TSI Syria Update: June 22, 2017

Takeaway

The ongoing offensive by Assad Coalition to recapture portions of Deraa city escalated further today as pro-government forces clashed with armed opposition groups in several neighborhoods amidst heavy airstrikes and barrel bombing. Armed opposition groups (AOGs) attacked Assad Coalition forces east of Daraa city, killing a number of soldiers from the Syrian military’s elite Fourth Division. The clashes occurred also in Daraa al-Balad neighborhood as pro-government forces targeted the area with artillery, barrel bombs and missiles while opposition groups targeted pro-government forces’ positions in Daraa al-Mahatta with mortars.

Military

21 – 22 JUN: The Assad Coalition continued its offensive in Eastern Ghouta amid reports of small gains against armed opposition groups (AOGs) in the area. Pro-government media stated that Assad Coalition forces took control of several blocks in the Damascus neighborhood of Jobar and the neighboring town of Ein Terma on Wednesday. Clashes between Assad Coalition forces and AOGs continued today in Jobar while Syrian government planes bombarded Jobar and Ein Terma. There were unconfirmed report of the use of chlorine gas by the Assad Coalition forces in their attack in Jobar. (Reuters, GhoutaGMC FB-AR, @Alrahmancorps4-AR)

22 JUN: Clashes between armed opposition groups and Assad Coalition forces continued in Daraa city on Thursday, as pro-government forces try to retake areas they lost to AOGs in April. On Thursday morning armed opposition forces in al-Bunyan al-Marsous Operation Room (BMOR) attacked Assad Coalition forces east of Mokhayam neighborhood in Daraa city and later announced killing several pro-government soldiers from the elite Fourth Division in an ambush east of al-Mokhayam area. Assad Coalition forces also targeted opposition-held Daraa al-Balad and Tariq al-Sad areas with barrel bombs, artillery, and ground missiles. BMOR responded by shelling Assad Coalition forces in the government-held Daraa al-Mahatta neighborhood. Pro-government media reported civilian injuries from the shelling. (Shaam-AR, Smart News-AR, Qasioun, SOHR, SANA)

22 JUN: Clashes between Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and ISIS continue around Raqqa as the SDF prepares for a final assault on the city. US-led coalition warplanes and SDF artillery reportedly targeted a residential area and a mosque in Raqqa city and killed 18 civilians. The SDF is currently within several kilometers of completely surrounding the city, after capturing several southern suburbs yesterday. (@Raqqa_SL-AR, Qasioun, Smart News-AR)

22 JUN: On Thursday, the spokesman of Failaq al-Rahman (FAR)  accused Jaish al-Islam (JAI) of seizing 60 tons of mortars’ manufacturing materials and arresting 100 FAR fighters. The accusations come one day after JAI offered help to FAR in the ongoing battles between FAR and Assad Coalition in Jobar and Ein Tarma. (@Alrahmancorps3-AR, @Alrahmancorps3-AR)  (Analyst Note: FAR and JAI clashes in Eastern Ghouta by end of April and tension between both factions. Clashes stopped but tension between the two armed groups has not diffused)

Political

21 JUN: On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron announced France will no longer consider the departure of Assad a prerequisite for a peace deal in Syria as there is no legitimate successor. Macron stated moving forward, France will have two primary concerns in Syria: combating terrorism, and ensuring stability for the country. This marks a notable departure from France’s previous stance on the future of Assad. France’s new position appears to be aimed at convincing Russia to seek a political solution rather than prioritizing a military one. Macron stated “I don’t think he [Putin] has an unshakeable friendship with Assad. He has two obsessions, fighting terrorism and avoiding a failed state, and so that’s why convergent views on Syria appear.” (Reuters, Hurriyet, WSJ, The Daily Star)

22 JUN: On Thursday, Australia announced it would resume airstrikes in Syria in support of the US-led anti-ISIS Coalition. On Tuesday, the Australian Ministry of Defence said it was temporarily suspending its military campaign in response to Russia’s statement that all aircraft operating west of the Euphrates would be treated as potential targets following the US downing of a Syrian government warplane on Sunday. In a statement, the Ministry of Defense said the suspension was “a precautionary measure to allow the coalition to assess the operational risk. The suspension has since been lifted.” The statement did not give a date for when strikes would resume. (Washington Post, BBC, MEE)

22 JUN: On Thursday, the Turkish Ministry of Defense stated it had received a guarantee from US Secretary of Defense James Mattis that weapons supplied to the Kurdish YPG would be taken back once the Islamic State was defeated. Mattis reportedly told Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik a detailed record of all equipment given to the YPG was being kept, and a monthly list of weapons supplied to the Kurdish group would be given to Ankara. Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the PKK, a designated terrorist organization, and has strongly opposed US support for the group. As a result, the recent US decision to arm the YPG for the offensive on Raqqa has increased tensions in US/Turkey relations. (Reuters)

22 JUN: Turkish President Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said that next Astana talks will discuss the placement of guarantor forces in the different de-escalation zones. Kalin said that Turkey and Russian troops will likely be located in the Idlib region, while Russian and Iranian troops will monitor the area around Damascus, and a mechanism involving Jordanian and American troops was being discussed for the southern area in Daraa. (Reuters, Haber Turk-TR)

Humanitarian

None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

21 JUN: “The Geopolitics Behind the Race for Eastern Syria” – Mona Alami (Al-Monitor)

21 JUN: “This Is How Great-Power Wars Get Started” – Emile Simpson (Foreign Policy)

21 JUN: “The U.S. Enters a New Phase in Syria” – Faysal Itani (The Atlantic)

21 JUN: “Missing a Syria Strategy?” – Frederic C. Hof (Atlantic Council)

22 JUN: “Syria’s Multi-sided War Escalates Yet Again” (The Economist)

22 JUN: “US taxpayers are helping Assad in a strategic city” – Colum Lynch (Foreign Policy)

22 JUN: “Assad’s Syrian State Strategy and The Disappointments of De-escalation and Decentralization” – Anthony Elghossain (Atlantic Council)

22 JUN: “The U.S. Is Destroying Raqqa in Order to Save It, and Civilians Be Damned” – Roy Gutman (Daily Beast)