The composition and behavior of the force that recaptures ar-Raqqah City will in part determine the long-term success of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS campaign in Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is the U.S.’s most effective partner fighting ISIS in Syria, but it has limitations that risk undermining the gains it makes on the ground. The SDF, although dominated by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), is not monolithic.
Russia announced the start of a “major operation” allegedly targeting ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Western Syria. The operation included fighter jets launched from the Russian Aircraft Carrier ‘Admiral Kuznetsov’ in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea as well as cruise missile strikes by naval warships and strategic bombers. Local activists also reported the resumption of intense airstrikes against Aleppo City.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched ‘Operation Euphrates Wrath’ on November 6 with a stated goal to isolate the IS stronghold of A-Raqqa City. The announcement comes after the U.S. and Turkey reached an initial agreement on November 5 to allow the Syrian Kurdish YPG to participate in the isolation phase of the offensive. In exchange, Sunni Arabs will lead the final effort to “seize, hold, and govern” A-Raqqa City.
The Jaysh al-Fatah Operations Room - a coalition led by Jabhat Fatah a-Sham and Ahrar a-Sham - and the Fatah Halab Operations Room launched a new offensive to break the siege of Eastern Aleppo City on October 28. Meanwhile, Russia began a new ten-hour ‘humanitarian pause’ on November 4 in order to allow civilians and opposition fighters to evacuate the besieged districts of Eastern Aleppo City.
Key Takeaway: Russia is preparing to escalate its military operations in Syria in order to tout its standing as a great power, reinforce its claims to be a credible partner against violent extremism, and reinvigorate domestic support for its continued participation in the Syrian Civil War.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with counterparts from Russia, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, and Egypt in Lausanne, Switzerland on October 15 to open a new multilateral initiative to end the Syrian Civil War. Meanwhile, Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu announced a temporary halt to pro-regime airstrikes in Eastern Aleppo City on October 18 in preparation for a series of three consecutive eleven-hour ‘humanitarian pauses’ scheduled for October 20 - 22.
The U.S. suspended all bilateral engagement with Russia on Syria on October 3 in response to the an ongoing regime offensive on Aleppo City. The breakdown comes amidst reports that White House is considering stronger action against the regime, including potential limited military strikes against regime targets. These developments set the stage for further conflict with Russia in Syria.
Russia intensified its air campaign against the Syrian opposition in and around Aleppo City from September 20 – 22 following the breakdown of the nationwide ceasefire in Syria. The dramatic uptick in Russian airstrikes coincided with the Syrian Arab Army’s announcement of the start of an offensive to seize the remaining opposition-held districts of Aleppo City.
Violence in Aleppo City spiked to new highs after the collapse of a nationwide ‘cessation of hostilities’ on September 19. The ceasefire marked a core component of a wide-ranging deal on the Syrian Civil War reached by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on September 9. No initiative appears likely to prevent the ongoing escalation, pointing towards a new wave of violence that will benefit ISIS, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, and other Salafi-Jihadist Groups.