The Institute for the Study of War and AEI's Critical Threats Project conducted an intensive multi-week exercise to frame, design, and evaluate potential courses of action that the United States could pursue to defeat the threat from ISIS and al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria. This first report examines America’s global grand strategic objectives as they relate to ISIS and al Qaeda and considers the nature of those enemy groups in depth and in their global context.
The Syrian regime and its allies launched a major, multi-pronged offensive in Aleppo Province on October 15 in order to bolster the regime's foothold in Aleppo City. Both Russia and Iran likely aim to enable Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to reassert control over Syria’s largest city given the heavy involvement of their military forces in these operations.
The ceasefire in Greater Idlib remains tenuous. Recent force disposition indicates that the Syrian Regime is preparing for a renewed offensive in Southern Idlib Province should the ceasefire break down, but both the timing and likelihood of the offensive’s success remain uncertain and conditions dependent. A renewed regime offensive will require Russian support to sustainably seize territory from anti-Assad forces. However, Russian support will likely be contingent on a new negotiated agreement between Russia and Turkey, and the COVID-19 pandemic will likely delay such negotiations. The Syrian regime may attempt an offensive without Russian support despite the likelihood that it will be unsuccessful. Any regime offensive, whether Russian-backed or unilateral, will exacerbate the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Greater Idlib.
The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) deployed roughly a division (over 20,000 soldiers) to Greater Idlib Province between February 1 and March 31, 2020. This map provides a partial assessment of which types of units Turkey deployed to each location based on publicly available information.
The U.S. has an opportunity in Idlib to exploit the largest rift between Turkey and Russia in Syria to date while addressing a grave and dangerous humanitarian crisis, which will worsen in coming months without a robust international response. Turkey’s intervention in Idlib Province changed the military balance in northwest Syria and created an opportunity for the U.S. and Europe to engage at relatively low cost.
The Syrian armed opposition insurgency in Dera'a demonstrated its growing strength on March 1 by seizing several Assad regime military positions in the province in reaction to a large regime security operation in the north of the province.
Growing Turkish-Russian military cooperation in Syria is a dangerous sign of a wider shift to a closer strategic relationship between Turkey and Russia.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent decision to keep a residual force of at least 400 troops in Syria prevents the immediate takeover of valuable natural resources and infrastructure in Eastern Syria by Iran, Assad, and Russia. These actors nonetheless still have options that could lead to the defeat or expulsion of U.S. forces.
Vital American interests remain at stake in Syria even as the U.S.-led coalition has retaken territory from the Islamic State. Jennifer Cafarella examines the decision to begin the process of withdrawing U.S. forces and the effects on key actors, including al Qaeda.
ISW Board Chairman Jack Keane and Danielle Pletka: The president stood by his word and didn’t tolerate the Syrian dictator’s use of weapons of mass destruction. But while the recent strike on Syria was important and necessary—it was far from sufficient.