Monday, November 16, 2015

Russian Airstrikes in Syria: November 4 - 15, 2015

By Genevieve Casagrande

Key Takeaway: Russia continues to prioritize the preservation of the Assad regime rather than the defeat of ISIS through its air campaign in Syria. Russian airstrikes primarily supported regime ground operations against the Syrian armed opposition from November 13 – 15, concentrating in the southern countryside of Aleppo and the northern countryside of while pro-regime ground forces attempted to advance. ISW assessed Russian airstrikes against only one ISIS-held location with low-confidence during the reporting period. Meanwhile, the French Ministry of Defense announced French aircraft dropped 20 bombs against ISIS in ar Raqqa on November 15 in retaliation for the violent string of terrorist attacks carried out by ISIS in Paris on November 13. Russia will likely leverage the Paris attacks to drive its efforts to form a new counterterrorism coalition in the Middle East. Russia will continue to present itself as a decisive partner against ISIS in Syria to the international community, despite the relatively low number of Russian airstrikes targeting core ISIS terrain.

The Russian air campaign in Syria is accelerating the radicalization of the Syrian armed opposition. The brutality of the Assad regime against civilian populations throughout four years of armed conflict has driven rebels into partnerships with Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, a powerful anti-Assad ground force. Russia’s air campaign uses similarly indiscriminate tactics against civilians. U.S. officials have confirmed the Russian use of cluster munitionsagainst populated locations in Hama and Idlib Provinces. Open source reporting indicates the use of cluster munitions in Aleppo Province as well. Russian airstrikes have reportedly killed over 254 civilians from September 30 – October 26 alone, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Russian airstrikes reportedly targeted at least 12 medical facilities throughout Syria, according to statements from Doctors Without Borders on October 29. Local sources also reported the use of white phosphorus during Russian airstrikes in Idlib Province on November 12. Russia’s violent intervention is already driving the unification of rebels under powerful jihadist and hardline elements of the armed opposition. Three rebel groups made up of foreign fighters pledged allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra from September 23 to October 3, and three groups merged under hardline Islamist Ahrar al-Sham beginning in early September 2015 following reports of increased Russian presence in Syria.

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.