Syria Situation Report: April 20 - May 10, 2017
Russia, Iran, and Turkey agreed at a new set of Astana Talks on May 3 - 4 to establish four large “de-escalation” zones over opposition-held regions of Western Syria. The deal allows for the three countries to deploy forces along the borders of the “de-escalation zones” to monitor a faltering nationwide ceasefire that excludes all opposition forces “associated” with Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria. Activists reported a general decrease in violence except along key frontlines such as Damascus and Northern Hama Province after the deal went into effect on May 6. Russia likely intends to leverage to “de-escalation zones” to subordinate the political process to its objectives, reset its military deployments, and block future unilateral action to implement so-called “zones of stabilization” by the U.S. in Syria. Pro-regime forces will likely also use the relative lull in Western Syria to refocus their military campaign towards Eastern Syria to preempt the U.S. from establishing a long-term foothold in regions formerly held by ISIS in Syria. Conditions on the ground remain unfit for a durable ceasefire or political settlement to end the Syrian Civil War.
The U.S. signaled its intent to move forward with an imminent offensive to seize Ar-Raqqa City from ISIS that includes the Syrian Kurdish YPG despite clear objections from Turkey. U.S. President Donald Trump signed an order on May 8 authorizing the U.S. Department of Defense to directly provide weapons, ammunition, and other equipment to the YPG “as necessary” in support of upcoming operations against ISIS in Ar-Raqqa City. Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White stated that the weapons deliveries will be “limited, mission specific, and metered out incrementally” in order to prevent the transfer of weapons to the PKK in Turkey. The U.S. also floated plans to expand an intelligence fusion center based in Ankara targeting the PKK in Turkey. These efforts remain insufficient to address the security concerns of Turkey. The decision will likely fuel a further breakdown in relations between Turkey and the U.S. that could include new cross-border operations by Turkey against the YPG in Northern Syria. This strategic break will form a core area of disagreement during a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Turkish President Recep Erdogan in Washington D.C. on May 16.