TSI Syria Update: December 12, 2017

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

Military

  • 11 DEC: Assad Coalition forces reportedly targeted opposition-held areas of Daraa city Monday night, killing a child and wounding other civilians. (Smart News-AR, Zaman Al-Wasl)
  • 12 DEC: The Iraqi military pushed back on yesterday’s report by the US-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that the groups agreed to a joint coordination center along the Syria-Iraq border. An Iraqi spokesperson iterated that while SDF and Iraqi military leaders held a meeting and discussed border security, no official joint-actions were agreed upon. (Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 12 DEC: According to local reports, leadership of extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) is split over the decision to leave besieged Eastern Ghouta, leading to the arrest of some of its officials. It was previously reported HTS may have struck a deal with competing rebel groups in Eastern Ghouta to leave the area. (Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 12 DEC: Russian planes reportedly targeted opposition groups with airstrikes in the eastern countryside of Hama province. (Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 12 DEC: Reportedly, ISIS conducted a large counterattack against Assad Coalition forces northwest of Albu Kamal on the towns of al-Hasrat, al-Salihiyah, Abbas, al-Jalaa, and al-Siyal. Multiple casualties were reported on both sides. (Step-AR, SOHR, @rcallimachi). (TSI Analyst Note: This attack comes after Russia and Iran-backed militias declared victory against ISIS last week. Strike reports released by the US military suggest ISIS still has an operating presence near Albu Kamal.)

Political

  • 11 DEC: The White House left out US troop numbers in Syria, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, in a required semi-annual report to Congress. Earlier this month, the Pentagon stated there were approximately 2,000 US troops in Syria, a sharp increase from the previous Force Management Level of 503 reported by the White House six months ago. (Yahoo)
  • 11 DEC: According to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, the tomb of Suleyman Shah will be returned to its prior location in Syria. It was moved in February 2015 during fears of an ISIS takeover in northern al-Raqqa governorate. (Hurriyet)
  • 11 DEC: According to unnamed diplomatic sources, the Trump Administration is reportedly prepared to allow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stay in power until the next scheduled presidential election in 2021. (The New Yorker)
  • 12 DEC: Reportedly, the Syrian Salvation Government, affiliated with HTS, has given the Turkish-backed Syrian Interim Government 72 hours to close all offices in liberated areas. (Qasioun, @Dalatrm, @Charles_Lister, @24Idlib)
  • 12 DEC: Syria’s state-run oil corporation allegedly signed a contract with Russian firm Evro Polis that would give it 25% of profits from oil fields its contractors captured from ISIS. Evro Polis is reportedly linked to businessmen Dmitry Utkin and Yevgeny Prigozhin, both of whom are sanctioned by the US for business dealings related to the Ukraine conflict. Utkin is the founder of the Wagner group, widely believed to be Russia’s primary defense contractor in Syria. (AP)
  • 12 DEC: The opposition delegation in Geneva called upon the Syrian government negotiation to engage in direct talks, urging Russia to apply pressure to get them to the table. (@SyrianHNC_en, Al-Arabiya, The Guardian)
  • 12 DEC: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey was not against Kurdish groups other than the YPG participating in a future Syria conference planned by Russia. (Hurriyet)
  • 12 DEC: A Pentagon spokesperson said the US had not observed any significant drawdown of Russian troops in Syria, after Putin visited the country and announced a withdrawal. (Reuters)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 11 DEC: “Whirlwind Putin tour highlights Moscow’s reach in Middle East” (NYT)
  • 12 DEC: “Chess, smokes, therapy for ex-ISIL fighters at Syria rehab centre” (AFP)
  • 12 DEC: “Who is Farouk al-Sharaa, and What Role Could He Play in Syria’s Transition?” (Alsouria via Syrian Observer)
  • 12 DEC: “Putin Declares Mission Accomplished” – Frederic C. Hof (Atlantic Council)
  • 12 DEC: “U.S. Troop Deployment in Syria: Potential Pitfalls” – James Jeffrey (WINEP)
  • 12 DEC: “Geneva Talks Will Not Salvage US Syria Policy” – Sam Heller (The Century Foundation)
  • 12 DEC: Editorial: “The Guardian view on Putin in Syria: victory and desolation” (The Guardian)