TSI Syria Update: November 27, 2017

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

Military

  • 24 NOV: According to a US official, Russian and Syrian government aircraft have repeatedly conducted unsafe flying practices near US aircraft in Syria. Reportedly, Russian and Syrian aircraft have incurred in a 3,000 foot zone of separation US pilots utilize for safety. The US official said while there are “robust conversations” on the deconfliction line, the agreements are not being followed by air forces. (CNN)
  • 24 NOV: The Pentagon is likely to announce there are approximately 2,000 US troops in Syria, a significant rise from the previously reported Force Management Level of 503. According to Pentagon sources, this is not a rise in troops but a more accurate count. A Pentagon report said there are approximately 1,500 troops in Syria, and the level of Defense personnel in the Middle East rose from 40,517 to 54,180 in the last four months. (Reuters, DOD)
  • 26 NOV: Reportedly, Russian airstrikes in Deir Ezzor killed an estimated 53 people in the village of al-Shafah. Russia denied it was behind the airstrikes. (AFP, Reuters, DeirEzzor24)
  • 26 NOV: Airstrikes  killed at least 23 civilians in the town of Misraba on Sunday, as the Assad Coalition continued its escalation of attacks against the besieged Eastern Ghouta enclave. Nearby, armed opposition group Ahrar al-Sham continued operations around a strategic military vehicle depot.  (Syria Direct, @SiegeWatch, AFP)
  • 27 NOV: Dozens of people were killed today in airstrikes in the besieged Eastern Ghouta communities of Madyara, Arbin, Douma, and Harasta. The Russian Ministry of Defense urged all parties to declare a ceasefire for the next two days in Eastern Ghouta.  (@SiegeWatch, Enab Baladi-AR, Smart News-AR, Russia MOD)
  • 27 NOV: According to a CENTCOM spokesperson, 180 US-backed Maghawir al-Thawra (MAT) fighters were removed from duty in the al-Badiya area of southeastern Syria in the past two weeks. MAT claims this was a mutual decision to make the force more agile. US forces and local MAT forces patrol a 55km area around a base near the al-Tanf border crossing.  (Syria Direct, Enab Baladi-AR, Hammurabis Justice FB) (TSI Analyst note: MAT is the only remaining Vetted Syrian Opposition partner that the US still supports in Syria, after cutting ties with other Arab opposition groups earlier this year. Some believe that the US may be winding down its support in al-Badiya under part of a deal with Russia to hand over the entire region to pro-Assad forces.)
  • 27 NOV: Reportedly, the Assad Coalition reopened the al-Asali crossing to foot traffic in south Damascus. Al-Asali is the only entrance point to besieged al-Qadam neighborhood. The crossing was closed on 30 October  after Assad Coalition forces caught a truck smuggling weapons to opposition factions in the neighborhood. (Enab Baladi-AR, Revo Spring-AR)

Political

  • 24 NOV: After a Saudi-hosted conference in Riyadh, competing Syrian opposition groups agreed to send a single negotiating bloc to scheduled talks in Geneva this week. The opposition also named a new chief negotiator, Nasr Hariri, after the resignation of previous leader Riyad Hijab earlier in the week. Read the opposition’s statement in Arabic here. (Bloomberg, France 24,) (TSI Analyst Note: A unified negotiating bloc is a victory for Moscow, which has sought to incorporate pro-Russian/Assad elements that it supports into the mainstream HNC opposition negotiating body, in an effort to dilute its stance towards Assad.)
  • 25 NOV: During a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Donald Trump said the US will stop arming Kurdish opposition groups in Syria. Reportedly, Defense and State Department officials were caught off guard by the policy change, which was first announced by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who listened in on the call. The US announced in May of this year it would begin arming Kurdish groups. On 27 November, a Pentagon spokesperson said the US is “reviewing pending adjustments to the military support provided to our Kurdish partners,” but did not say supplies would be cut off. (AP, The Jerusalem Post, The White House, Reuters) (TSI Analyst Note: The Coalition’s key partner force in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), is dominated by Kurdish YPG forces. The SDF has worked closely with US forces to capture and hold key territory from ISIS, such as Raqqa.)
  • 27 NOV: UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council today that he received notice from the Syrian government that it will not be attending the Geneva negotiations, which are scheduled to start tomorrow. Reportedly, their refusal is due to opposition insistence that President Bashar al-Assad must step down as a precondition for a political settlement, despite the presence of Russian-supported figures in the newly expanded opposition bloc. (Reuters, @ejbeals, Deutsche Welle, VOA)
  • 27 NOV: Sergey Naryshkin, director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) reportedly traveled to Israel to discuss issues pertaining to Syria and Iran. Allegedly, Naryshkin met with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, and the Prime Minister’s national security advisor Meir Ben-Shabat. (Channel 10-HE)
  • 27 NOV: Extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) allegedly arrested clerics Sami al-‘Aridi and Abu Julaybib al-Urduni. Both individuals were formally affiliated with HTS, but defected and maintained ties to al-Qaeda. (SITE, @Charles_Lister)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 19 NOV: “The Thick Red Line: Implications of the 2013 Chemical-Weapons Crisis for Deterrence and Transatlantic Relations” – Jeffery Lewis and Tertrais (Global Politics and Strategy)
  • 22 NOV: “Who Is Assassinating Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s Leaders?” – Haid Haid (Chatham House.)
  • 23 NOV: “Analysis: Islamic State media output goes into sharp decline” (BBC)
  • 24 NOV: “Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the EU on the investigation of chemical weapons use in Syria (EU via Relief Web)
  • 24 NOV: “24,746 Females Have been Killed in Syria since March 2011T The Syrian Woman…. A Society’s Shattered Half” (SN4HR)
  • 25 NOV: “Statement on behalf of the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura” (UNOG)
  • 25 NOV: “Statement by the HR/VP Federica Mogherini on the Conference of the Syrian Opposition in Riyadh” (EU via Relief Web)
  • 26 NOV: “On Riyadh Opposition Conference” (State Dept.)
  • 26 NOV: “A year after the fall of Aleppo, Syria’s Ghouta faces same fate” – Bethan McKernan (The Independent)
  • 26 NOV: “After Islamic State: Staying in Syria?” – Aymenn Awad al-Tamimi (The Jerusalem Post)
  • 27 NOV: “Implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015) and 2332 (2016)” (UN)
  • 27 NOV: “Cooperate with Russia?” – Frederic C. Hof (Atlantic Council)