TSI Syria Update: December 6, 2017

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

Military

  • 5 DEC: Reportedly, two more members of extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) were assassinated in Idlib governorate in the past two days. It is not clear who was behind the killings. (SOHR, @Idlib24, STEP-AR) (TSI Analyst Note: These killings continue a trend of recent assassinations of HTS members in Idlib.)
  • 6 DEC: Russian air strikes reportedly killed 21 civilians in the village of al-Jerzi, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates in Deir Ezzor. (AFP)
  • 6 DEC: Today, the Pentagon officially announced there are about 2,000 US troops in Syria, a sharp rise from the previously reported Force Management Level of 503. Yesterday, Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon commented on a continued US presence in Syria, stating “we are going to maintain our commitment on the ground as long as we need to, to support our partners and prevent the return of terrorist groups,” clarifying that troop commitments would be “conditions-based.”  (AFP, WaPo)
  • 6 DEC: According to Russian state media, Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov declared “All terrorist units of ISIS on Syrian soil have been destroyed, and the territory is liberated.” Gerasimov noted that some pockets of resistance may exist, but the operation has been “completed with a full victory.” (RT) (TSI Analyst Note: Although severely weakened, US strike releases for this month show ISIS still has a presence in Syria, including tactical vehicles, heavy weaponry, and fighting positions.)
  • 6 DEC: Shelling in Eastern Ghouta continued today in Ein Tarma and Arbin, where two children were killed. The US State Department condemned the on-going strikes in the besieged communities, and called upon Russia to abide by the de-escalation agreement. (@SiegeWatch, @USEmbassySyria)

Political

  • 5 DEC: During a meeting with members from the Russian Orthodox Church, President Vladimir Putin promised to help rebuild Christian churches in Syria. Putin also touted that most Christian areas in Syria have been liberated from ISIS. (Newsweek)
  • 6 DEC: The Syrian government’s delegation for Geneva negotiations is still in Damascus, as US and French officials urged Russia to pressure their return to talks. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US has expressed the importance of the Syrian government being in Geneva, and has “left it to the Russians to deliver them to table.” (Reuters)
  • 6 DEC: A pro-Erdogan activist group petitioned a Turkish court to issue an arrest warrant for Brett McGurk, the Presidential envoy for the Global anti-ISIS Coalition. The group reportedly based their accusations on comments made by Talal Silo, the former spokesman of the US-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who defected to Turkey. Silo claimed the SDF was largely an apparatus of the Kurdish PKK and YPG, which Turkey considers terrorist organizations. (Al-Monitor)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 5 DEC: “Can Saudis tempt Moscow into pushing Iran from Syria?” – Ali Bakeer (Al-Monitor)
  • 5 DEC: “How Syria’s First Oscar Contender Eluded the Government” – Sopan Deb (NYT)
  • 6 DEC: “The Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham-al-Qaeda Dispute: Primary Texts (I)” – Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (aymennjawad.org)
  • 6 DEC: “Islamic State is defeated but our kidnapped relatives are still missing” – Haid Haid (MEE)
  • 6 DEC: “Male rape and sexual torture widespread in Syria crisis – report” (UNHCR)
  • 6 DEC: “A medical ‘disaster’ in East Ghouta as chronic illnesses go untreated” -Waleed Khaled a-Noufal, Madeline Edwards, Omar Al-Balkhi, Ala’a Mekawe (Syria Direct)
  • 6 DEC: “Kurdish and Syrian Regime Forces Take Very Different Routes to Control in Deir Ez-Zor” – Muhammed Hasan (Chatham House)
  • 6 DEC: “Russia Balks at Cross-Border Humanitarian Aid in Syria” – Somini Sengupta (NYT)