TSI Syria Update: June 29, 2017

Takeaway

The US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) made new gains today in the offensive to retake al-Raqqa city from Islamic State (ISIS), taking control of the last road into the city. With this move the SDF is close to fully encircling Raqqa. UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein said that there is at least 100,000 civilians trapped inside the city.

Military

  • 28-29 JUN: On Thursday, the ISIS-affiliated group Jaish Khaled appointed a new leader/Emir following the death of the previous Emir Abu Hashim al-Rifaee on Wednesday. Reports regarding the circumstances of al-Rifaee’s death were conflicted. Some sources said that he was killed in a US-led coalition airstrike on a center for Jaish Khaled with five other leaders of the group, while other sources said that he was killed in the ongoing clashes with armed opposition groups southwest of Daraa. The new leader is reportedly Abu Taim Inkhel, previously the leader of Liwaa Shuhadaa al-Yarmouk, one of Jaish Khaled factions. (Qasioun, Enab Baladi-AR, Alaraby-AR) (Analyst Note: Abu Hashem al-Rifaee was appointed on June 6 after the death of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi in an airstrike on the group’s center in al-Shajara village southwest of Daraa countryside. The new Emir Abu Taim Inkhel is the third leader for the group in less than a month).
  • 29 JUN: Clashes between the Assad Coalition forces and the armed opposition group Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) continued in Eastern Ghouta in the town of Ein Terma today as pro-government forces attempted to advance into the town from the southern side. Pro-government warplanes targeted the towns of Zamalka and Douma, leaving injuries among civilians.  (Al-Masdar, Smart News-AR, Ghouta GMC FB-AR, Douma Revolution FB-AR)
  • 29 JUN: US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured the last road leading into Raqqa today and are close to fully encircling the city. Intense clashes between the SDF and ISIS continue inside Raqqa, mainly in the district of al-Rumaileh in the eastern part of the city and al-Bareed in the western part.  (SOHR, Smart News-AR, AP, BBC)

Political

  • 29 JUN: On Thursday, Naser Haj Mansour, an advisor to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), stated the group sees a serious possibility for “open, fierce confrontation” with Turkish forces in northwestern Syria near Azaz. Mansour said the group had made the decision to confront Turkish forces should they attempt to advance beyond the current lines of territorial control and move into the largely Kurdish-held area surrounding Afrin and Tel Rifat. His comments come after several days of escalating clashes between the Kurdish YPG and Turkish. Yesterday, Veysi  Kaynak stated “In order to stabilize the region, the Afrin region needs to be cleared of terror elements and terrorists.” These latest tensions come amid reports of a recently increased Turkish military footprint in the area, and rumors of a pending offensive on YPG-controlled Afrin. (Hurriyet, Reuters, Orient News)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • JUN: “How the Syrian Regime Is Using the Mask of ‘Reconciliation’ to Destroy Opposition Institutions” – Mazen Ezzi (Chatham House)
  • 26 JUN: “How the Gulf crisis could spill over into rebel rivalry in Syria” – Haid Haid (Middle East Eye)
  • 27 JUN: “The Battle for Raqqa and the Challenges After Liberation” – Hassan Hassan (CTC)
  • 28 JUN: “Why Haven’t Chemical Weapons Inspectors Gone to Syria’s Shayrat Air Base?” – Aron Lund (The Century Foundation)
  • 28 JUN: “The Fight Goes On: The Islamic State’s Continuing Military Efforts In Liberated Cities” – Daniel Milton, Muhammad al-`Ubaydi (CTC)
  • 29 JUN: “Islamic State Territory Down 60 Percent and Revenue Down 80 Percent on Caliphate’s Third Anniversary, IHS Markit Says” – (IHS Markit)
  • 29 JUN: “Kevin Kennedy (OCHA) on the humanitarian situation in Syria – Press Conference (29 June 2017)” – (UN Web TV)
  • 29 JUN: “ERC O’Brien’s Statement to the Security Council on Syria” – Stephen O’Brien (UNOCHA)
  • 29 JUN: “Implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015) and 2332 (2016) –  Report of the Secretary-General” (UNDocs)
  • 29 JUN: “Seven Days, a Gun, and a Prayer: The Pentagon’s Plan to Pacify Raqqa” – Paul Mcleary (Foreign Policy)
  • 29 JUN: “How al-Qaeda Survived Drones, Uprisings, and the Islamic State” – Aaron Y. Zelin (The Washington Institute)