Monday, November 9, 2015

Russian Airstrikes in Syria: October 29 - November 8, 2015

  By Jodi Brignola and Jennifer Cafarella
Key Takeaway: The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed airstrikes in Aleppo, Damascus, Idlib, Lattakia, Homs, Hama, and Raqqa from November 6 – November 8. Credible local sources substantiated strike claims in Aleppo, Damascus, Idlib, Homs, and Hama during this time period, but failed to verify reports of Russian airstrikes in Raqqa province. Russian airstrikes continued to support regime ground operations with limited effect. Russian warplanes targeted rebel-held territory in Aleppo city and in the southwestern Aleppo countryside amidst ongoing clashes between pro-regime and rebel forces in the area. Pro-regime forces have failed numerous attempts to advance on the ground. Russian airstrikes also targeted rebel-held territory in Idlib and Hama countrysides, likely in response to continued rebel advances in Northern Hama. Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) and rebel forces seized the strategic town of Morek, north of Hama City on November 4 and continued to make tactical gains in the surrounding villages including Ashtan and Um Hartayn on November 6. Rebel advances in Hama indicate that the Russian air campaign is insufficient to prevent rebel gains in the area amidst increased shipments of U.S. TOW anti-tank missiles to moderate rebels. It is possible that rebel forces are taking advantage of a decrease in Russian rotary wing air support following the deployment of Russian helicopters to the T4 (Tiyas) and Sharyat airbases in Homs on November 4.
Russian airstrikes also targeted ISIS-held territory in Aleppo and Homs Provinces from November 6 to November 8. Russian warplanes targeted ISIS-held towns of al-Bab in Northeastern Aleppo and Palmyra and Maheen in Eastern Homs. Russian strikes near the Kuweires airbase east of Aleppo city, besieged by ISIS set conditions for a renewed regime advance toward the base after regime forces regained control of the Khanaser-Ithraya highway from ISIS on November 4. Re-establishing control of the highway allowed the regime to reinforce Kuweires and seize the village of Sheikh Ahmad, three kilometers south of the airbase on November 9. Coalition warplanes also targeted ISIS-held territory from November 6 to November 8, conducting strikes in Hasakah, Deir ez-Zour, and northern Aleppo. Both Russian and coalition airstrikes are therefore occurring in northern Aleppo and possibly Deir ez Zour and Raqqa against ISIS, exercising de-confliction and raising questions of varying effects upon ground conditions. Coalition airstrikes are precise, whereas Russian airstrikes continued to target civilian populations despite Russian claims to the contrary. Russian strikes on Douma in the Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus killed at least 23 civilians, including women and children on November 7. The strike follows recent regime aerial attacks in Douma, the stronghold of prominent Islamist group Jaysh al-Islam. The regime and Russia likely seek to disrupt an ongoing offensive by Jaysh al-Islam against pro-regime forces south of Douma near regime-held neighborhoods in Damascus.  

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.