TSI Syria Update: June 9, 2017

Takeaway

On Friday, the Russian Ministry of Defense and pro-government media claimed the Assad Coalition circumvented US-led Coalition forces and opened a new corridor to the Iraqi border through territory previously controlled by the Islamic State. This latest move by pro-government forces, made to the northeast of the US-led Coalition garrison at al-Tanf, comes after a week of escalating tensions between the Assad Coalition and the US. Damascus previously said reclaiming the al-Badiya region is a priority, specifically its key southern borders, and has made multiple incursions into the US-declared deconfliction zone that surrounds the al-Tanf base. This has prompted two US-led Coalition strikes on pro-government positions and the downing of a pro-government drone after it attempted to strike Coalition forces in the area.

This reported pro-government advance would effectively cut US-backed forces off from advancing toward the ISIS-held border crossing of al-Buamal without first directly clashing with Assad Coalition forces. There were also unverified reports that this advance connects Assad Coalition forces with Iran-backed Iraqi militia groups, potentially opening a long sought after corridor of influence for Iran.

Military

  • 9 JUN: US-backed armed opposition groups (AOGs) Ossoud al-Sharqiya and Ahmad al-Abdo captured Tel Msaytma, west of the Beer al-Qasab area in al-Badiya, from Assad Coalition forces. They reportedly killed several pro-government fighters, including a brigadier-general and imprisoned several others. Assad Coalition forces allegedly captured Tel Dakwah, also in al-Badiya, from Ossoud al-Sharqiya in an attack supported by Russian warplanes. (@osoudalsharqia-AR, @osoudalsharqia-AR, Smart News-AR, Qasioun-AR, SANA)
  • 9 JUN: Assad Coalition forces targeted  the neighborhoods of al-Mokhayam, Tariq al-Sad, and al-Manshiya in Daraa city with artillery and airstrikes. The attacks killed an unknown number of civilians. A napalm-like substance was reportedly used in the airstrikes, which caused fires in several areas and burned part of the historic al-Omari mosque.  This is part of an ongoing battle which has seen opposition forces make advances in some parts of the city in Daraa al-Balad and Manshiya neighborhood.(Qasioun-AR, all4syria-AR, Zamanalwsl-AR)
  • 9 JUN: On Friday, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured the Brigade 17 Army Base and the Sugar Factory areas to the north of Raqqa city in the offensive to capture Raqqa from the Islamic State (ISIS). SDF advances on the western and eastern axes of the offensive slowed down due to ISIS defensive tactics including mines, vehicles wired with bombs, an extensive network of tunnels, and defensive blast walls. The US-led Coalition conducted nine airstrikes that targeted ISIS tactical units, vehicles, and mortar systems. The airstrikes reportedly killed at least 15 civilians. An unconfirmed report by the local monitoring network “Raqqa is Silently Slaughtered” claims the US-led Coalition has used white phosphorus their airstrikes against the city. (AFP, Qasioun, SOHR, CENTCOM, The Guardian, Smart News-AR, @Raqqa_SL) (Analyst Note: The US-led Coalition confirmed the use of white phosphorus while fighting ISIS in Mosul, but neither confirmed nor denied its use in Raqqa. While it is not classified as a chemical weapon, white phosphorus is a highly flammable incendiary munition and its use in a civilian area may violate international humanitarian law.)
  • 9 JUN: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) attacked the centers of two armed opposition groups (13 Brigade and Failaq al-Sham) in Maaret al-Numan city, south of Idlib city. HTS kidnapped and killed some AOG leaders, causing civilians to take to the streets in protest of HTS’s attack and presence in the city. (Shaam-AR, @Charles_Lister, Smart News-AR, all4syria-AR,@AsaadHannaa)  
  • 9 JUN: On Friday, pro-government media and the Russian Ministry of Defense reported Assad Coalition forces captured a swath of territory from the Islamic State in southeastern Syria, and reached the Syria-Iraq border northeast of al-Tanf, where they connected with Iran-backed Hashd al-Shabi militias in Iraq. It is not yet clear whether these reports are accurate. (Reuters, Russian Ministry of Defense-RU, al-Manar) (Analyst note: If confirmed, this move would effectively cut off US-backed forces from advancing toward the ISIS-held border crossing of al-Bukamal – and Deir Ezzor – without direct clashes with Assad Coalition forces.)
  • 8 JUN: On Thursday, Assad Coalition forces advanced along the southern shores of Assad Lake, in the western countryside of Raqqa governorate, taking control of 20 ISIS-held villages in the area. These advances put Assad Coalition forces in direct contact with the SDF in Raqqa Governorate. As Assad Coalition forces were advancing south toward the Salamiyah-Raqqa Highway, an ISIS vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) killed 15 Assad Coalition fighters. (SOHR, Smart News-AR, SANA)

Political

  • 9 JUN: On Friday, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis stated Russia had been “very helpful” in working to calm the situation near al-Tanf. This statement comes after the US-led Coalition shot down an Assad Coalition drone following an attempted strike on US and affiliated opposition groups in the vicinity of al-Tanf. Davis said the situation had calmed in last 24 hours, and this was largely due to Russian efforts. (Reuters)

Humanitarian

  • 9 JUN: The Syrian Arab Red Crescent delivered 10,000 food baskets to Barzeh. The humanitarian aid was provided by the World Food Program (WFP) and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Syrian National Defense stated earlier this week that the roads leading to Barzeh were re-opened after they were maintained and cleared for traffic. (Smart News-AR, @SYRedCrescent)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 7 JUN: “Progress in the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme” – The UN Secretary General (Relief Web)
  • 8 JUN: “America and Iran Hurtle Toward Confrontation in Syria” – Ali Alfoneh (The Atlantic)
  • 9 JUN: “Wheat War in Northern Syria Reveals Fragmentation of Rebel Groups” (Enab Baladi via The Syrian Observer)
  • 9 JUN: “Drone War Heats Up in the Skies Over Syria” – Adam Rawnsley (The Daily Beast)
  • 9 JUN: “More Than 40,000 Children in the Line of Fire in Ar-Raqqa as Fighting Intensifies” – Geert Cappelaere (UNICEF)
  • 9 JUN: “Iran Extends Its Reach In Syria” – Dexter Filkins (The New Yorker)
  • 9 JUN: “US, Russia Discuss De-escalation Zone for Southwest Syria: Diplomats” – Suleiman Al-Khalidi (Reuters)
  • 9 JUN:  “Polio outbreak reported in Syria” – Helen Branswell (PBS)
  • 9 JUN: “ Safe Zones Must Offer Protection, Not Solely Prevent Search for Asylum” – Geoff Gilbert and Anna Magdalena Rusch (Syria Deeply)