed from Larnaca, Cyprus to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea on April 9. The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter is also operating in the Navy’s Sixth Fleet area of operations. The U.S. Navy announced on April 11 that the USS Harry Truman Carrier Strike Group departed from Norfolk, Virginia for a regularly scheduled deployment in support of ongoing operations by the Navy’s Fifth and Sixth Fleets, the headquarters for which are located in Bahrain and Italy, respectively.  

France

The cruise missile-capable French frigate Aquitaine is stationed in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

United Kingdom

Britain reportedly ordered the deployment of an unspecified number of cruise missile-capable submarines to the Mediterranean Sea within range of Syria.

Turkey

Turkey maintains at least one warship stationed near Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The Turkish Navy originally deployed to block offshore hydrocarbon exploration by Italy and France in the territorial waters of Cyprus on February 3, 2018.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman announced his “readiness to work with allies on any military response in Syria if needed” following a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on April 10.

The Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute contributed to the Yemen-related content in this publication.

America's Interests in Syria Beyond Deterring Chemical Weapons Use

By Jennifer Cafarella

Key Takeaway: President Donald Trump will likely authorize a campaign of strikes in Syria to deter future use of chemical weapons. The strikes would add credibility to American deterrence efforts worldwide by affirming American resolve to uphold stated “red lines”. They would fall short of halting the pro-Bashar al Assad regime war effort, however. The U.S. must do more in Syria to affect the war’s outcome, and must use tools beyond the military instrument. President Trump should use this opportunity to reset his entire Syria strategy. Vital American interests in Syria include: defeating al Qaeda and ISIS and replacing them with a viable and legitimate alternative; expelling Iranian military and proxy forces; limiting Iranian influence; facilitating the emergence of Sunni Arab armed forces and governing structures; bringing the war in Syria to a stable and enduring end that allows refugees to return; and de-escalating great power and regional competition in Syria that risks regional war and sets conditions for a great-power conflict.

President Trump will likely authorize a campaign of strikes against Syrian regime military targets in coming days in order to punish and deter chemical weapons use. American and British intelligence assessments have determined that the Assad regime is responsible for a chemical attack using a nerve agent against an opposition enclave in Douma on the outskirts of Damascus on April 7, 2018. President Trump first authorized a missile strike on a Syrian airfield in April 2017 after Syrian President Bashar al Assad conducted a similar attack using sarin gas on an opposition-held town. President Trump has reiterated his commitment to deterring future use and is now considering his military options.

A new round of strikes will most likely impose costs and degrade the regime’s capability to launch such attacks by damaging Assad’s remaining air force. President Trump’s 2017 strike destroyed twenty percent of Assad’s air force. President Trump may attempt to destroy Assad’s remaining air capabilities in addition to destroying his chemical weapons facilities. He may also strike targets that impose costs on Iran and Russia. He has publicly stated his intent to hold them accountable for supporting Assad’s crimes. Russian and Iranian forces collocate on many bases across Syria.

The strikes will reaffirm President Trump’s commitment to deterring chemical weapons use but will not solve the Syria problem. They are unlikely to alter the overall trajectory of the Syrian civil war and will not prevent Assad from continuing to slaughter his rebelling population with conventional munitions. They will not weaken Russian and Iranian resolve to continue supporting Assad, even if they destroy Assad’s air force. Alone, tactical military action is not a strategy.

The U.S. must do more and must use tools beyond the military instrument. President Trump should use this opportunity to reset his entire Syria strategy and remove the constraints on American action in Syria that he inherited from President Obama.

The U.S. has vital national security interests in Syria beyond deterring chemical weapons use. These include:
  1. Defeating al Qaeda, as well as ISIS, and facilitating the emergence of a viable and legitimate Sunni Arab leadership that will prevent the re-emergence of jihadist actors. 
  2. Expelling Iranian military forces and most of Iran’s proxy forces from Syria in order to secure American allies and partners in the region, to deny Iran access to Syrian economic resources, to reduce the regional sectarian conflict that is driving Sunni jihadist recruitment, and to constrain Russia’s ability to project force through Iranian basing; 
  3. Limiting Iranian influence over the Syrian government and territory; 
  4. Facilitating the emergence of a Sunni Arab armed force and governance structures that are: seen as legitimate by the Sunni Arab communities in Syria; willing and able to expel ISIS and al Qaeda and keep them out; and willing and able to serve as interlocutors for Syria’s rebelling Sunni community in negotiations with the pro-regime Alawite community and others; 
  5. Bringing the war in Syria to a stable and enduring end in a negotiated settlement acceptable to all sides that allows refugees to return in a manner that ensures jihadist actors do not gain sanctuary within a resettled and insecure population; and 
  6. De-escalating the competition among Turkey, Russia, Iran, and the Gulf States that risks regional war and is setting conditions for a great-power conflict in the Middle East. 
President Trump faces no easy decisions in Syria. Desirable options vanished over the eight years of vicious civil war. The cost and difficulty of acting in Syria will only continue to grow the longer the US tries to avoid these problems, however. The war continues to escalate. Russia, Iran, Assad, and Turkey are all attacking American forces and local partners in Syria. Israel and Iran are in an escalation pattern that could quickly become a regional war. The withdrawal of America’s limited forces in Syria would create a vacuum that leads to further escalation or enables American adversaries to grow stronger.

The growing international consensus behind striking Assad for chemical weapons use and holding his backers accountable provides an opportunity. President Trump should assert the leadership that the Obama administration shied away from and chart a new way forward in Syria.

Map: Russia and Iran in Southwest Syria

By ISW's Syria Team


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

April 2018 Syria Chemical Weapons Attack

ISW Senior Intelligence Planner Jennifer Cafarella answers three key questions in the aftermath of the Bashar al Assad regime-Iran-Russia coalition’s April 2018 campaign in Syria’s capital and the associated chemical weapons attack on civilians: read the Q&A on ISW's main website here.

Updated ISW map of the Assad-Iran-Russia posture and control of terrain assessments (for a PDF version, please visit ISW's main website):



Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Regime Gains in Damascus, Syria: March 12 - 26, 2018

By Christopher Kozak

Pro-Bashar al-Assad regime forces, including Russia and Iran, forced the reconciliation and evacuation of two of the three opposition-held pockets in the besieged Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Syria’s capital, Damascus. Salafi-Jihadist group Ahrar al-Sham fully evacuated the town of Harasta under a deal brokered by Russia. Activists reported that roughly 4,500 local residents, including more than 1,400 fighters, ultimately departed Harasta for Idlib Province on March 22 – 23. Islamist group Faylaq al-Rahman agreed to a similar evacuation deal in Irbeen, Zamalka, Ayn Tarma, and Jobar in Eastern Ghouta on March 23. Activists reported the departure of at least 13,100 local residents on March 24 - 26. Salafi-Jihadist group Jaysh al-Islam – the last remaining opposition powerbroker in the region - is meanwhile negotiating its own surrender and disarmament in its stronghold of Douma in Eastern Ghouta. Assad will soon claim a near total victory in Damascus.


Monday, March 26, 2018

Russia Eyes Latvia Ahead of Election


By Franklin Holcomb, Catherine Harris, and the ISW Russia and Ukraine Team

Key Takeaway: Russia will likely intensify its campaign to disrupt Latvia’s political stability ahead of Latvia’s fall 2018 parliamentary elections. The Kremlin may use rising social tensions over a new Latvian educational bill as just one tool to fuel divisive narratives and trigger large-scale protests. The U.S. should support NATO ally Latvia as it confronts Russia’s hybrid warfare and use the upcoming April 2018 Baltic Summit to reinforce its commitment to defend Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.

Russians and Russia-linked actors are escalating tensions over a controversial Latvian education bill. The Latvian Parliament approved the final reading of a draft language bill on March 22, 2018.[1] The bill aims to gradually transition Latvia’s education system from mixed Latvian-Russian language instruction to Latvian-language based.[2] Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the Latvian government of forcing Russians in Latvia to abandon their heritage.[3] Moscow-linked political-social organizations have attempted to halt, delay, or alter the legislation.[4] The Russian government-linked Russian Union of Latvia (RUL) organized protests against the bill, including protests of around 1,000 individuals on February 24 and March 10, though pro-Russia sources claimed 3,000-5,000 people attended.[5] The RUL is currently attempting to challenge a decision by the Latvian government blocking a public referendum on the bill in Latvia’s Supreme Court.[6] The RUL is also petitioning the EU to recognize the bill as an infringement on minority rights. It called on several EU and NATO states, namely Hungary and Romania, to support the “Rescue Package for National Minorities” which would grant minority groups across the EU increased autonomy.[7]

The Kremlin may fuel these tensions to destabilize Latvia ahead of the fall 2018 Latvian elections. The Kremlin seeks to destabilize Latvia in order to reassert influence over the former Soviet state, to test NATO unity, and to drive further divisions within the EU. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) assesses that the Kremlin is most likely to undertake a multifaceted approach, potentially including the use of irregular troops, if it chooses to escalate in Latvia rather than conduct a large-scale, short-notice conventional ground operation. The Kremlin regularly uses tensions over language as means of destabilization. ISW assesses that the Kremlin is fueling escalation between Hungary and Ukraine over a similar Ukrainian language bill in order to seed social unrest in Western Ukraine and drive a wedge between Ukraine and its neighbors. The Kremlin could exploit existing tensions surrounding the Latvian language bill to boost divisive narratives and destabilize the political landscape.

Latvian officials have already expressed concerns about the Kremlin’s intensifying interference in Latvian affairs, which may be indicative of the Kremlin’s increasing campaign of subversion. The Latvian Foreign Minister warned about the Kremlin’s escalating disinformation campaign ahead of the elections while he was in Washington on March 7, 2018. Latvian parliament member Ainars Latkovskis warned on February 21 that the Kremlin is attempting to “add more fuel to the fire” of a Latvian banking crisis in order to “create chaos in Latvia by portraying it as a failed state.”[8] Latvia’s Defense Ministry warned on February 20 that “there is a high probability [of an] externally organized widespread information operation…that, by its structure and execution, is identical to those observed in pre-election periods in the U.S., France, and Germany.”[9] Latvia’s Security Police warned on March 19 that Russian intelligence services continue to pose a “significant threat” to Latvia and are continuing their efforts to recruit Latvians and infiltrate key Latvian government institutions.[10] Signs of the Kremlin’s accelerating campaign to destabilize Latvia could include large-scale protests, sudden attacks on Russian-language speakers, and cyber attacks.

The U.S. and its Western allies should support NATO ally Latvia’s efforts to bolster its defenses as it confronts Russia’s hybrid campaign. Latvia should continue with its gradual approach to implement the language bill, if passed, so it does not provide additional opportunities for the Kremlin to exploit. The U.S. and its partners should support Latvia in its efforts to deny Russia the ability to foment political unrest and vie for domestic political influence. These countermeasures could include bolstering efforts to ensure that Kremlin-backed media does not dominate the information space for Russian-speaking Latvians, increasing tailored support to Latvian intelligence and law enforcement, and other mechanisms that can support an early detection and adequate response to a Russia-fueled destabilization campaign. The upcoming Baltic Summit in April 2018 hosted by President Donald Trump presents an opportunity to reinforce the U.S. and NATO commitment to defend allies against the full range of Russian warfare. 

Related Reading:

Russia's Military Posture: Ground Forces Order of Battle

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[1] “Saeima supports transition to Latvian as the only language of instruction in schools,” Latvijas Republikas Saima, March 22, 2018, http://www.saeima.lv/en/news/saeima-news/26706-saeima-supports-transition-to-latvian-as-the-only-language-of-instruction-in-schools

[2] “The parliament passes bills about gradual transition to Latvian-only education,” baltic-course.com, March 23, 2016, http://www.baltic-course(.)com/eng/education/?doc=138352 ; ” Bill against Russian language in Latvian schools passed in second reading,” TASS, March 9, 2018, http://tass(.)com/society/993327

[3] “Moskalkova accused the authorities of Latvia of discriminating against Russian-speaking residents,” RIA, February 25, 2018, https://ria(.)ru/world/20180225/1515253741.html ; “Moskalkova urged the UN and the OSCE to prevent cultural apartheid in Latvia,” RIA, February 25, 2018, https://ria(.)ru/world/20180225/1515253980.html ; “Lavrov accused Latvia of Russian forced to abandon their heritage,” rubaltic.ru, March 15, 2018, https://www.rubaltic(.)ru/news/15032018-lavrov-obvinil-latviyu-v-prinuzhdenii-russkikh-otkazatsya-ot-svoego-naslediya/

[4] “At the CEC refusal to hold a referendum - to answer a march on March 10!” rusojuz.lv, March 05, 2018, http://www.rusojuz(.)lv/ru/ourevents/26265-na-otkaz-cika-v-provedenii-referenduma-%E2%80%93-otvetim-marshem-10-marta/

[5] “Latvia: Russian community protest bill ending Russian language in schools,” eblnews.com, February 24, 2018, https://eblnews(.)com/video/latvia-russian-community-protest-bill-ending-russian-language-schools-338007 ; “Pictures from the rally on February 24 dedicated to 229 anniversary of the first Russian school in Latvia,” rusojuz.lv, February 24, 2018, http://www.rusojuz(.)lv/ru/ourevents/26262-fotoreportazh-s-mitinga-24-fevralja-posvjaschennogo-229-godovschine-pervoj-russkoj-shkoli-latvii/ ; “Miroslav Mitrofanov: Thank you all! March in defense of Russian schools turned out! We are waiting for new, higher goals!” rusojuz.lv, March 13, 2018, http://www.rusojuz(.)lv/ru/ourdeputy//26277-miroslav-mitrofanov--vsem-spasibo--shestvie-v-zaschitu-russkih-shkol-poluchilos-nash-zhdut-novie-bolee-visokie-celi/ ; “Pictures from the march in Riga March 10, 2018,” rusojuz.lv, March 10, 2018, http://www.rusojuz(.)lv/ru/ourevents//26270-fotoreportazh-s-shestvija-v-rige-10-marta-2018-goda/ ; “The beat of drums: in Riga took place many thousands march in defense of Russian schools,” Sputnik Latvia, March 10, 2018,
https://ru.sputniknewslv(.)com/Latvia/20180310/7620465/boj-barabanov-riga-sostojalsja-mnogotysjachnyj-marsh-zashhitu-russkih-shkol.html ; “In Riga, three thousand people attended the rally in support of Russian schools,” RIA, February 25, 2018, https://ria(.)ru/world/20180225/1515235538.html?inj=1

[6] Vladimir Akopov, “The founding fathers of Latvia were "for", and spoke out against the Central Election Commission,” baltnews.lv, March 5, 2018, http://baltnews(.)lv/news/20180305/1021745696.html ; “At the CEC refusal to hold a referendum - to answer a march on March 10!” rusojuz.lv, March 5, 2018, http://www.rusojuz(.)lv/ru/ourevents/26265-na-otkaz-cika-v-provedenii-referenduma-%E2%80%93-otvetim-marshem-10-marta/

[7] “’The rescue package for national minorities’ - what is it?” rusojuz.lv, March 10, 2018, http://www.rusojuz(.)lv/ru/ourevents/26253-spasatelnij-paket-dlja-nacionalnih-menshinstv-%E2%80%93-chto-eto-takoe/ ; “’The rescue package for national minorities’: signatures collected in Latvia,” baltnews.lv, March 12, 2018, http://www.baltnews(.)lv/riga_news/20180312/1021771205.html

[8] “Ainars Latkovskis: Russia Latvia is once again trying to show as a failed state,” lsm.lv, February 21, 2018, https://www.lsm(.)lv/raksts/zinas/latvija/ainars-latkovskis-krievija-latviju-atkal-megina-paradit-ka-neizdevusos-valsti.a268753/ ; “Latvia banking crisis: Riga wary Russia could be to blame for 'hybrid warfare',” CNBC, February 22, 2018, https://www.cnbc(.)com/2018/02/22/latvia-banking-crisis-riga-wary-russia-could-be-to-blame-for-hybrid-warfare.html

[9] “Latvia Signals Russia May Be Interfering in Banking Crisis,” Bloomberg, February 20, 2018, https://www.bloomberg(.)com/news/articles/2018-02-20/latvia-signals-russia-may-be-interfering-in-banking-crisis

[10] “Russian special services have seriously threatened the security of Latvia in 2017 – PB,” rus.lsm.lv, March 19, 2018, https://rus.lsm(.)lv/statja/novosti/politika/rossiyskie-specsluzhbiserezno-ugrozhali-bezopasnosti-latvii-v-2017-godu-pb.a271878/ ; “The Security Police shall publish a report on the functioning of the service in 2017,” dp.gov.lv, March 19, 2018, http://www.dp.gov(.)lv/lv/noderigi/publikacijas/drosibas-policija-publice-parskatu-par-dienesta-darbibu-2017.-gada.art99



Friday, March 23, 2018

Syria Situation Report: March 6 - March 20, 2018

This graphic marks the latest installment of the Syria Situation Report (SITREP) Map made possible through a partnership between the Institute for the Study of War and Syria Direct. This graphic depicts significant developments in the Syrian Civil War from March 6 - March 20, 2018. The control of terrain represented on the map is accurate as of March 22, 2018.

Map credit: Sana Sekkarie


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Turkey Threatens New Attacks in Syria and Iraq

By Elizabeth Teoman with Jennifer Cafarella

Key Takeaway: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to conduct military operations across six locations in eastern Syria and Iraq following the Syrian Kurdish withdrawal from Afrin City in northwest Syria. Russia and Iran seek to use Turkey to undermine the U.S. and may encourage Turkey to prioritize operations in areas that would put American forces at risk, disrupt U.S. supply lines, and constrain U.S. military operations, creating further opportunities for the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) to resurge in southeastern Syria.

The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) ceded Afrin City to Turkey on March 18, 2018. Syrian Kurdish YPG forces and tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians withdrew to the towns of Tel Rifaat, Nubul, and Zahra before Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and Turkish-backed rebels arrived in the city center. The YPG announced a transition from conventional fighting to a guerilla campaign against Turkey and its partner forces in Afrin. ISW assessed previously that Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch pursued five operational objectives: secure the Syrian-Turkish border, isolate Afrin city, seize the Mennagh airbase, secure ground lines of communication, and establish a new forward line of troops (FLOT) to serve as a future “de-escalation” line with pro-Bashar al Assad regime forces including Russia. The YPG decision to withdraw from Afrin City allowed Turkey to take direct control, which may not have been a necessary outcome for Erdogan. Turkey is now working to establish a new forward line of troops with pro-regime forces and deployed an additional “observer position” on the front line west of Aleppo City in Anadan. It is unclear whether Erdogan intends to capture the Mennagh airbase, north of Tel Rifaat. The TSK could outfit Mennagh as a rotary wing airbase to support counter-insurgency operations in Afrin moving forward.



Erdogan threatened on March 19 to conduct additional military operations at six possible locations in Syria and Iraq. He stated that Turkish forces may attack Kurdish forces in Syria’s Manbij, Kobani, Tel Abyad, Ras al Ayn and Qamishli in addition to Iraq’s Sinjar areas. He may calculate the YPG is vulnerable in Eastern Syria due to its attrition fighting Turkey and its commitment to waging an insurgency in Afrin. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu previously announced the Government of Iraq had agreed to conduct joint operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq on March 8. Cavusoglu claimed operations would begin after Iraq’s elections scheduled for May 12.

Erdogan may have acquired Russian and Iranian support for further military operations during a tripartite meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan on March 16. Russia and Iran seek to use Turkey to undermine the U.S. and may encourage Turkey to conduct operations in areas that would make U.S. forces vulnerable. A Turkish operation in Sinjar, Iraq could disrupt the U.S. and YPG supply line into northern Syria through the Fishkhabour Border Crossing. Turkey likely needs Iran’s approval to conduct an operation in Sinjar. Iranian proxy forces are heavily deployed along the Syrian-Iraqi border north of Sinjar. A Turkish operation in Syria against Manbij or Kobani would put U.S. forces directly at risk. Operations farther east threaten to destabilize U.S. rear areas and could force a contraction of U.S. forces to a smaller footprint, creating opportunity for ISIS to resurge in southeastern Syria. Turkey, Russia, and Iran may finalize an agreement during a tripartite presidential summit in Istanbul scheduled for April 4. American officials will reportedly meet with a visiting Turkish delegation in the coming days as part of discussions focused on resolving bilateral disputes, including in Syria. The working group will likely continue prioritizing the future of Manbij, which lies east of Afrin on the banks of the Euphrates River. The YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces currently control Manbij with support from U.S. forces.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Turkey Set to Besiege Afrin City


By Elizabeth Teoman

Turkey has set conditions to besiege Syrian Kurdish-controlled Afrin City in northwest Syria. Turkey will use its military position as leverage in tripartite negotiations with Russia and Iran in Astana, Kazakhstan on March 16, 2018. Turkish forces and Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces seized positions that enable them to sever the last ground line of communication to Afrin by March 15. The advance has driven tens of thousands of civilians toward terrain held by the Bashar al Assad regime and its allies. Turkey’s likely primary goal in the Astana negotiations is to reach an agreement with Russia and Iran over the future of Afrin and other Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)-held areas north of Aleppo City.