Friday, December 21, 2018

The Looming Vacuum in Syria

By the ISW Research Team

Key Takeaway: Russia and Iran are poised to exploit the U.S. withdrawal from Syria announced by U.S. President Donald Trump on December 19. They and their proxies hold positions along the Syrian-Iraqi Border surrounding areas that the U.S. Anti-ISIS Coalition and allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) currently hold. Russia and Iran will undoubtedly attempt to fill the security vacuum left behind by the U.S. in Eastern Syria. The Russo-Iranian Coalition is nonetheless stretched thin and likely cannot secure this new terrain without opening exploitable vulnerabilities for ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq. Turkey and other regional actors will also likely attempt to exploit this opening to compete for terrain and influence in Syria.

This map depicts the Russo-Iranian Coalition’s known positions in Eastern Syria and Western Iraq as of December 21. Position locations are based on information available in open sources reviewed by the Institute for the Study of War. The map does not depict positions held by the SDF and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). It also does not include locations held solely by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).

Map Credit: Matti Suomenaro, Samantha Leathley, and Aaron Hesse

UPDATE: The map below was updated with additional data. See the new map with additional data on deployments as of December 19, 2018 here. A subsequent assessment of the Russo-Iranian coalition's posture in early January 2019 is available here.