TSI Syria Update: December 4, 2017

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

Military

  • 2 DEC: Reportedly, Israel launched surface-to-air missiles at an Assad Coalition military facility in eastern Damascus. Israel has not officially claimed to be behind the attack, while Syrian state media confirmed the strike, stating they intercepted two missiles and they suffered “material losses.” (BBC)
  • 3 DEC: At least 27 civilians were killed in Eastern Ghouta this weekend, as Assad Coalition airstrikes continued to pummel the besieged communities. At least 17 people were killed in an airstrike on a market in Hamouryia, while others were killed in Arbin, Misraba, and Harasta. Reportedly, both Syrian government and Russian jets conducted the attacks.  (Reuters, @SiegeWatch)
  • 4 DEC: According to ISIS’s Amaq news agency, the group downed a Syrian jet and captured two pilots near Albu Kamal. ISIS also claimed two VBIED attacks against Assad Coalition forces in al-Salihiyah. (Deir Ezzor24, Qasioun)
  • 4 DEC: Fighting intensified east of Hama, as Assad Coalition forces conducted numerous air strikes around the village of Abu Dali against extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). (Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 4 DEC: Unidentified aircraft reportedly bombed Assad Coalition positions at Dumayr airbase near Damascus. (@QASIOUN_NEWS) (TSI Analyst Note: It is possible Israel is behind the strike, targeting anti-air positions that intercepted their missiles from the 2 December attack.)

Political

  • 2 DEC: In an interview with Turkish state media, defected SDF spokesmen Talal Silo said the SDF was only established because of the United States, iterating that the SDF “gets everything from the PKK.” Silo singled out US Special Envoy Brett McGurk for pushing the idea of an “Arab Coalition,” and claimed the US knew its advanced weaponry was going exclusively to Kurdish fighters. According to Silo, the SDF/YPG also made deals to evacuate ISIS fighters from Raqqa, Manbij, and al-Tabqah. (Anadolou-TR, Hurriyet, Al-Monitor) (TSI Analyst Note: The US has denied it was involved or supported SDF negotiations with ISIS in Raqqa, but claimed to have screened evacuation convoys.)
  • 2 DEC: En route to Cairo, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told reporters as operations against ISIS wind down, the US will focus on holding territory rather than arming the Kurdish opposition forces. (Reuters)
  • 3 DEC: Kurdish and Russian media reported the YPG held a joint meeting with Colonel General Levgini, deputy commander of the Russian Hamimim base in Syria. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the meeting was attended by 23 representatives of eastern Euphrates communities. During the talks, Russia proposed a joint-command headquarters in al-Salihiyah for Russian, Kurdish, and Arab forces. The YPG also declared they control all of the east Deir Ezzor countryside. Russia also claimed to have coordinated with the YPG during anti-ISIS operations. (Reuters, @DefenseUnits, YPG Rojava-KU, Russia MOD-RU, ANHA) (TSI Analyst Note: It is unclear the level at which the YPG and Russia intend to coordinate, and how or if the US-led SDF, dominated by the YPG, is involved in these talks.)
  • 4 DEC: While speaking on a panel at the Reagan Defense Forum, White House National Security Adviser HR McMaster stated that “about 80 percent of Assad fighters are Iranian proxies in Syria to establish a land bridge over into the Mediterranean.” McMaster, alongside CIA Director Mike Pompeo, also warned of the large Iranian influence in neighboring Iraq. (Kurdistan 24, Reagan Foundation YouTube)
  • 4 DEC: The UK government has suspended approximately $16 million of foreign aid to its Free Syrian Police program, after reports that its forces cooperated with extremist groups Nour al-Din al-Zinki and Jabhat al-Nusra. However, BBC’s reporting on the aid program has come into question. According to Adam Smith International, the organization tasked with implementing the program, only $1,800 was received by officers linked to extremist groups, with none of those funds being taxpayer’s money.  (Telegraph)
  • 4 DEC: During a press conference, the Syrian opposition spokesman said the Assad government’s absence from Geneva is “an embarrassment for Russia.” The Syrian government left Geneva on Friday, decrying the oppositions “preconditions” of Assad’s ouster. Reportedly, the Syrian government is weighing the feasibility of returning to negotiations, which are scheduled to last until mid-December. (@SyriaHNC_en, Reuters)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 1 DEC: “Statement on behalf of the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura” (UNOG)
  • 3 DEC: “Help Assad or Leave Cities in Ruins? The Politics of Rebuilding Syria” – Somini Sengupta (NYT)
  • 3 DEC: “Al Qaeda’s ‘external communications officer’ weighs in on dispute over Syria” – Thomas Joscelyn (Long War Journal)
  • 4 DEC: “Syrian Citizen Journalist Narratives: Central to Conflict Documentation – Nora Palandjian (Aleppo Project)
  • 4 DEC: “Rebuilding Syria: A Localized Revitalization Strategy” – Faysal Itani and Tobias Schneider (Atlantic Council)
  • 4 DEC: “Bombs crush illusion of ‘de-escalation’ near Damascus” (AFP)