Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Russian Airstrikes in Syria: October 25 - November 3, 2015

By Genevieve Casagrande and Jodi Brignola
Key Takeaway: Russian airstrikes largely shifted to target ISIS following new advances by the group in southern Homs Province. Russian warplanes targeted ISIS’s positions near Qaraytan and Palmyra in the eastern countryside of Homs as well as in ar-Raqqah City from November 2 - 3 approximately 24 hours after ISIS seized Maheen southeast of Homs City. Russia is therefore able to alter its Air Tasking Order (ATO) to designate new theater targets within 24 hours in Syria. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed to conduct airstrikes using precision weapons near Palmyra, southeastern Aleppo Province, and Deir ez-Zour in direct coordination with the Syrian opposition. These claims support Russia’s disingenuous attempt to pressure the U.S. to work together to protect moderate rebels. Russia reportedly deployed five attack helicopters to the T4 (Tiyas) Airbase in eastern Homs Province along the highway between Homs City and Palmyra, according to an anonymous U.S. military official on November 3. The unnamed official also stated that Russia deployed aircraft to the Shayrat Military Airbase less than 30 kilometers northwest of Maheen. Syrian activists previously reported on October 31 that the Syrian regime redeployed all of its aircraft from Shayrat Military Airbase to the T4 and Hama Military Airbases. Russian military presence in eastern Homs could provide aerial reconnaissance for Russian strikes in the area as an alternative or augmentation to Syrian rebel intelligence to guide Russian airstrikes.
ISIS maintains the ability to pressure regime-held terrain despite the shift in Russian airstrikes. ISIS continued to clash with regime forces in the town of Sadad northwest of Maheen on November 3. ISIS’s expansion threatens regime control of the strategic M5 Highway connecting Damascus to Homs City. Credible local sources also reported that Russian airstrikes continued to target rebel-held areas in the southern countryside of Aleppo, southern Idlib Province, and the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus from November 2 – 3 simultaneously. 

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.