TSI Syria Updates: September 21, 2016

Takeaway

Tensions continue to rise as US and Russian leaders today launched scathing allegations during the UN General Assembly summit in New York. Secretary of State John Kerry strongly criticized Russia’s rhetoric surrounding Monday’s attacks on the UN aid convoy during a speech before the Security Council and called for the immediate grounding of aircraft in key areas in order to de-escalate the situation. Meanwhile violence continued to intensify on the ground. Five aid workers were killed Tuesday night in an airstrike targeting a medical facility in the town of Khan Touman to the southwest of Aleppo. The airstrike – believed to have been launched by a Russian jet – completely destroyed the medical triage point and two ambulances.

Military

  • 21 September 2016: Last night a dozen people were killed in what is believed to have been a Russian airstrike that hit a medical facility in Khan Touman, south of Aleppo city, including 5 medical workers from the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM). The medical triage point and two ambulances were completely destroyed in the attack. UOSSM chairman Dr. Anas Al-Kassem noted “Attacks on aid workers has skyrocketed, both in frequency and intensity.” (UOSSM, The Telegraph, Reuters, Step News Agency-AR)
  • 21 September 2016: Syrian forces and armed opposition groups (AOGs) continued to fight in Aleppo city last night, concentrating in the Ramousah area, a key entrance point to eastern Aleppo. Syrian military and armed opposition groups (AOGs) engaged in intense fighting around 1070 Hamdaniya Project. The Syrian army claimed to have taken control of a fertilizer factory in the Ramousah area. (Reuters, Step News Agency-AR)
  • 21 September 2016: Russian jets supported an advance by pro-government forces against armed opposition groups (AOGs) in the village of Mards in northern Hama today. AOGs tried to deter the Syrian military’s offensive, which was the most intense advance by Syrian military in Hama in months. (Reuters, Step News Agency-AR)
  • 21 September 2016: A Syrian warplane was downed outside of Damascus today in Eastern Qalamoun. Syrian state news SANA said the aircraft was hit after targeting the Islamic State (ISIS) and that the pilot was rescued. (Reuters, SANA-AR, CNN-AR)

Political

  • 20 September 2016: Army Gen. Joseph Votel said the US is appointing an investigating officer to investigate the airstrike on Saturday September 17, 2016 that killed Syrian military personnel outside of Deir Ezzor. US Central Command released a statement on Saturday that said the coalition air operations center (CAOC) notified Russian officials early Saturday that coalition aircraft would be operating against what the coalition believed were Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant forces near Deir Ezzor, and the Russians voiced no concerns at that time. Air Force Col. John Thomas told the Pentagon press corps that the strike was a “dynamic target,” meaning the (CAOC) convened a special advisory team to analyze intelligence and make a recommendation in less than three days. About 30-50 minutes into the strike, the Russians called the CAOC to alert them to the presence of Syrian military personnel, at which point it took only five minutes for the attacks to be ceased. (DoD)
  • 20 September 2016: A US Central Command spokesperson confirmed that US forces raised American flags in Tal Abyad, a town in northern Syria last week to “denote their positions.” Speculation about who raised the flags circulated through news and social media last week. The US has a tenuous relationship with Turkey and Kurdish forces in Syria; they are both allies to the US, but are at odds with each other. This comes when the Obama Administration is considering a plan to directly arm the Syrian Kurdish forces, in an effort to accelerate the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). (Huffington Post, NYTimes)
  • 20 September 2016: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan spoke at the UN General Assembly, on Tuesday. He defended Turkey’s incursion into Syria as a boon to establishing peace in the warring country. Erdogan also repeated his call for no fly zone along the Turkey-Syria border. Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Işık said Turkey will continue its operation to take al-Bab, but it will use Ankara-backed Syrian armed opposition fighters rather than send its own forces. Işık denied earlier press reports about Turkish troops being sent to support the operation. (NYTimes, Hurriyet Daily News, AFP)
  • 21 September 2016: Debate continues over the bombed aid convoy on Monday, September 19. White House spokesperson, Ben Rhodes, said the US believes either Syrian or Russian planes conducted the airstrike, but holds Russia responsible for the airstrike regardless of whose planes bombed the convoy. The Syrian government and Russia continued to deny involvement. On Wednesday, at the UN Security council session, US Secretary of State, John Kerry blasted Russian counterparts for confusing facts on the bombed convoy. On Monday, the UN called for an investigation of the attack. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also called for an impartial investigation. (The Telegraph, White House, Al-Jazeera, Reuters, US State Dept)
  • 21 September 2016: After claiming yesterday that the aid convoy trucks “caught fire” and that armed opposition groups or the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets) search and rescue were involved, the Russian Defence Ministry today said a US-led coalition Predator drone was following the aid convoy, implying the US was involved as well. A Pentagon Spokesman responded to the claim: “We can confirm that NONE of our aircraft — manned or unmanned, US or Coalition — were anywhere in the vicinity of Aleppo when the strike against the humanitarian convoy occurred.” (Reuters, Russian Defence Ministry-RU, Fox News, RT)
  • 21 September 2016: The UN Security Council met today to discuss Syria. At the meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US still wants to pursue a ceasefire deal. Kerry said that to restore credibility, they needed to  “immediately ground all aircraft flying in those key areas in order to de-escalate the situation and give a chance for humanitarian assistance to flow unimpeded” as part of the ceasefire. (US State Dept, AFP, Reuters, BBC)
  • 21 September 2016: Staffan de Mistura, UN Syria envoy, spoke to the UN Security Council about his proposal for negotiations for a “Syrian-owned and Syrian-led political transition.” He mentioned he was “pleasantly surprised” by the common desires of the parties involved in the intra-Syrian negotiations. “At least verbally, this is what they seem to agree upon.”  (UNOG, video-UN webtv)

Humanitarian

  • 20 September 2016: The UN said it was ready to resume aid deliveries to Syria, after announcing yesterday that all deliveries were temporarily paused. OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke said that several convoys are expected as soon as Thursday to go into Syria but specified they would not be going to Aleppo. Mercy Corps announced it would continue aid deliveries in Syria despite the attack against humanitarian aid workers. It called on parties to the conflict to provide safe passage for aid workers and civilians. (Mercy Corps, AP, USA Today)
  • 21 September 2016: The surviving 18 drivers and 17 trucks from the aid convoy attacked in Urem al-Kubra are now in Aleppo receiving medical care after being stranded for two days. (@OCHA_Syria)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 18 September 2016: “Obituary: Wael al-Fayad (Dr. Wael al-Rawi)” by Kyle Orton (The Syrian Intifada)
  • 20 September 2016: “Statement by the Independent International Commission on the Syrian Arab Republic on Convoy to Orem al-Kubra, Western Aleppo” (UN Independent International Commission on Syria)
  • 20 September 2016: “Centcom: Investigation of Coalition Strike on Syrian Forces to Begin Soon” by Cheryl Pellerin (DoD)
  • 20 September 2016: “Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake on attack the humanitarian convoy in Aleppo, Syria” (UNICEF)
  • 21 September 2016: “Analysis of Syrian Red Crescent Aid Convoy Attack” by Nick Waters (Bellingcat)
  • 21 September 2016: “Airstrikes on UN Aid Convoy in Aleppo: Claims and Reality” by Ilya A. (CITeam)
  • 21 September 2016: “This Is How Russia Bombed the UN Convoy” by Pierre Vaux (The Daily Beast)
  • 21 September 2016: “Remarks at the Council Session on Syria” by John Kerry, US Secretary of State (US State Dept)
  • 21 September 2016: Remarks by the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, to meeting of the Security Council (UNOG, video-UN webtv)
  • 21 September 2016: “Remarks by the Secretary-General to the Security council on the Situation in Syria” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (UNOG)
  • 21 September 2016: “Syrian evacuations break the will to resist” by Tom Rollins (IRIN)