TSI Syria Updates: August 23, 2016

Takeaway:

Tensions are rising over a future conflict in Jarablus. AOGs are gathering in Qarqamis to prepare for a Turkey-backed assault on Jarablus. A Turkish official said their military fired on Syrian Kurdish targets in Manbij on Monday. According to Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the “Turkish shelling in Syria aimed to prevent the advance of troops backed by Kurds from Manbij towards Jarablus.” Turkey’s military also fired shells into northern Syria, at four Islamic State (ISIS) targets near Jarablus, in response to cross-border fire from ISIS that landed near Qarqamis in Turkey. The shelling likely will not stop soon. Residents of Qarqamis have been offered free transport after mortars landed in the town. A columnist for the Hurriyet daily, said the Turkey-backed offensive “could begin at any moment.”

Military

  • 23 August 2016: On Tuesday Kurdish forces nearly gained full control of Al-Hasakah City, with only a few government officials remaining in government buildings. EA Worldview says clashes in the Al-Liliyah neighborhood are ongoing. A ceasefire was established between the Syrian government and Kurdish forces at 2 pm local time. The ceasefire agreement included the withdrawal of government troops and militias from the city. (Reuters, EA Worldview, map-Newsmap, map-Al-Jazeera, Al-Masdar, SANA)
  • 23 August 2016: Tensions are rising over a future conflict in Jarablus. Jarablus is a strategically important city for the Islamic State (ISIS), Kurdish forces, and Turkey. Its proximity to the Turkish border is desirable for ISIS, giving them access to Turkey and the wider world. It is desirable for the YPG because it would unite Kurdish-controlled areas along the Turkish border. Turkey would prefer control of Jarablus, rather than allow ISIS or Kurdish forces to take it. The potential confrontation between NATO ally Turkey and US-backed Kurdish forces could prove problematic. AOGs are gathering in Qarqamis to prepare for a Turkey-backed assault on Jarablus. A Turkish official said their military fired on Syrian Kurdish targets in Manbij on Monday. According to Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the “Turkish shelling in Syria aimed to prevent the advance of troops backed by Kurds from Manbij towards Jarablus.” Turkey’s military also fired shells into northern Syria, at four Islamic State (ISIS) targets near Jarablus, in response to cross-border fire from ISIS that landed near Qarqamis in Turkey. The shelling likely will not stop soon. Residents of Qarqamis have been offered free transport after mortars landed in the town. A columnist for the Hurriyet daily, said the Turkey-backed offensive “could begin at any moment.” (Reuters, NYTimes, LA Times, Naharnet, map-Al-Jazeera)

Political / Key Statements

  • 23 August 2016: Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who recently took command of Baghdad headquarters, spoke with CNN this weekend about Syrian government use of warplanes in northern Syria near where special operation forces were located. Townsend said “We’ve informed the Russians where we’re at…(they) tell us they’ve informed the Syrians, and I’d just say that we will defend ourselves if we feel threatened.” This is a not a no fly zone, which the Syrian community abroad has been vocal about for years. (CNN)
  • 22 August 2016: Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said he is skeptical of the US and Russia being able to work together against ISIS, but he believes the US-led coalition is capable of retaking Raqqa and Mosul without Russian support. (US News)
  • 23 August 2016: Ali Shamkhani, the top official coordinating security and political affairs between Iran, Russia, and Damascus, told state television that Iran requested assistance from Russia in bombing Aleppo. (Naharnet)
  • 23 August 2016: United Nations Information Service Director Alessandra Vellucci chaired a press briefing attended by Jessy Chahine, a representative for the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria (OSE). Chahine said the UN is working with the co-chairs of ISSG to create operational plans for the ceasefire in Aleppo. The UN is looking at any proposal to alleviate suffering in Aleppo, but all parties on the ground need to agree on the proposal. The proposal also needs to include an adequate time period to allow aid entrance. The Humanitarian Task Force will meet on 25 August in Geneva, with a Special Envoy stakeout afterward. (UNOG)
  • 23 August 2016: The Indian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs M.J. Akbar visited President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus this week. Akbar voiced his support of al-Assad, particularly in combating  terrorist groups. The two states are revisiting development projects, as part of India’s efforts to help Syria rebuild. They are also upgrading security consultation, sharing names of citizens involved in terrorist organizations. India is the second member state of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) to visit Damascus in the past week, trailing China’s visit only days ago. (Gulf News)
  • 22 August 2016: Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari, said the Syrian government was not responsible for the bombing of Karm al-Qaterji, the neighborhood of Aleppo where Omran Daqneesh was photographed. Chinese state media claimed the photos of Omran were faked or posed as part of a propaganda war. (UN, Telegraph)
  • 22 August 2016: An unnamed aide to Hakan Fidan, chief of Turkish National Intelligence Organization, visited a high-ranking Syrian security official on Sunday. The report from As-Safir does not detail the visit, except for saying the men discussed “developments in Syria.” The alleged visit occurred only a day after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced a more favorable opinion of Bashar al-Assad’s involvement in Syria’s interim government.  (NOW Media, As-Safir)

Humanitarian

Notable Reports/Media/Transcripts

  • 23 August 2016: Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien Statement to the Security Council, New York, 22 August 2016 (OCHA)
  • 22 August 2016: “During Briefing on Syria, Security Council Members Discuss Urgency of Weekly 48-hour Pause in Fighting to Reach Besieged Civilians with Humanitarian Aid” (UN)
  • 22 August 2016: “Bombers over Hasakah: Assad Clashes with the Kurds” by Aron Lund (Carnegie)
  • 21 August 2016: “The Post-Obama Syria Playbook” by Thanassis Cambanis (Foreign Policy)
  • 18 August 2016: “Russia and Iran: Historic mistrust and contemporary partnership” by Dmitri Trenin (Carnegie Moscow Center)