Russian President Vladimir Putin’s primary objective in Syria is to constrain U.S. freedom of action – not fight ISIS and al Qaeda. Russia’s military deployments at current levels will not enable the Iranian-penetrated Assad regime to secure Syria. Moscow’s deepening footprint in Syria threatens America’s ability to defend its interests across the Middle East and in the Mediterranean Sea. The next U.S.
Conditions on the ground are not set for a political solution to the Syrian Civil War despite diplomatic efforts by regional powers. The third round of Astana Talks on March 14 – 15 failed to generate significant results amidst an opposition boycott. Meanwhile, two major double suicide attacks targeted the Old City of Damascus on March 11 and March 15.
The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) made significant progress from March 9 to 16, pushing deep into western Mosul and eliminating ISIS’s presence north of the city. ISIS has reopened attack fronts around Tikrit and Baiji, however, underscoring that Mosul’s recapture will not defeat ISIS in Iraq.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute conducted an intensive multi-week planning exercise to frame, design, and evaluate potential courses of action that the United States could pursue to destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) and al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria.
This report is part of the series "U.S. Grand Strategy: Destroying ISIS and al Qaeda."
The U.S. deployed at least four hundred soldiers from the 75th U.S. Army Ranger Regiment and 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to Northern Syria in order to both support the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) against ISIS in Ar-Raqqa City and prevent an open confrontation between the SDF and Turkey in Manbij in Eastern Aleppo Province. The latest round of Geneva Talks on the Syrian Civil War concluded without significant progress.
ISIS incurred territorial losses in Iraq and Syria between February 27 and March 9, 2017. Pro-regime forces recaptured Palmyra with the assistance of Iran, Russia, and Lebanese Hezbollah on March 2. Pro-regime forces seized additional villages from ISIS in northeast Aleppo province on March 7 and March 9, recapturing critical infrastructure.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is neither sovereign nor a viable U.S. partner against ISIS and al-Qaeda. Russia and Iran have penetrated the Syrian Arab Army’s command-and-control authorities at all levels and propped up the force by providing the bulk of its offensive combat power. The pro-regime coalition cannot secure all of Syria and primarily serves as a vehicle for Moscow and Tehran’s regional power projection.
Al Qaeda in Syria has resumed offensive operations against the Syrian regime in northern Syria after the fall of Aleppo City. The recapture of Aleppo City by Syrian president Bashar al Assad and his external backers was a turning point in the Syrian civil war, but it did not seal Assad’s victory. It was instead a victory for Al Qaeda because it defeated Al Qaeda’s main competitors in northern Syria. Al Qaeda consolidated its strength and resumed offensive operations against pro-Assad forces in February 2017. Pro-Assad forces could begin to lose terrain to Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda will increasingly pose a threat to the West as its strength in northern Syria grows. The contest between Al Qaeda and pro-Assad forces, which include Iran and Russia, will increasingly challenge U.S. policy options in Syria.
Opposition groups backed by Turkey in Operation Euphrates Shield attacked the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Manbij in Northern Aleppo Province. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) conducted a complex attack targeting two heavily-secured regime intelligence branches in Homs City. Pro-regime forces recaptured Palmyra in Eastern Homs Province from ISIS.