ISW Daily Update March 13, 2017

These are the major events from March 13, 2017 in the theaters and from the trans-national groups that ISW monitors: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Russia, Ukraine, and ISIS.

SYRIA: Al-Qaeda in Syria has shifted to a new phase of military operations against pro-regime forces. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) – the successor of Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria - detonated two SVESTs targeting alleged Iraqi Shi’a pilgrims in the Old City of Damascus on March 11, inflicting heavy casualties. HTS conducted a complex attack involving five SVESTs against two regime intelligence branches in Homs City on February 25. Al-Qaeda will use spectacular attacks to set conditions for future offensive operations while the group consolidates in Idlib Province.


IRAQ: Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Alliance (SLA) secured greater control over the parliamentary committee to select a new Commissioner’s Board for the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), the government body that governs Iraqi provincial and national elections. The Committee pressured the acting chairman from the Kurdish Gorran bloc to resign, replacing him with a SLA member. The IHEC Board is now more likely to remain aligned with the ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for April 2018, advancing Maliki’s agenda.


AFG: Russia continues to court Afghan government officials in order to undermine the U.S and NATO. Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar is scheduled to meet with Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow in mid-MAR, following a meeting between Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani in Moscow in FEB 2017. Russia will use peace talks between the Afghan National Unity Government and the Taliban as a means to overshadow and eject the U.S. and NATO.  


EGY: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s mass prisoner release may be directed at the U.S., to whom he will appeal for increased aid in an upcoming visit to the U.S. Sisi issued a pardon for 203 prisoners unaffiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. He previously pardoned 82 prisoners in NOV 2016. The timing of this prisoner release suggests that Sisi is using domestic actions to achieve foreign policy goals while he balances overtures from Russia and the U.S. 


RUS/UKR: Russian President Vladimir Putin's newly created National Guard is now operational and will become more active as a military force within Russia. The National Guard performed a large-scale military snap exercise in Russia's Central Military District for the first time since its creation in April 2016. Head of the National Guard Viktor Zolotov reports directly to Putin and is a close ally. Putin will most likely use the National Guard to suppress dissent ahead of the 2018 presidential election. 


ISIS:  ISIS continues to coordinate external attacks in Europe from Turkey. Turkish police arrested an allegedly ISIS-linked German man IVO Izmir, eastern Turkey. The man is suspected of ordering the truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin on 19 DEC 2016. A recent uptick in low-level attacks in Germany, including a thwarted spectacular attack in Essen on March 12, may indicate that ISIS’s external attack apparatus in Turkey is still active despite many arrests.