Syria Situation Report: January 19 - 26, 2017

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 ‘cessation of hostilities’ that began on December 29, 2016. Russia, Turkey, and Iran released a joint communique at the end of negotiations between the regime and its opponents in Astana, Kazakhstan pledging to create a new “trilateral mechanism” to monitor and enforce the ceasefire. The three countries also agreed to “fight jointly” against ISIS and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham - the successor of Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra - after “separating” them from armed opposition groups. The exact mechanism or time-frame for implementing these guarantees remains unclear even as the UN prepares to host the regime and opposition for new round of Geneva Talks on 08 FEB.
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. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham - the successor of Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra - launched an assault against a number of opposition groups backed by the U.S. in Northern Syria starting on January 23. The operation likely represents an attempt to cohere the remaining independent opposition in Northern Syria under structures that align with the vision of Al-Qaeda for Syria. Prominent Salafi-Jihadist group Ahrar al-Sham has facilitated this objective - directly or indirectly - by positioning itself to absorb the bulk of the opposition groups in conflict with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. These mergers shift the character of the opposition further towards Salafi-Jihadism - thereby reducing the options for potential partners of the U.S. in Syria. 
These graphics mark the latest installment of our Syria SITREP Map made possible through a partnership between the Institute for the Study of War and Syria Direct. The graphic depicts significant recent developments in the Syrian Civil War. The control of terrain represented on the graphic is accurate as of January 26, 2017.