TSI Syria Update: June 21, 2017

Takeaway

Heavy fighting in and around Raqqa as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) reportedly moved to cut off ISIS’ only remaining access on the southern side of the city. With their capture of the town of Kasrat al-Faraj, the SDF are within several kilometers of completely encircling Raqqa city.

Military

  • 20 JUN: According to US military officials, Iran has established a drone base in near Palmyra, 80 miles north of al-Tanf. The base could be the source of the drones that US planes shot down in recent weeks. (NBCNews)
  • 20 – 21 JUN: US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) opened a new front to the south of Raqqa in an attempt to fully besiege the former de facto capital of the Islamic State (ISIS). The SDF and US-led Coalition forces had already surrounded the city to the north, east, and west, while the southern suburbs along the banks of the Euphrates river remained under ISIS control. However, recent US-led Coalition airstrikes destroyed the bridges linking these suburbs to the rest of the city, effectively isolating the area and facilitating the SDF advance. The SDF has reportedly recently captured several southern suburbs, including Kasrat al-Faraj. These gains put the SDF within several kilometers of fully encircling Raqqa. Inside the city, there were reports of heavy clashes between the SDF and ISIS in the eastern neighborhood of al-Batani, previously captured by  the SDF.There were also reports of two ISIS car bombs that targeted SDF positions in the western neighborhood of al-Romaniya. (Reuters, Qasioun, SOHR, all4syria-AR)
  • 21 JUN: Clashes between Armed Opposition Groups (AOGs) and Assad Coalition continued on Wednesday in Jobar and Ain Tarma fronts as pro-government militias try to advance in both areas. The clashes continue as Assad Coalition launched an offensive last week to control Jobar neighbourhood, east Damascus. Pro-government warplanes and artillery bombarded both areas in addition to surrounding communities in Eastern Ghouta. (Qasioun, Smart News-AR, Alrahmancorps-AR, @AlrahmanCorps3-AR, @AlrahmanCorps3-AR, Step-AR)
  • 21 JUN: An explosive device planted in a motorcycle in a market in al-Slebeh neighborhood in Idlib city detonated killing at least four individuals and injuring several others. The explosive device reportedly was planted in a motorcycle of one of Jaish al-Fateh fighters. (Smart News-AR, Shaam-AR)
  • 21 JUN: Unconfirmed reports that Turkey is sending reinforcement of tanks and artillery to the Syrian borders near YPG-held town of Efrin north of Aleppo province. (Akhbar Turkiay-AR, RT-AR, SOHR)
  • 21 JUN: Assad Coalition forces claimed control of Bir Qassab area in al-Badiya, south east of Damascus from US-backed opposition forces Ossoud al-Sharqiya and Quwat Ahmad al-Abdo. However, opposition forces denied pro-government media claims and insisted that the area is still under their control. (Al-Baath Media-AR, Qasioun) (Analyst Note: yesterday Assad Coalition forces carried out an attack on armed opposition groups located in the area – See TSI Daily Brief June 20)
  • 21 JUN: At least 14 civilians were killed in an airstrike that dropped cluster munitions on Khasham town east of Deir Ezzor city on Tuesday. There were conflicting news about the responsibility for the strike, some sources blamed Assad Coalition warplanes and others US-led coalition. The strike hit a residential area during Iftar. Reports describe a second double-tap strike that hit the area  when civilians gathered to rescue casualties of the first strike. (Deir-Ezzor 24, Zamanalwsl, Qasioun-AR) (Analyst note: The “double-tap” is a common tactic used in pro-government airstrikes, and there are no known cases of US-led Coalition forces using internationally-banned cluster munitions in Syria. )

Political

  • 20 JUN: On Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan reportedly announced the next round of Astana talks on Syria were scheduled for 4-5 July. Kazakhstan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi was reported as having said invitations had been sent to delegations from the Syrian government and the opposition. He also stated “high-ranking representatives” from the guarantor countries Russia, Iran, and Turkey would also attend the meeting. (SANA via The Syrian Observer)
  • 21 JUN: On Wednesday, former opposition leader and Moaz al-Khatib announced he has resigned from the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) due to a disagreement regarding reform within the committee. Khatib, who served as the first president of the Syrian National Coalition in 2012, said the reform process in the committee had been blocked. (Zaman al-Wasl via The Syrian Observer)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 20 JUN: “Is Russia Ready to Fire at U.S. Military Jets in Syria?” – Damien Sharkov (Newsweek)
  • 20 JUN: “A New Battlespace in Syria: Prospects for U.S. Policy” – Nader Uskowi (Washington Institute)
  • 20 JUN: “Kurds no safer after US shoots down Syrian Jet” – Amberin Zaman (Al-Monitor)
  • 21 JUN: “Syria troops position themselves at heart of war on IS” – Sarah El Deep (AP)
  • 21 JUN: “Syrians Fear New Raqqa Turmoil Once Islamic State Is Defeated” – Michael Georgy (Reuters)