Russia shifted the focus of its air campaign to Eastern Syria from January 14 – 25 in order to counter a major offensive by ISIS in Deir ez-Zour City. Nonetheless, the dramatic surge in strikes against ISIS in Syria represents an attempt by Russia to maintain its strategic interest in bolstering the claim of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to all of Syria rather than an opportunity to serve as a reliable counter-terrorism partner.
The U.S. is proceeding with an emergent strategy to retake ar-Raqqah City from ISIS. The composition of forces and the contours of future operations to clear ISIS from the city remain undecided, despite ongoing operations by the SDF to isolate the city. Both Turkey and the SDF continue to apply pressure on the U.S.-led coalition to exclude the other in any future capture and governance of ar-Raqqah City. The U.S. nonetheless moved forward with operations to isolate the city in early November to apply dual pressure to ISIS amidst an ongoing campaign to seize Mosul from ISIS in Iraq.
ISIS recaptured the historic city of Palmyra in Eastern Homs Province on December 11 following the withdrawal of pro-regime forces, marking the first seizure of a major urban center by ISIS in Iraq and Syria since ISIS
The U.S. Anti-ISIS Campaign has inadvertently emboldened select factions of Kurds in Iraq and Syria in a manner that threatens to exacerbate preexisting political and ethnic divisions, stoke regional conflict, and disrupt current momentum against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. risks the long-term failure of its mission if the coalition proves unable to reduce tensions along these seams and rebalance its campaign to incorporate a wider variety of partner forces on the ground.
Pro-regime forces backed by heavy airstrikes seized the Masakin Hanano, Jabal Badro, Sakhur, and Haydariyah Districts of Eastern Aleppo City on November 26 - 27, recapturing nearly a third of the remaining urban pocket held by opposition forces.
The composition and behavior of the force that recaptures ar-Raqqah City will in part determine the long-term success of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS campaign in Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is the U.S.’s most effective partner fighting ISIS in Syria, but it has limitations that risk undermining the gains it makes on the ground. The SDF, although dominated by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), is not monolithic.
Key Takeaway: Russia is preparing to escalate its military operations in Syria in order to tout its standing as a great power, reinforce its claims to be a credible partner against violent extremism, and reinvigorate domestic support for its continued participation in the Syrian Civil War.
Russia intensified its air campaign against the Syrian opposition in and around Aleppo City from September 20 – 22 following the breakdown of the nationwide ceasefire in Syria. The dramatic uptick in Russian airstrikes coincided with the Syrian Arab Army’s announcement of the start of an offensive to seize the remaining opposition-held districts of Aleppo City.