Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Russian Airstrikes in Syria: September 30 - October 26, 2015

By Genevieve Casagrande and Jodi Brignola

Key Takeaway: The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) resumed reporting of airstrikes in Syria on October 26, following a hiatus of reports about airstrikes from October 23-25. The Russian MoD claimed to carry out “59 sorties” from October 24-26 in the Syrian provinces of Idlib, Latakia, Homs, Damascus, Aleppo, and Deir ez-Zour. Russian airstrikes from October 25-26 largely supported regime ground offensives against Syrian rebels near the al-Ghab Plain in northwestern Hama Province and south of Aleppo City. Meanwhile, ISIS captured sections of the road between Khanasser and Ithriya in southeastern Aleppo Province from October 22-26 and claimed to sever the regime supply route to Aleppo City amidst ongoing regime advances near the besieged Kuweires Airbase east of Aleppo. The Russian MoD claimed airstrikes near the city of Palmyra in central Syria; however, local reporting has not yet substantiated these claims. ISW therefore does not consider the Russian MoD reports concerning Palmyra to be credible at this time. No high-confidence Russian airstrikes occurred against ISIS’s positions during the reporting period. Meanwhile, the U.S. Coalition did not report  airstrikes in Syria from October 24-26, an unusual break in the pattern of reported airstrikes following the U.S.-Russian MOU concerning air safety protocols over Syria.
Russia continued its disinformation campaign in an effort to present itself as a constructive force in Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced on October 24 that Moscow is willing to provide air support to Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups if the U.S. shares intelligence on the locations of both FSA-affiliated groups and “terrorists.” The majority of Russian airstrikes in Syria to date have targeted rebel forces throughout Syria, however, undermining the credibility of Russian rhetoric regarding cooperation with the moderate FSA-affiliated opposition. Russian warplanes have targeted several moderate U.S.-backed TOW missile recipients since the start of the Russian aerial campaign in Syria on September 30, including Liwa Suqour al-Jebel and Tajamu' al-Izza in the provinces of Idlib and Hama, as well as the Martyr Lieutenant Ahmed Abdou Battalion in Damascus and the First Coastal Division in Latakia. Human Rights Watch released a report on October 25 detailing a Russian strike targeting the home of a commander in the FSA-affiliated Islamist Harakat Tahreer Homs, killing 59 civilians. 

The following graphic depicts ISW’s assessment of Russian airstrike 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.