Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 23, 2023

September 23, 2023 - ISW Press

ISW is now prepared to assess that Ukrainian forces have broken through Russian field fortifications west of Verbove in western Zaporizhia Oblast. These fortifications are not the final defensive line in Russia’s defense in depth in western Zaporizhia Oblast, but rather a specific series of the best-prepared field fortifications arrayed as part of a near-contiguous belt of an anti-vehicle ditch, dragon's teeth, and fighting positions about 1.7 - 3.5 km west of Verbove.

Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi stated in an interview with CNN published on September 23 that Ukrainian forces achieved a “breakthrough” on the left flank near Verbove and that Ukrainian forces continue advancing. Combat footage posted on September 22 shows a destroyed Ukrainian Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) and BMP-2 operating slightly beyond Russia’s fighting positions trench line near Verbove, indicating continued Ukrainian progress in deploying more heavy equipment beyond Russia’s triune belt of the anti-vehicle ditch, dragon’s teeth, and fighting positions. Commercially available satellite imagery indicates that Ukrainian forces have brought heavy equipment closer to Verbove over the past 96 hours in a manner consistent with Tarnavskyi’s statement. The Wall Street Journal reported on September 21 that Ukrainian forces achieved a “limited breakthrough” west of Verbove citing an unnamed Ukrainian Air Assault Forces officer.

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, September 23, 2023

September 23, 2023 - ISW Press

Terry Gou aims to unify with the Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) against the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ahead of the 2024 presidential election and is unlikely to succeed in bridging differences between the parties.

The consensus among the major Taiwanese political parties to defend the Republic of China’s sovereignty provides the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with opportunities to advance its coercive unification campaign.

The CCP purged Defense Minister Li Shangfu in September 2023 following investigations into corrupt equipment procurement.

Iran Update, September 22, 2023

September 22, 2023 - ISW Press

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander supervised a joint Iranian-Syrian military exercise in Syria on September 21, possibly to advance the campaign to expel US forces from Syria and reassert bilateral military relations.

The tribal clashes with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have evolved into an insurgency, which likely will facilitate Iran’s efforts to establish a grassroots resistance to expel US forces from Syria.

A coalition of small Iraqi independent political parties called on the United Nations to prevent tampering in the 2023 Iraqi provincial elections.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 22, 2023

September 22, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian forces carried out drone and cruise missile strikes on occupied Crimea and significantly damaged the Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) Command headquarters in Sevastopol on September 22. The Ukrainian Armed Forces Center for Strategic Communications (StratCom) stated that Ukrainian forces launched a successful strike on the Russian BSF Command headquarters in Sevastopol, Crimea on September 22. Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces used Storm Shadow cruise missiles to conduct the strike, and social media footage of the headquarters indicates significant damage to the building. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian air defenses shot down five Ukrainian missiles and acknowledged that the Ukrainian strike damaged a building of BSF Command headquarters. Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces launched a drone strike preceding the missile strike, and the Russian MoD claimed that Russian air defenses shot down two Ukrainian drones on the western coast of Crimea on the morning of September 22.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 21, 2023

September 21, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian armored vehicles are operating beyond the final line of the Russian defensive layer that Ukrainian forces in western Zaporizhia Oblast are currently penetrating, although ISW is not yet prepared to assess that Ukrainian forces have broken fully through this Russian defensive layer. Geolocated footage posted on September 21 indicates that Ukrainian armored vehicles advanced south of the Russian anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth obstacles that are part of a tri-layered defense and engaged in limited combat immediately west of Verbove (18km southeast of Orikhiv). It is unclear if Ukrainian forces retain these positions, however. This is the first observed instance of Ukrainian forces operating armored vehicles beyond the Russian tri-layer defense. The presence of Ukrainian armored vehicles beyond the final line of the current Russian defensive layer indicates that the Ukrainians have secured their breach of the first two lines of this layer sufficiently to operate vehicles through the breach. Ukrainian forces have likely suppressed Russian artillery and other anti-tank systems in the area enough to bring their vehicles forward. The Ukrainian ability to bring armored vehicles to and through the most formidable Russian defenses intended to stop them and to operate these vehicles near prepared Russian defensive positions are important signs of progress in the Ukrainian counteroffensive. Additional geolocated footage published on September 20 and 21 indicates that Ukrainian forces also advanced west and southwest of Verbove.

Salafi-Jihadi Movement Update, September 21, 2023

September 21, 2023 - ISW Press

The tribal insurgency against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has maintained a steady rate of attacks over two weeks, and this insurgency’s objectives mean it will likely unintentionally support ISIS lines of effort. ISIS possibly is executing a military deception operation that aims to increase the success of ISIS defensive action over the next few weeks while preparing for future ISIS offensive action against the SDF over the next few months.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 20, 2023

September 20, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian forces continued offensive actions near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on September 20. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations and inflicted significant losses on Russian manpower and equipment in the Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) direction. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Ukrainian forces continued offensive actions in the Bakhmut direction and are consolidating in newly secured lines. The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) assessed that Ukrainian forces secured positions in Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut) and Andriivka (10km southwest of Bakhmut) and that Russian redeployments of airborne (VDV) forces from Bakhmut to the Zaporizhia direction have weakened Russian defenses around Bakhmut. ISW had previously observed elements of the 83rd Separate Air Assault Brigade operating in Zaporizhia, although it is unclear how large a proportion of that unit was redeployed from Bakhmut. Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Captain Ilya Yevlash stated that Ukrainian forces are preparing defensive positions before Russian forces renew their assaults in the Kupyansk-Lyman direction.

Iran Update, September 20, 2023

September 20, 2023 - ISW Press

Wagner is vacating its positions in Syria to comply with a Russian Ministry of Defense ultimatum. Iran may assume control of some of the positions to secure military assets and expand its economic operations.

Syrian President Bashar al Assad will travel to China for a “Syrian-Chinese summit” on September 21, very likely to pursue bilateral economic ties.

Syria Protest Update, September 12–September 18

September 20, 2023 - ISW Press

Pro-regime forces fired at and injured three protesters at the Baath party headquarters in Suwayda City on September 13. The attack is the first well-documented instance of pro-regime forces using violence against protesters in Suwayda since the protests erupted in mid-August 2023. The protesters and community leaders blamed both the Baath party and Iranian-backed militias for the crackdown, but the location of fire indicates the shooters were Baath party guards.

Iran Update, September 19, 2023

September 19, 2023 - ISW Press

Iran is expanding its military infrastructure in eastern Syria as part of its effort to secure a permanent presence there. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force plans to build up its Soleimani base near Mayadin into the largest Iranian military base abroad, according to local Syrian reporting. This project supports the Iranian effort to become the dominant power in Deir ez Zor Province in eastern Syria. This project ultimately furthers the long-standing Iranian effort to transform Syria into a platform from which Iran can project military strength and facilitate the transfer of arms and military equipment to its so-called “Axis of Resistance.”