Thursday, October 8, 2015

Russian Air and Missile Strikes in Syria: September 30 - October 7, 2015

By Genevieve Casagrande and Jodi Brignola

Key Takeaway:  The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that four Russian warships in the Caspian Sea fired twenty-six Kalibr-NK cruise missiles against alleged ISIS-held positions in Aleppo, Idlib, and ar-Raqqa Provinces on October 7. The Russian MoD released a video depicting the cruise missiles traveling over the airspace of Iraq and Iran in order to primarily strike targets in rebel-held areas of northwestern Syria. U.S. officials later reported that at least four of the cruise missiles had crash-landed in northwestern Iran, although both the Russian and Iranian Ministries of Defense denied these reports as “psychological warfare” by the West. The use of cruise missiles despite the presence of a functional Russian airbase in Latakia Province likely represents an overt show of force intended to project Russian military strength to both the Syrian opposition and members of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.

Russian airstrikes entered a new phase of operations after the Syrian regime and allied proxy forces launched a large-scale ground offensive in northwestern Syria with Russian air support. The offensive targeted rebel positions in northern Hama and southern Idlib Provinces, highlighting Russian intent to bolster the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rather than confront ISIS. In addition, Russian warplanes conducted airstrikes in the Qalamoun Mountains east of Damascus on October 6, targeting the headquarters of a Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated rebel group that receives funding and lethal aid from the U.S. and other members of a covert joint military operations command (MOC) based in Jordan. The Russian MoD also claimed strikes in Idlib, Deir ez-Zour, and Latakia Provinces.

The following graphic depicts ISW’s assessment of Russian airstrike and cruise missile strike locations based on reports from local Syrian activist networks, Syrian state-run media, and statements by Russian and Western officials.

High-Confidence reporting. ISW places high confidence in reports corroborated both by official government statements reported through credible channels and documentation from rebel factions or activist networks on the ground in Syria deemed to be credible.

Low-Confidence reporting. ISW places low confidence in secondary sources that have not been confirmed or sources deemed likely to contain disinformation.

**ISW was only able to assess four missile strikes with high confidence through photographic evidence and only one missile strike with low confidence due to a lack of distinction in reporting from local Syrian sources.