TSI Syria Update: June 6, 2017

Takeaway

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the launch of an offensive to recapture the city of Raqqa from the Islamic State. The assault comes after roughly 8 months of shaping operations in the area designed to surround and isolate the city. Included in the offensive are the Kurdish YPG, recently armed by the US. It is estimated that between 3,000 and 4,000 Islamic State fighters are currently inside the city, and as many as 300,000 civilians. The offensive is expected to be both long and challenging.

In southern Syria, the US-led Coalition carried out an airstrike on a convoy of over 60 Assad Coalition forces  as they advanced into the de-confliction zone near al-Tanf, where US Special Forces are known to have a base. This marks the second US-led Coalition airstrike on pro-government forces in the area, and the third intentional US-Coalition strike on Syrian government positions since the beginning of airstrikes in 2014.

Military

  • 4 JUN: The US-led Coalition and US-backed opposition groups reportedly built a new military outpost for in the al-Zaqaf region of al-Badiya, which will be run by opposition group Maghawir al-Thawra. The outpost is primarily a training camp, but it will also provide protection to refugee camps along the Jordan-Syria border and act as support for advances toward al-Bukamal and Deir Ezzor. US-led Coalition forces will provide logistical support and training. (Syria Direct, Qasioun)
  • 6 JUN: Today the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the launch of an offensive to capture the Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold city of Raqqa. SDF spokesman Talal Silo stated the assault had begun on the north, east, and west axes of the city. SDF forces first entered the city in al-Mishlab district with US-led Coalition aerial support. US-led Coalition planes also struck boats ferrying fighters and equipment across the Euphrates river. The US-led Coalition estimates there are roughly 3,000 to 4,000 Islamic State fighters within Raqqa. US-led Coalition is supporting the offensive with air and artillery strikes, and “advise and assist” operations on the ground. The assault on Raqqa comes after months of shaping operations in the area designed to isolate the city. (YPG Rojava, CJTFOIR, Reuters, BBC)
  • 6 JUN: US-backed opposition group Ahmad al-Abdo Forces launched an attack on Assad Coalition forces in the Mafraq Shalighm and Kassarat al-Shahm areas of al-Badiya in eastern Homs in order to gain control of the Damascus-Baghdad international highway. Ahmad al-Abdo Forces targeted pro-government locations in Zaza checkpoint, Zabe Byar, and Sana station with missiles. (@QwatAbdoAR, Qasioun, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 6 JUN: US-led Coalition forces carried out an airstrike on Assad Coalition forces near al-Tanf today. The Coalition said pro-government forces advanced with a tank, artillery, anti-aircraft weapons, armed technical vehicles, and more than 60 soldiers inside the previously established de-confliction zone near al-Tanf. Coalition forces carried out a strike on the group after issuing several warnings. This is the second intentional Coalition strike on pro-government forces in the area. (CENTCOM)
  • 6 JUN: Assad Coalition forces shelled the besieged Eastern Ghouta neighborhood of Harasta on Tuesday, killing two civilians and injuring eight others. (Harasta LC FB-AR, Jobar News-AR, Qasioun)
  • 6 JUN: A car bomb exploded in opposition-held Idlib city, targeting a vehicle for Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). The explosion killed four HTS fighters. Though there were several accusations, no group has claimed the attack. (Smart News-AR, Orient News-AR)
  • 6 JUN: Pro-government airstrikes targeting the village of Abu Hawadeed, in eastern Hama province, killed at least ten civilians (all from one family) displaced from the besieged town of Talbiseh in northern Homs. (SNHR, Baladi News-AR)

Political

  • 5 JUN: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated the establishment of “de-escalation zones” in Syria, agreed upon in Astana on 4 May, is not a precursor to the partition of the country, nor are they aimed at creating the conditions for such a breakup. Lavrov reported the boundaries of the zones had been established, and efforts were underway to finalize specific details. On Monday, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said Russian representatives told Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry about a plan to hold the next round of intra-Syrian talks in Astana may be held next week on 12-13 June. These reports have not yet been confirmed by Russian officials. (Asharq al-Awsat, Anadolu Agency, TASS)
  • 5 JUN: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) confirmed on Tuesday that a leader within HTS, Houssam al-Atrash, is under investigation for several of his Tweets posted on 31 May, in which he said the Interim Government should govern opposition-held areas and called for all factions to dissolve and unite under the Interim Government’s Ministry of Defense. He said it is a tactical solution to end factional divisions and clashes, give international legitimacy to armed opposition groups under an internationally recognized government, and communicate with the international community. More conservative members of HTS reportedly criticized al-Atrash’s tweets and called for his investigation in a Sharia court. (Almodon-AR, @hossamalatrash1-AR, @hossamalatrash1-AR,  Eldorar-AR). (Analyst Note: Houssam al-Atrash is the head of Nour El-Deen El-Zinki, one of the armed groups in the HTS coalition. This initiative to unify armed opposition factions into a military structure under the Syrian Interim Government appears to be gaining traction in recent weeks. )
  • 6 JUN: On Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said Turkey will retaliate if the Raqqa offensive becomes a threat to Turkey. (Hurriyet, Reuters)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 5 JUN: “ICRC president demands total access in Syria”  (SwissInfo)
  • 5 JUN: “The Error of Arming the Syrian Kurds” – Kyle W. Orton (NYT)
  • 6 JUN: “While Trump Tweets, Assad and Putin Advance in Syria” – Steve Coll (The New Yorker)
  • 6 JUN: “The battle for Raqqa begins” – Aron Lund (IRIN)
  • 6 JUN: “The Rise of Katibat Dir’ al-Watan: A Journey to the Lebanon-Syria Border Areas” by Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi (Atlantic Council)
  • 6 JUN: “SDF Begins Raqqah Offensive” (CJTFOIR)