Turkish President Recep Erdogan reiterated that the “ultimate goal” of Turkey in Operation Euphrates Shield is the establishment of a five-thousand square kilometer ‘safe zone’ that includes Al-Bab, Manbij, and Ar-Raqqa City in Northern Syria. Meanwhile, preparations continued for the next round of Geneva Talks on the Syrian Civil War scheduled to begin on February 23.
Syria Situation Report
U.S. President Donald Trump held a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 28 that included talks on “mutual cooperation” against ISIS in Syria. President Trump later solicited the support of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for an unspecified initiative to establish ‘safe zones’ in Syria.
Delegations from the regime and opposition held indirect negotiations on the Syrian Civil War at the Astana Talks brokered by Russia, Turkey, and Iran on January 23 - 24 but failed to reach an initial breakthrough on efforts to reinforce a faltering nationwide ceasefire. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda continued to consolidate control over Idlib and Western Aleppo Provinces in preparation for the next phase of its campaign against the regime.
Russia and Turkey implemented a nationwide ‘cessation of hostilities’ agreement on December 29 in preparation for negotiations between the regime and opposition scheduled to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan on January 23. The deal will exclude all groups designated as “terror organizations” by the UN Security Council including ISIS and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS).
Turkey, Russia, and Iran released a joint statement - termed the ‘Moscow Declaration’ - noting that all three countries agree to “facilitate and become the guarantors” of any political agreement to end the Syrian Civil War following a trilateral meeting in Moscow, Russia on December 20. Meanwhile, pro-regime forces announced their full control over Aleppo City on December 22 following the last evacuations from the remaining opposition-held districts of Eastern Aleppo City.
Opposition forces and civilians began to evacuate from Eastern Aleppo City on December 15 following bilateral negotiations between Russia and Turkey. Opposition forces also agreed on medical evacuations from Fu'ah and Kefraya in Idlib Province after Iran threatened to collapse the agreement. Meanwhile, ISIS recaptured the city of Palmyra in Eastern Homs Province on December 11, marking the first seizure of a major urban center by ISIS in Iraq and Syria since May 2015
Pro-regime forces backed by heavy airstrikes seized at least fifteen districts in Eastern Aleppo City including large parts of the Old City of Aleppo, shrinking the pocket held by opposition forces by more than seventy-five percent. Meanwhile, Russia and the U.S. met in Germany to discuss a potential deal to evacuate all civilians and opposition fighters from Eastern Aleppo City except for members of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham - the successor of Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.
Pro-regime forces seized at least five opposition-held districts in Eastern Aleppo City on November 26 - 28 following a heavy air campaign that began on November 15. Meanwhile, Turkey stated that an alleged regime airstrike killed at least three soldiers of the Turkish Armed Forces participating in Operation Euphrates Shield near Al-Bab in Northern Aleppo Province on November 24.
Russia announced the start of a “major operation” allegedly targeting ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Western Syria. The operation included fighter jets launched from the Russian Aircraft Carrier ‘Admiral Kuznetsov’ in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea as well as cruise missile strikes by naval warships and strategic bombers. Local activists also reported the resumption of intense airstrikes against Aleppo City.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched ‘Operation Euphrates Wrath’ on November 6 with a stated goal to isolate the IS stronghold of A-Raqqa City. The announcement comes after the U.S. and Turkey reached an initial agreement on November 5 to allow the Syrian Kurdish YPG to participate in the isolation phase of the offensive. In exchange, Sunni Arabs will lead the final effort to “seize, hold, and govern” A-Raqqa City.