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Humanitarian Issues Conflict Defense

Russian Military Activity in Syria: March 15 – April 18, 2016

Aircraft Fighter Jet, courtesy mashleymorgan/flickr

This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on 20 April 2016.

Russia remains a decisive actor in Syria despite announcing its limited drawdown on March 14. It has since reshaped the nature of its deployment and military operations in ways that continue to bolster the Assad regime’s position on the ground as well as at the negotiating table, while allowing Russia to maintain its strategic military foothold along the Eastern Mediterranean. Russian military contributions continue to shape the battlefield momentum of pro-regime operations through the deployment of alternative assets to theater such as advanced rotary wing attack aircraft. Russia retains the capacity to escalate its fixed-wing strikes to support pro-regime operations, as shown in operations against ISIS in Palmyra in late March and more recently against armed opposition forces in Aleppo.

Russian air operations pivoted once again to Aleppo as of April 6, following weeks of strikes primarily carried out in support of pro-regime ground operations against ISIS in central Homs Province. Pro-regime forces supported by Russian and regime airstrikes have resumed operations to encircle and besiege armed opposition forces in Aleppo City. Russian air operations have regularly targeted opposition-held terrain in Aleppo province throughout its air campaign in Syria, beginning condition-setting efforts for pro-regime operations to encircle and besiege Aleppo City as early as October 2015. Russian air support has been a pivotal component of pro-regime operations to encircle Aleppo City, bringing regime forces within five kilometers of besieging opposition forces inside the city as of February 2016.

Categories
Security Humanitarian Issues Conflict Terrorism

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.

Categories
Foreign policy Terrorism Regional Stability

Russian Airstrikes in Syria: November 25 – December 2, 2015

Russian Airstrikes in Syria (click to enlarge). Map: Genevieve Casagrande & Jodi Brignola/Institute for the Study of War

This map was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War on 4 December, 2015.

Russian air operations in Syria continue to pursue the preservation of the Assad regime. Spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve Colonel Steve Warren commented on Russia’s most recent statements regarding its operations in Syria, stating that “Everything they are doing is to support Assad, to keep Assad in power… Every time the Russians conduct an operation that extends or helps extend Assad’s hold on power is yet another day that Syrian civilians will suffer under the boot of Bashar al-Assad.”

Categories
Conflict Terrorism Defense

Russia’s Recent Airstrikes in Syria

Russian Airstrikes in Syria from 23 October – 1 November, 2015 (click to enlarge). Image: Genevieve Casagrande/Institute for the Study of War

This map was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War on 2 November, 2015.

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) discontinued the release of daily airstrike reports from October 28 – November 1 amidst multilateral talks on the Syrian Civil War held in Vienna on October 30 and continued reports of civilian casualties. Nevertheless, credible local sources continued to report airstrikes in Dera’a, Damascus, Homs, Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo from October 31 – November 1. Russian airstrikes predominantly targeted rebel-held areas in Aleppo Province in conjunction with regime ground offensives against ISIS in the southeastern countryside of Aleppo and rebel forces southwest of Aleppo City. Local activist reporting claimed that Russian airstrikes and regime forces killed 64, including 28 children in Aleppo on October 31 alone.