Monday, January 4, 2016

Russian Airstrikes in Syria: December 22, 2015 - January 3, 2016

By Genevieve Casagrande and Jodi Brignola

The Russian air campaign in Syria continues to bolster the position of the Assad regime ahead of negotiations between pro- and anti-regime representatives scheduled for January 25. The overwhelming majority of Russian airstrikes continue to support ongoing regime operations, targeting rebel positions in Aleppo, Idlib, Hama, Homs, Damascus, and Dera’a Provinces from December 28, 2015 to January 3, 2016. Russia targeted ISIS-held terrain with only a limited number of strikes in Aleppo, Raqqa, and Deir ez-Zour Provinces. Russian warplanes carried out a concentration of strikes in central Dera’a Province in support of an ongoing regime offensive against the rebel-held town of Sheikh Meskin and the nearby Brigade 82 base, which are situated along a key ground line of communication (GLOC) connecting Dera’a City to Damascus. Local sources reported as many as 200 Russian strikes targeting rebel positions near Sheikh Meskin from December 28 to January 3, enabling pro-regime forces to seize Brigade 82 as well as the northern neighborhoods of Sheikh Meskin on December 29. The seizure of Brigade 82 and the inability of rebel forces to retake it will erode both the will and capability of the armed opposition to continue to fight the Syrian regime in Southern Syria ahead of negotiations.
Russian warplanes also supported Kurdish ground operations against the Syrian opposition in Aleppo Province from December 28 to January 3. Russian airstrikes along the rebel frontline with Kurdish forces in northwestern Aleppo enabled U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – an alliance of Kurdish YPG and moderate armed opposition groups -- to seize at least three villages near the rebel-held border town of Azaz. Russian support for Kurdish operations against Arab-majority areas will likely further destabilize Aleppo province and escalate ongoing tensions between Aleppo’s armed opposition and Kurdish forces.
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. This map represents locations targeted by Russia’s air campaign, rather than the number of individual strikes or sorties. 

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.