ISW Daily Update April 03, 2017

 These are the major events from April 01-03, 2017 in the theaters and from the trans-national groups that ISW monitors: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Russia, Ukraine, and ISIS.

SYR: Turkey plans to launch operations against the Syrian Kurdish YPG in Northern Syria within the next few months. Turkish President Recep Erdogan highlighted plans to launch “new surprises” against “terrorist groups” on the Syrian-Turkish Border following the completion of Operation Euphrates Shield on 29 MAR. The statement comes amidst unverified reports that Turkey intends to launch a cross-border offensive to establish a ‘safe zone’ in Tel Abyad in Northern Ar-Raqqa Province. Erdogan is responding to signals that the U.S. has selected the YPG as its primary ground partner against ISIS in Ar-Raqqa City.

IRQ: A controversy over the raising of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) flag in Kirkuk threatens to undermine fragile ties between Iraqi Kurds and Baghdad over the status of Kirkuk and whether or not it is a component of federal Iraq or Iraqi Kurdistan. Kurdish blocs withdrew from the Council of Representatives (CoR) in protest of CoR blocs voting to insist on the need to take down the KRG flag over Kirkuk’s government buildings. The withdrawal was a rare show of solidarity among Iraqi Kurdish blocs, who are increasingly divided over intra-Kurdish political disputes

AFG: Russia overtly legitimized the Taliban to undermine U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan. Russia’s Special Envoy to the President on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov voiced support for Taliban-militant’s long-standing claim that foreign forces completely withdraw from Afghanistan, calling it “justified.” Kabulov is expected to host the 11-nation talks on Afghanistan in Moscow on 14 APR, including Iran, Pakistan, India, China, and Afghanistan among others. Russia will maneuver to lead this cohort toward a peace deal that will jettison U.S. and NATO military forces from Afghanistan. Russia may work to garner additional support for this policy preference from other regional actors ahead of the 14 APR discussions.

EGY: The Trump administration may embrace Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for counterterrorism and regional stability. This position would reverse the Obama administration’s punishment of Sisi’s for human rights abuses through exclusion from strategic dialogue and withholding of military aid. Sisi met with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington on 03 APR. They discussed shared interest in counterterrorism, the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, the situation in Libya and Syria, and military and economic aid to Egypt. The Trump administration has broadly emphasized the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and counterterrorism, two issues on which Egypt can play a key role. Sisi’s visit to the White House cements his position domestically and regionally.

RUS/UKR: Moscow city-officials leveraged a terrorist attack in St. Petersburg to pivot public focus away from continued anti-corruption protests. Anti-corruption activists gathered in Moscow on 02 APR for the second consecutive weekend after protests advocating for government reform erupted across Russia on 26 MAR.  Moscow tightened its security network after a terrorist attack targeted two subway platforms in St. Petersburg. The Kremlin will likely continue to use the terrorist attack in St. Petersburg to justify a bolstered security posture in major cities which dually ensures public-safety and discourages large displays of activism.

ISIS: The apparent decline in ISIS’s strength in Iraq and Syria does not signal near defeat of the organization. ISIS launched a failed counterattack against U.S.-backed forces IVO Tabqa, near ISIS’s capital city in Syria, Raqqa. ISIS recently withdrew forces from northeastern Aleppo province and several locations in southern Syria, either to augment its defense at Raqqa or to preserve latent capacity in multiple locations throughout the country. It is unclear whether ISIS will continue to launch counter-offensives in Homs and Deir ez Zour provinces as a response to the impending loss of Raqqa and Mosul. The potential for ISIS to forego frontal attacks in favor of spectacular attacks and attacks behind enemy lines does not signal a rapid decline of the organization, but rather a shift to a different phase, one that could outlast Operation Inherent Resolve and allow ISIS to resurge again in short order.