Friday, November 20, 2015

Russian Strikes in Syria: November 9 - 19, 2015

By Genevieve Casagrande and Jodi Brignola

Key Takeaway: Russia shifted its air campaign in an effort to mimic the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition's recent offensive to target ISIS-run oil and natural gas infrastructure from November 18-19. Russian military chief of staff Col. Gen. Andrey Kartapolov announced on November 18 "Russian warplanes are now flying on a free hunt" against ISIS-operated oil tanker trucks traveling back and forth from Syria and Iraq, claiming that Russian strikes had destroyed over 500 ISIS-operated oil trucks in the past "several days." This claim follows a November 16 U.S.-led coalition strike near Deir ez-Zour, which destroyed at least 116 ISIS-operated oil tanker trucks. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that its long-range warplanes based in southern Russia conducted strikes against ISIS in both Deir ez-Zour and ar Raqqa Provinces. There was a notable influx of Russian strikes in the countryside of Deir ez-Zour, an area crucial to ISIS’s oil revenue. Local reporting has not yet substantiated claims of Russian airstrikes in ar Raqqa. French warplanes, however, continued to heavily bombard ISIS’s position in ar Raqqa from November 18-19. The targeting of ISIS-held oil infrastructure will allow Russia to present its interests as aligned with Western countries such as France despite Russia’s continued targeting of Syrian armed opposition groups in support of the Syrian regime’s ground campaign. Russia's recent escalation against ISIS in Deir ez-Zour may also be intended to demonstrate the irrelevance of the U.S.'s newest initiative inside Syria.
Russia continues to use its intensified air campaign in Syria to position itself as an effective anti-ISIS actor amongst the international community. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed to carry out 253 sorties from the Bassel al-Assad International Airport in Latakia as well as its base located along Russia’s southern border with Georgia, doubling the average number of sorties flown each day. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that long-range warplanes fired 50 cruise missiles against ISIS in Aleppo, Idlib, and Deir ez-Zour Provinces. However, cruise missile strikes have thus far only been documented against rebel-held terrain in northern Idlib and western Aleppo Provinces. Russian warplanes continued to carry out airstrikes against rebel positions in Latakia, Hama, Idlib, and Dera’a Provinces in support of regime ground operations. Russia continues to indiscriminately target civilians and continues to provide air support to pro-regime forces, including Iranian-backed proxy groups. The Russian air campaign in Syria primarily supports the Assad regime’s efforts against the armed opposition despite Russia’s recent increase in strikes against ISIS targets.
The following graphic depicts ISW’s assessment of Russian airstrike and cruise missile 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.