The Syrian Civil War continued to escalate despite continued international pressure to enforce a diplomatic solution to the conflict. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for the start of a new nationwide ‘cessation of hostilities’ within the “next week or two” but warned that U.S. patience was wearing thin. Meanwhile, Russia intensified its own air campaign on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad despite claims of continued support for a wider ceasefire.
ISIS currently faces an unprecedented threat to its core terrain in Northern Syria from an array of competing actors. Nonetheless, the degrading position of ISIS in Northern Syria is poised to ignite further conflict. The terrain vacated by ISIS will likely host renewed competition between Syrian Kurds, opposition groups, and pro-regime forces as well as a geopolitical struggle involving Turkey, Syria, Russia, and the U.S. These conflicts could stall further progress against ISIS in Syria.
ISIS faces mounting pressure upon its stronghold of Ar-Raqqa City and its access to the Syrian-Turkish Border via Aleppo Province. The Syrian Democratic Forces successfully isolated Manbij in Eastern Aleppo Province in an operation that began on May 31. Meanwhile, Pro-regime forces advanced into Ar-Raqqa Province on June 2. These overlapping pressures forced ISIS to abandon an ongoing offensive against key opposition strongholds in Northern Aleppo Province.
The tempo of Russian air operations has dramatically escalated in Syria. The rate and breadth of Russian airstrikes nearly tripled from May 29 – June 2 in comparison to the previous five day period. ISW was able to assess a total of 29 Russian airstrikes with low and high confidence beginning on May 29 and only 10 locations from May 24 -28.
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has mounted a major offensive against opposition groups in Northern Aleppo Province, threatening the total collapse of the last pocket of opposition-held terrain along the Syrian-Turkish Border. The looming defeat of the opposition on the Mare'a Line poses a significant risk to the long-term success of the anti-ISIS campaign by foreclosing future partnership with Sunni Arabs in Northern Syria and deepening U.S. overreliance on the Syrian Kurdish YPG
ISIS conducted an unprecedented series of complex suicide attacks in regime-held Tartus City and Jableh on the Syrian Coast on 23 MAY, killing at least 150 civilians and wounding over 200 others. ISIS will likely escalate its attacks against Alawites on the Syrian Coast during the upcoming holy month of Ramadan. Meanwhile, ISIS seized at least six villages in Northern Aleppo Province in a major setback for efforts by the U.S. and Turkey to deny ISIS access to the Syrian-Turkish Border.
Russia is waging a multi-front campaign against Turkey in order to weaken NATO in line with its strategic objectives. The use of a high-end Soviet-era MANPADS against a Turkish helicopter in southeastern Turkey on May 13 could indicate that Russia is providing meaningful military support to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) insurgency. The incident, if indeed an escalation by Russia, is yet another infringement of a sovereign NATO partner.
The International Syria Support Group (ISSG) agreed to new measures to reinforce a nationwide 'cessation of hostilities' following a meeting on May 17. The ISSG pledged support to a campaign of "air bridges" starting on June 1 if actors continue to deny humanitarian access to besieged regions. The ISSG also threatened to exclude parties with a "persistent pattern of noncompliance" from the ceasefire. The meeting nonetheless failed to set a clear date for the resumption of the Geneva III Talks.