ISW Daily Update March 27, 2017

 These are the major events from March 25-27, 2017 in the theaters and from the trans-national groups that ISW monitors: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Russia, Ukraine, and ISIS.

SYRIA: ISIS is consolidating in Eastern Syria in response to ongoing offensives against Ar-Raqqa City in Northern Syria and Mosul in Northern Iraq. ISIS withdrew from its positions in Suwayda and Rif Dimashq Provinces in Southern Syria towards Ar-Raqqa and Deir ez-Zour Cities on 26 - 27 MAR. The withdrawal follows a similar retreat from large parts of Eastern Aleppo Province following the fall of Al-Bab on 23 FEB. ISIS likely intends to reinforce Ar-Raqqa City ahead of the imminent loss of the Tabqa Dam in Western Ar-Raqqa Province. ISIS will likely also deploy forces to secure a new urban center by expelling pro-regime forces from Deir ez-Zour City in Eastern Syria.

IRQ: Leading Iranian-backed militia Asa'ib Ahl al Haq (AAH) signaled willingness to consider Haider al Abadi as a weak consensus candidate in upcoming elections. AAH leader Qais al-Khazali praised Abadi’s "[tendencies] towards calm” and referenced the ability of the National Alliance to regulate his behavior. Khazali also falsely claimed that AAH had no special relationship with Nouri al Maliki in the past. His statements indicate that Iranian proxies like AAH are considering their options.

AFG: U.S. military leadership continued calls for increased troop levels in Afghanistan as security deteriorates. Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan General John Nicholson stated he will request a 5,000 troop increase for Afghanistan at a NATO conference in Brussels, Belgium on 25 MAY. The ANSF is currently underprepared to counter the Taliban’s upcoming spring offensive, as shown by its loss of a strategic district in Helmand Province despite U.S. assistance on 23 MAR. Troop levels in Afghanistan will likely be a primary topic of discussion at the upcoming NATO meetings, in addition to European elections and increased Russian aggression.  

EGY: Egyptian President Sisi is moving to consolidate power over the judiciary. The Egyptian parliament approved a new judicial authority draft law, giving the president the right to appoint the heads of the country’s judiciary councils. Egypt’s main judiciary organization announced its rejection of the law as a major violation of the Egyptian judicial system, calling on its branch heads to convene on 29 MAR to discuss the matter. The Speaker of Egyptian parliament Ali Abdel Aal asserted the constitutional right of lawmakers to draft laws and refused any intervention from judges. A clash between the judicial, legislative, and executive branches is likely if parliament refuses to compromise with Egypt’s judges. 

RUS/UKR: A victory by pro-EU elements in the Bulgarian elections drove out one of the European Union’s strongest opponents to the sanctions regime against Russia.  The pro-EU and NATO GERB party won the early parliamentary election over the pro-Russian Socialist Party (BSP.)  The head of GERB, Boyko Borisov, is now poised to become Prime Minister for the third time if he can form a coalition government, and observers note that a coalition with the third place nationalist United Patriots is a strong possibility.  Russia will continue its efforts to influence European elections where it is able, including Serbia on 02 April, to undermine European political solidarity and open the door on to increased Russian influence on the continent.