Friday, November 13, 2015

Russian Airstrikes in Syria: November 2 - 12, 2015

By Genevieve Casagrande and Jodi Brignola

Key Takeaway: The Russian air campaign continued to support regime ground operations against the Syrian opposition in Aleppo, Latakia, Idlib, Hama, and Dera’a Provinces from November 11 - 12. Russian warplanes targeted rebel-held terrain in the southern Aleppo countryside, enabling pro-regime forces to seize the towns of al-Hader and al-Eis located southwest of Aleppo City on November 12. Russian warplanes began to bombard both of these towns on October 15 in conjunction with the start of the regime’s ground offensive against rebels in the area. These advances have brought the regime and its allies within sixteen miles of the two besieged Shi’a-majority towns of Fua’h and Kafraya in northeastern Idlib Province. Iraqi Shi’a militia Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba claimed that the group is preparing for operations to break the rebel siege on these two towns. Russian warplanes began targeting rebel-held towns surrounding Fu’ah and Kafraya on November 4. These reported airstrikes violate terms of a UN-implemented ceasefire established on September 24. Local sources also reported the use of white phosphorus during Russian airstrikes near the Jebel Zawiya mountain range in southern Idlib Province on November 12.
The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced the expansion of its air campaign into Dera’a Province. ISW assessed Russian airstrikes against one location in Dera’a Province with high-confidence and five others with low-confidence from November 11 – 12, the largest concentration of reported Russian strikes in Dera'a since the start of Russian airstrikes on September 30. Local sources began reporting instances of Russian airstrikes in Dera’a Province as early as October 28. The influx in reported strikes follows reports of regime mobilization for an upcoming offensive near the Golan Heights. Israeli warplanes later conducted at least one airstrike near the Damascus International Airport on November 11 targeting an alleged weapon shipment intended for Lebanese Hezbollah. Continued Israeli targeting of Iranian proxy forces in Syria could exert additional pressure on Russia’s relations with Iran and the Syrian regime, particularly if Russia received advance warning of the strike through the Russian-Israeli air coordination mechanism established on September 21. 

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.   
Approaching the besieged enclaves from the east provides a more accessible target than pushing from the south through core rebel-held terrain in Idlib Province.
**One Russian airstrike location from November 2 – 10 has been changed from low- to high-confidence as a result of additional reporting.