TSI Syria Updates: November 7, 2016

Takeaway

On Saturday, US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) has reportedly launched an offensive to take Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State (ISIS). SDF issued a statement on Sunday, naming the military campaign “Wrath of Euphrates.” US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said he welcomed the news of the Raqqa offensive and the US would support the SDF. At the same time, it is not yet clear what role Turkey will play given their strong opposition to the Kurdish-dominated SDF making territorial gains. After Turkish and US military leaders met on Sunday they announced that they agreed to a strategy for the capture of Raqqa that would not rely on Kurdish fighters, suggesting that the SDF may be sidelined at later stages of the assault in favor of Turkish-backed and US-vetted Syrian Arab armed groups. Further complicating the situation, the SDF announcement sparked verbal sparring between local Raqqa civil society organizations which announced that they want local armed groups to lead the offensive, and Kurdish military officials.

Military

  • 5 NOV: On Saturday, US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) has reportedly launched an offensive to take Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State (ISIS). SDF issued a statement on Sunday, naming the military campaign Wrath of Euphrates. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said he welcomed the news of the Raqqa offensive. The SDF made some progress on Monday, taking small villages around Raqqa in an effort to surround the city. The US-led coalition is supporting the SDF with air support. (Reuters, SDF Press Release, DoD, Reuters, CENTCOM)
  • 6 NOV: On Sunday, the Syrian government targeted a kindergarten in Harasta with mortar fire, killing approximately 8 and wounding 17. The majority of the victims were children. (UNICEF, Step News-AR, Siege Watch Tweet -AR, Mirror UK)
  • 6 NOV: On Sunday, the local council in besieged Al-Waer decided to close schools in the neighborhood for fear of being targeted by Syrian government airstrikes. The council also warned civilians to avoid areas exposed to government snipers. (SMART News -AR, Waer Media Center Facebook post -AR)
  • 6 NOV: Russian airstrikes targeted the city of Darat Izza in the Aleppo countryside Sunday evening, killing 11 people and wounding ten others. According to local media sources, Syrian and Russian warplanes dropped internationally-banned cluster munitions. (SMART News -AR, SMART News -AR)
  • 7 NOV: Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia would maintain its (unilateral) humanitarian pause in Aleppo city so long as opposition does not start combat. (Reuters)
  • 7 NOV: Turkish-backed Syrian forces took four new towns  (Tel Battal, Sheikh Jarrah, Shiberan, and Tel Girgi) as Operation Euphrates Shield pushed closer to al-Bab on Monday. (Step News-AR, all4syria-AR)

Political

  • 6 NOV: On Sunday, Turkish Chief of General Staff General Huluski Akar and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Roger Dunford, met to discuss ongoing operations against the Islamic State (ISIS). After the meeting, Dunford said the US and Turkey will work together to determine the right make-up of forces to seize, hold, and govern Raqqa. Noting that “We always knew that the SDF wasn’t the solution for holding and governing Raqqa. What we are working on right now is finding the right mix of forces for the operation.” A Turkish official reportedly told al Hurriyet: “We still have a disagreement over using terrorist elements as partners against ISIL. But Dunford assured us that the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF], dominated by the People’s Protection Units [YPG], which we see as a terrorist group and the Syrian extension of the [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK, will not be able to seize and govern Raqqa as they have been claiming.” (Hurriyet Daily News, Hurriyet, CENTCOM) (Analyst note: It is not yet clear how this news gels with the SDF’s announcement of the start of their Raqqa offensive, with US backing.)
  • 7 NOV: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry spoke today about practical cooperation in Syria. (Russian Foreign Ministry, SMART News-AR)
  • 7 NOV: Further complicating the planning of efforts to retake Raqqa from ISIS, local Syrian civil society organizations in Raqqa rejecting the participation of Kurdish PYD militias in capturing Raqqa from ISIS, stating that the efforts should be made by local Arab forces. The PYD is the dominant force behind the US-backed SDF, which announced the start of an operation to retake Raqqa from ISIS over the weekend. In response, Kurdish military spokesman Shervan Darvish, accused the well-known anti-ISIS activist group “Raqqa is Silently Slaughtered” of supporting ISIS. (Etilaf, RSS -AR)
  • 7 NOV: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced that it was honoring Syrian freelance journalist Hadi al-Abdullah with the “2016 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) – TV5 Monde Press Freedom Prize” in the journalist category. Abdullah frequently reports from frontlines in opposition controlled areas of northwestern Syria. (RSF)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 2 NOV: S/2016/928: “Thirty-seventh monthly report of the Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Progress in the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme” (UN)
  • 4 NOV: “How Russia’s lone aircraft carrier will change the fight in Syria” by Thomas Gibbons-Neff (Washington Post)
  • 4 NOV: “It’s Time to Give Assad’s Soldiers a Ticket Out” by Andrea Glioti (Foreign Policy)
  • 6 NOV: “Syria/Russia: School Attack a Possible War Crime” (HRW)
  • 6 NOV: “Democratic Forces of Syria launch Operation Wrath of Euphrates to liberate Raqqa” (SDF Press Release)
  • 6 NOV: “Statement by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Raqqa” (DoD)
  • 6 NOV: “I live in Aleppo, under siege” by Ismail Alabdallah (Al-Jazeera)
  • 7 NOV: “Lt. Gen. Townsend statement on SDF advance to isolate Raqqah” (CENTCOM)
  • 7 NOV: “Roads to Raqqa: Potential Turkish and Kurdish Offensives” by Fabrice Balanche (Washington Institute)