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Syria 90-Day Forecast: The Assad Regime and Allies in Northern Syria

Destruction in Baba Amr, Homs, Syria, courtesy Freedom House/flickr

This forecast was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War on 24 February 2016.

The expanded interventions of Russia and Iran into the Syrian Civil War have shifted the trajectory of the conflict in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, granting him the strongest position on the battlefield as of February 24, 2016. Regime forces bolstered by Iranian ground troops and Russian air support have achieved major gains against both the Syrian armed opposition and ISIS in Northern Syria since September 2015, marking a fundamental shift in battlefield momentum following a compounding series of regime losses in the first half of 2015. President Assad now sits within reach of several of his military objectives, including the encirclement and isolation of Aleppo City and the establishment of a secure defensive perimeter along the Syrian Coast.[1] The regime and its allies will likely retain their battlefield gains if there is no intervention by the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or the UAE. Russian campaign designers have clearly planned the ongoing operations in northern Syria, introducing to the Syrian battlefield signature Russian doctrinal concepts such as frontal aviation, cauldron battles, and multiple simultaneous and successive operations. These have made the joint Syrian-Russian-Iranian military operations more effective for a longer duration than previous operations. The offensive operations conducted by the regime and its allies may nevertheless culminate over the 90-day timeframe, as pro-regime forces attempt to advance deeper into core opposition-held terrain and take high casualties. Regular reinforcement of ground capabilities by Iran and Russia will therefore remain necessary over the next three months in order to maintain this level of momentum in the face of continued manpower shortages, attrition, and opposition military actions designed to slow and divert the campaign.

Although an uncontrolled collapse of the Syrian regime seemed feasible in June 2015,[2] Russia’s intervention into the Syrian Civil War has ultimately reset the military balance in Syria. ISW published its last forecast in September 2015 based upon six fundamental assumptions, one of which did not hold for the entirety of the forecasting period. The forecast assumed that Russia would maintain a defensive posture in Syria in order to prevent regime collapse rather than prioritize offensive operations.[3] This assumption remained true in the first few weeks after the start of the Russian air campaign on September 30, 2015. Russia later shifted its air campaign in mid-October 2015 in order to provide direct support to joint Iranian-Syrian counteroffensives on the ground. The aggressive operations undertaken by Russia and Iran in Syria have precluded many of the previously-forecasted courses of action by the regime, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al Nusra, and ISIS.

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The Thugs of War in Syria

Destruction in Bab Dreeb area in Homs, Syria, courtesy Bo yaser/WikimediaCommons

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 23 February 2016.

Last summer, the situation in the war-torn Syrian republic pointed towards entrenched fragmentation of the state. Different parties—including President Bashar al-Assad—controlled parts of the country, and neither seemed strong enough for military victory or significant advancements. Russia began air support to the Syrian Army to fight what they labeled terrorists last September, in hopes of tipping the scales.

Now in its fifth year, the war in Syria is particularly complex. What started as (and still is, to some degree) an uprising against a dictatorship has also developed into a sectarian battle between Syria’s Sunni majority and the Shia-Alawite minority; between moderate and extremist Sunnis; between the regime and the Kurdish pursuit for independence; and between regional interests where Sunni Turkey and Saudi Arabia are fighting for influence against Shia Iran by using the Syria war as a proxy. It is also providing the theater for a geopolitical challenge from Russia against the USA.

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Prospects for a Turkish Incursion into Syria

This article was originally published by the War on the Rocks on 9 February 2016.

Recent gains by the Assad regime in its ongoing northern offensive — in particular, the recapture of the Shiite towns of Nubl and Zahra — pose a significant geostrategic threat to Turkey and the opposition groups based in and around Azaz. The regime and its allies are now in a favorable position to cut the lines of communication between the Turkish border areas and the rebel-held city of Aleppo. Such an outcome now seems inevitable given major Russian and Iranian support for regime forces. As a matter of fact, the regime, backed by the Russian air-ground campaign, has been successfully advancing towards the Turkish frontier areas at the time of writing. In this regard, it should be noted that the Russian air force detachment in Syria enjoys high sortie rates as a result of Hmeymim Airbase’s proximity and an effective sortie-to-strike ratio stemming from good intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB). An expansion of Russian military advisors on the ground has enabled efficient coordination between close air support platforms and advancing Syrian Arab Army units, while the elite Iranian Quds Forces and Lebanese Hezbollah drive forward fueled by sectarianism and experience in hybrid conflicts.

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Libyan Lessons for Europe

Libyan flag graffiti, courtesy Ben Sutherland/flickr

This article was originally published by Carnegie Europe on 2 February 2016.

Almost five years since the start of NATO’s military intervention in Libya, there is mounting speculation that a coalition of Western countries will launch a new military campaign there to tackle the growing threat from the self-styled Islamic State.

Since the 2011 ouster of strongman leader Muammar Qaddafi, a civil war has prevented the formation of a functioning Libyan government, creating the space for both the emergence of an Islamic State–controlled area around the city of Sirte and large flows of migrants and refugees into the EU. (Over 157,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy alone since January 2015.)

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Military Leaders: Climate Change, Energy, National Security Are Inextricably Linked

The world facing climate change. Image: geralt/Pixabay

This article was originally published by New Security Beat on 9 November, 2015.

In the midst of a minefield on day two of Desert Storm Task Force Ripper, Marine Corps Operations Officer Richard Zilmer stepped out of his armored personnel carrier, squinted up at the sky, and saw nothing but black from horizon to horizon. Iraqi forces, trying desperately to blunt the attack of coalition armies, had set fire to hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells and oil-filled trenches.

“The sun was a little white ball about the size of a ping-pong ball that you could look up at directly,” Zilmer, now a retired lieutenant general, said at the Wilson Center on October 21. “This was surreal to about the third power…truly for me a moment that I’ll never forget.”

He wondered, does anyone know we’re here? Or know why we’re here? The puzzle pieces linking energy and national security started to shift into place. » More

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