TSI Syria Update December 11, 2017

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

Military

  • 11 DEC: Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Hmeimim airbase in Syria to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Putin also announced a “significant withdrawal” of Russian troops in Syria, but promised to act if “terrorists raise their head again.” Despite the announced drawdown, Putin also iterated that Hmeimim airbase and the Russian naval base in Tartus would continue operating. In response to the news, a Pentagon official stated “Russian comments about removal of their forces do not often correspond with actual troop reductions.” (Washington Post, Kremlin, Kremlin, AFP) (TSI analyst note: this is at least the third time Russia has announced a drawdown of forces in Syria.)
  • 11 DEC: The US-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the formation of a joint coordination center with the Iraqi military to ensure administration and safety of the Syria-Iraq border in Deir Ezzor province. (Deir Ezzor24, SDF Press-AR, @QSD_Jabha-AR, Syria Direct)
  • 11 DEC: The Assad Coalition has expanded its operations against armed opposition groups and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in eastern Hama, with Russian air support, pushing toward opposition enclaves in Idlib. Reportedly, opposition-held Abu al Dhour airbase was heavily bombed on Sunday, as the Assad Coalition recaptured the villages of Um Turayka and Bilil. (Enab Baladi-AR, Reuters)
  • 11 DEC: Opposition group Faylaq al-Rahman clashed with an offshoot group group, Abu Moussa al-Ishari, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta town of Hamouriya. Several civilians were reportedly injured. (Enab Baladi-AR, GhoutaGMC FB-AR)
  • 11 DEC: Assad Coalition forces continued to push back opposition forces in the semi-besieged rebel enclave of Beit Jinn, reportedly causing multiple casualties.  (RevoSpring-AR, Smart News-AR)
  • 11 DEC: Despite Russian claims of their defeat in Deir Ezzor province, the US military conducted multiple strikes this weekend on ISIS positions near Albu Kamal and one strike near al-Shadaddi (CJTF-OIR) (TSI Analyst Note: The US has no partner ground forces near Albu Kamal, which is largely controlled by the Assad Coalition.)

Political

  • 11 DEC: The Kazakhstan Foreign Ministry announced a new round of Russian-led Syrian peace talks will take place 21-22 December in Astana. Subjects of the negotiations will focus on detainee releases, transfers of bodies, and the search for missing persons. The talks will also cover de-escalation efforts and the process of de-mining in Syria. (Kazakhstan MFA-RU)
  • 11 DEC: The Syrian government delegation has returned to Geneva and met with UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, after abandoning the UN-led talks earlier this month due to discussions of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster.  (Sana, @SyrianHNC_en, Smart-AR)
  • 11 DEC:  The opposition Syrian Coalition (Etilaf) released a statement urging for the creation of a conference on al-Raqqa’s political future that emphasizes local inclusion and representation. (Etilaf, Enab Baladi-AR) (TSI Analyst Note: There is concern among opposition groups, especially those affiliated with Turkey, of Kurdish-majority opposition fighters taking control of local politics in non-Kurdish areas such as al-Raqqa city.)
  • 11 DEC: Members of the Kurdish National Council (KNC) chose Saud Mullah, a member of the Kurdish Democratic Party, as the new president of Syria’s KNC. (Smart News-AR) (TSI analyst note: The KNC is a minority Kurdish political party that has faced recent crackdowns from the majority YPD party, which is affiliated with US-backed forces.)
  • 11 DEC: U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Gen. Joseph Votel and Commander of U.S. Forces in Europe Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti reportedly met with Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar in Ankara to discuss US support for the Kurdish YPG. (Hurriyet)

Humanitarian

  • 11 DEC: The UN reported that five more of the 137 children on the medical evacuation list from Eastern Ghouta have died due to lack of treatment. (UNICEF)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 7 DEC: “Marshaling Palestinian Support for al-Assad: A Look at Major General Muhammad Tariq Al-Khudra” – Nicholas Heras (Jamestown Foundation)
  • 9 DEC: “Intense violence in Syria’s East Ghouta shutters schools, deprives children of medical care” – (UNICEF)
  • 11 DEC: “Northwest Syria’s disappearing water buffalo” – Justin Clark (Syria Direct)
  • 11 DEC: “Erdogan, Putin strike diplomatic pose in Ankara” – Amberin Zaman (Al-Monitor)