TSI Syria Update: October 31, 2017

A brief overview of key military, political, and humanitarian news developments in Syria.

Military

  • 31 OCT: The US-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by cover from airstrikes, reportedly captured several villages within strategic proximity to oil fields north and east of Deir Ezzor city. Notably, the SDF now control the village of Jadid Akidat, the former military stronghold of ISIS since their entry into Deir Ezzor. (Deir Ezzor24, @Omar_abulayla)
  • 31 OCT: Mortar and artillery shelling by pro-government forces killed at least 12 civilians today in besieged Eastern Ghouta, more than half of whom were children. The most deadly attack took place in Jisreen where a school full of children was targeted, killing six children and one teacher. A school in Harasta was also targeted forcing an evacuation of the students, several of whom were injured. Four civilians including two children were also killed in shelling on the town of Misraba. (@SiegeWatch, SCDrifdimashq FB-AR, SCDrifdimashq FB – AR, SCD Damascus YouTube-AR)
  • 31 OCT: The US-led Coalition announced the deaths of 11 ISIS leaders killed in the past two months. Nine of the 11 were killed in Syria. (CJTF-OIR)

Political

  • 30 OCT: Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) appropriately allows the US-led Coalition to fight ISIS in Syria, while also retaining the ability to defend the US-led forces against the Assad Coalition if necessary. Tillerson also urged Congress not to repeal the 2001 AUMF without a viable replacement and to not restrict operations geographically, noting such measures could “cause our allies in the Global Coalition to question our commitment to defeating ISIS.” (SFRC)
  • 30 OCT: The Trump Administration is urging Kurdish officials to keep open the Syria-Iraq-Turkey border crossing at Fish Khabur. The border crossing is on a critical supply route for the US-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as well as for transporting heavy machinery used in reconstruction efforts for areas not under the control of the Assad Coalition, such as Raqqa. Kurdish authorities threatened to close Fish Khabur as clashes with Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have increased, while Iraqi and Kurdish officials have reportedly discussed the possibility of “Iraqi oversight” of the border. (Al-Monitor, BBC)
  • 30 OCT: Peaceful demonstrations were held in several towns in besieged Eastern Ghouta yesterday during a rare UN/Syrian Red Crescent aid convoy. Demonstrators called on the UN to do more to lift the siege. (@SiegeWatch)
  • 31 OCT: Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Iran tomorrow, during which they will discuss Syria-related issues. (Reuters, Kremlin)
  • 31 OCT: Russia announced its intention to host a Syrian “Congress of National Dialogue” on 18 November in Sochi. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited 33 groups in total, including Kurdish groups. Pro-opposition media says that the mainstream opposition will boycott the conference, which will mainly consist of parties that support or are friendly with the Assad government. (Reuters, Russian FM-RU, Reuters, Enab Baladi-AR) (TSI Analyst Note: The invited delegations largely consist of pro-Russian and pro-Assad groups. It is not yet clear what if any legitimacy such a “Congress” will be able gain among international stakeholders.)
  • 31 OCT: Talks in Astana closed today. The US observer delegation reportedly met with opposition representatives where the US allegedly reiterated its support for a political solution to the crisis, insisting the need for government change. The guarantor delegations of Iran, Russia, and Turkey released a joint statement acknowledging their continued work on the issue of prisoner exchanges, de-escalation zone activity, and the Syrian “Congress of National Dialogue.” (Qasioun, @FSAPlatform, @achopkins1, Russian FM-RU)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 30 OCT: “Under-Secretary General For Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock – Statement to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria” (UNOCHA)
  • 31 OCT: “Turkey’s Idlib Incursion and the HTS Question: Understanding the Long Game in Syria” – Charles Lister (War on the Rocks)
  • 31 OCT: “Russia/Syria: Deadly Airstrikes on Trapped Civilians” (HRW)
  • 31 OCT: “Assad sets sights on Kurdish areas, risking new Syria conflict” -Tom Perry, Ellen Francis, Laila Bassam (Reuters)
  • 31 OCT: “After victories against Islamic State, SDF redefines its role” – Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim and Avery Edelman (Syria Direct)
  • 31 OCT: “Department of Defense Press Briefing by General Jarrard via teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq” (DoD)
  • 31 OCT: “Tehran Stands Atop the Syria-Iran Alliance” – Danielle Pletka (Atlantic Council)