Russian warplanes concentrated their airstrikes in opposition-held territory in northwestern Aleppo Province in support of an ongoing regime offensive to sever the primary opposition ground line of communication (GLOC) from Aleppo City to the Syrian-Turkish border.
Battlefield realities rather than great power politics will determine the ultimate terms of a settlement to end the Syrian Civil War. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies in Russia and Iran have internalized this basic principle even as Washington and other Western capitals pinned their hopes upon UN-sponsored Geneva Talks, which faltered only two days after they began.
American over-reliance on Kurdish forces as the primary ground partner in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) threatens the long-term success of the anti-ISIS campaign. These pitfalls could promote future regional disorder and prevent the U.S. from successfully degrading and destroying ISIS.
Russia heightened its aggressive posture toward NATO as the U.S. prepared new deterrence measures in Europe. The U.S. Defense of Department requested funding to deploy an additional 3,000-5,000 troops to Europe in its FY 2017 budget request in a show of support to NATO allies threatened by possible Russian military aggression. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called for the establishment of a “cooperative and constructive” relationship with Russia, which he said required bolstering NATO defenses in order to gain Russia’s respect.
Financial difficulties stemming from collapsed oil prices, corruption, and the cost of the anti-ISIS fight pose an increasingly dire threat to Iraq that may prove more destabilizing than ISIS.
The Russian air campaign in Syria enabled strategic gains in the regime’s longstanding effort to buffer its coastal heartland in Latakia from January 23 - 25. Russian strikes targeted opposition-held positions along the frontline in both Jebel al-Akrad and Jebel Turkmen mountain ranges in Northern Latakia, facilitating the regime’s seizure of the town of Rabi’ah.
ISIS continues to face military pressure on multiple fronts in Iraq and Syria. In response ISIS is heightening efforts to consolidate control along the Euphrates River Valley, and is also expanding its attack zones in western Syria and eastern Iraq. ISIS remains unchallenged in its core terrain across Iraq and Syria.
Russia continues to aggressively posture against NATO from both Ukraine and Syria while casting itself as a constructive actor in both conflicts. U.S. European Command (EUCOM) accused Russia of destabilizing Europe by violating international norms and named deterring Russian aggression as its strategic priority. Moscow announced plans to form three new military divisions in western Russia to counter NATO.
The U.S. is actively searching for ways to increase its impact on the anti-ISIS fight in Iraq. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter called on Coalition members on January 22 to increase the amount of support they provide, and the U.S. indicated plans to intensify its own assistance for anti-ISIS actors in Iraq.