Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 2, 2023

September 2, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast and reportedly advanced on September 2. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations in the Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) direction. Russian milbloggers who have recently maintained that Russian forces hold positions in the southern part of Robotyne claimed that Russian forces withdrew from the southern outskirts of the settlement to unspecified positions further south. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated on September 1 that Ukrainian forces have overcome the Russian “first line of defense” in some areas of the Zaporizhia direction, but that the situation remains difficult due to additional Russian concrete fortifications and dense minefields.

Iran Update, September 1, 2023

September 1, 2023 - ISW Press

Key Takeaways

Iran and the Syrian regime are exploiting instability in eastern Syria to pose a greater threat to US forces there.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) trained Russian forces in Syria to operate Iranian-made drones.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed anti-Israel operations with leaders from the Axis of Resistance in Beirut.

The Ebrahim Raisi administration is continuing to set conditions to resume nuclear negotiations with the West to achieve a comprehensive deal.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 1, 2023

September 1, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence (GUR) Head Kyrylo Budanov reported that the Russian military deployed elements of a newly created “reserve army” (the 25th CAA) to enable units currently on the frontline in Luhansk Oblast to laterally redeploy to defend against the Ukrainian counteroffensive in southern Ukraine. Budanov stated on August 31 that the Russian military deployed elements of the newly formed 25th Combined Arms Army (reportedly formed under the Eastern Military District) to replace elements of the 41st Combined Arms Army (Central Military District) in the Kupyansk direction, and that these elements of the 41st Combined Arms Army (CAA) began a “slow” redeployment to an unspecified area in southern Ukraine. Elements of the 41st CAA’s 35th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade and 90th Tank Division participated in the failed Russian winter 2023 offensive operation in Luhansk Oblast and have continued limited offensive activity along the Svatove-Kreminna line through now. These units are likely degraded and have been operating without brigade and regiment level rotations like many frontline Russian units throughout the theater. ISW previously assessed that a lack of operational reserves would force the Russian command to conduct further lateral redeployments and make tough decisions about what sectors of the front to prioritize.The Russian military command appears to have deployed elements of the newly formed and likely low quality or understrength 25th CAA to Luhansk Oblast to free up the relatively more effective 41st CAA elements for southern Ukraine. Budanov added that elements of the 25th CAA are already participating in hostilities in Luhansk Oblast.

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, August 31, 2023

September 1, 2023 - ISW Press

Key Takeaways

Foxconn founder Guo Taiming (Terry Gou) announced his campaign for president of the Republic of China (ROC) as an independent candidate. His entrance will likely further divide non-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) voters, thereby increasing the chance of the DPP candidate Lai Ching-te (William Lai) winning the race.

The Central American Parliament expelled the ROC as an observer. This advances a CCP coercion campaign to politically control Taiwan.

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) began employing new flight patterns on August 24 in the Republic of China (Taiwan) air defense identification zone (ADIZ) likely to complicate and reduce Taiwan’s decision response timeline.

Iran Update, August 31, 2023

August 31, 2023 - ISW Press

Key Takeaways

Iranian-backed militias have continued to deploy into territory held by the US-backed SDF in northeastern Syria to conduct assassinations and fuel tribal disputes. These efforts support the Iranian campaign to expel the United States from Syria.

Iranian-backed militias have reportedly deployed from Iraq to Damascus for protest suppression. These deployments highlight the capacity of the IRGC to manage multiple efforts in Syria simultaneously.

The Iranian foreign affairs minister affirmed Tehran's intent to maintain a long-term military presence in Syria.

A senior Iranian nuclear official downplayed the threat of the Iranian nuclear program during an Arabic-language interview with Al Jazeera, possibly to assuage Saudi concerns about Iranian nuclear activities and discourage Saudi leaders from building their own program.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, August 31, 2023

August 31, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations near Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on August 31 and reportedly advanced in both sectors of the front. The Ukrainian General Staff and Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar reported that Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut and Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) directions and achieved unspecified success in the direction of Novodanylivka-Novoprokopivka (5km to 13km south of Orikhiv) in western Zaporizhia Oblast. Malyar also stated that Ukrainian forces achieved unspecified success in the Bakhmut direction. Ukrainian Chief of the Main Directorate of Missile Forces and Artillery and Unmanned Systems of the General Staff Brigadier General Serhiy Baranov stated that Ukrainian forces have reached parity in counterbattery capabilities with Russian forces. Baranov stated that NATO-provided artillery systems with ranges of 30km to 40km allow Ukrainian forces to destroy Russian artillery systems and force Russian forces to move their artillery further from the frontline. Ukrainian officials previously made statements in late July indicating that Ukraine’s interdiction campaign is successfully degrading Russian counterbattery capabilities. Russian sources have repeatedly expressed concerns since mid-July over the lack of Russian counterbattery artillery capabilities, particularly in southern Ukraine.

Salafi-Jihadi Movement Weekly Update, August 31, 2023

August 31, 2023 - ISW Press

Iraq and Syria. Local tribes are resisting the Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) campaign against the Deir ez Zor Military Council (DMC), which could enable ISIS to re-embed itself into in local Sunni Deir ez Zor tribes.

Pakistan. Pakistan deployed security forces to protect state energy infrastructure from ongoing protests. The protests may continue through mid-September because the Pakistani government cannot address the issues that prompted them. Deploying additional police to address the protests could disrupt Pakistan’s counterterrorism operations against Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban are conducting an information campaign that frames Tajikistan as responsible for the actions of Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). The framing aims to deflect responsibility for the Taliban’s inability to defeat ISKP and prevent attacks beyond Afghanistan.

Iran Update, August 30, 2023

August 30, 2023 - ISW Press

The Iranian foreign minister traveled to Damascus, where he discussed economic cooperation and political stability with Syrian officials. The trip comes two weeks after the start of daily anti-regime demonstrations that protest the Assad regime raising fuel prices.

Iranian officials are signaling that the regime will pursue nuclear negotiations, probably with the aim to achieve a comprehensive agreement.

Russia has begun transporting consumer goods to Saudi Arabia via Iran. The transit of Russian goods to Saudi Arabia via Iran is consistent with Iran’s efforts to become a regional and international “transit hub.”

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, August 30, 2023

August 30, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian forces reportedly destroyed four Russian Il-76 planes during a drone strike on a Russian airfield in Pskov Oblast on the night of August 29 to 30. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Representative Andriy Yusov stated that the drone strike destroyed four Russian Il-76 planes and possibly damaged two other planes at the Pskov airfield but did not comment on the nature of the strike or claim responsibility for it. Geolocated footage and Russian sources confirmed the strike and the destruction of at least two Russian Il-76 planes. Russian milbloggers claimed that over 21 Ukrainian drones struck the Pskov airfield. Russian sources, including the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), claimed that Russian air defenses and electronic warfare (EW) systems also downed Ukrainian drones over Oryol, Tula, Voronezh, Ryazan, Kaluga, Bryansk, and Moscow oblasts. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin stated that Russian air defenses repelled a massive Ukrainian drone strike on the Central Federal Okrug (a large administrative area including Moscow but not Pskov) and that at least one of the drones was headed toward Moscow, possibly suggesting that Russian authorities may have initially believed that Ukrainian forces intended to strike Moscow or the region around it. Russian forces may have focused their air defenses on covering Moscow and somehow missed the unusually large number of Ukrainian drones that reportedly struck the Pskov airfield. The Ukrainian drones that Russian air defenses downed over the six other oblasts were likely en route to Moscow or Pskov Oblast and likely were not part of a Ukrainian effort to strike targets in the other oblasts.

People’s Republic of China Used Lai’s US Transit to Advance Unification Campaigns

August 30, 2023 - ISW Press

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) conducted a multifaceted informational, military, and economic pressure campaign in response to the transit of the Republic of China (ROC) Vice President Lai Ching-te through the United States in August. This indicates that the CCP aims to use ROC leadership transits as part of a larger coercive campaign to gain political control of Taiwan. The CCP’s threatening messaging, economic coercion, and military coercion in response to Lai’s transit will advance the party’s coercion and compellence campaigns to secure political control of Taiwan.