Saturday, May 25, 2019

Pro-Regime Air Campaign in Greater Idlib Province

By Michael Land

Key Takeaway: Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad resumed an aggressive air campaign in Greater Idlib Province in late April 2019. The campaign included the use of barrel bombs against civilian targets and strikes against hospitals. Russia and Assad began a limited ground offensive enabled by this air campaign but have not expanded their strikes to the extent required to wage a larger near-term operation into Greater Idlib Province.

Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad resumed their aggressive aerial bombardment of Greater Idlib Province in Northern Syria in late April 2019. The Russian Air Force resumed its air campaign in Greater Idlib Province immediately after the conclusion of the last round of Astana Talks between Russia, Turkey, and Iran on April 26. The Syrian Arab Air Force later began extensive barrel bomb attacks in Greater Idlib Province on April 30. These operations included strikes targeting hospitals and other civilian targets. 

ISW has assessed based on the pattern of these airstrikes that the pro-Assad regime coalition intended to conduct only a limited offensive in Northern Hama and Southern Idlib Provinces, potentially as part of an arrangement with Turkey. Russia and Syria largely confined their strikes to a discrete area near Kafr Nabouda and Qala’at al-Madiq in Northern Hama and Southern Idlib Provinces, likely to depopulate the region and soften defenses prior to the start of ground operations that began on May 6. Pro-Assad regime forces conducted a limited ground offensive that seized the towns of Qala’at al-Madiq and Kafr Nabouda in Northern Hama Province on May 6. Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS) led a counter-offensive on May 21 that recaptured Kafr Nabouda with support from Turkish-backed rebel forces. Fighting remains ongoing at the time of publication.

Russia and Assad have not conducted wider airstrikes that would indicate a near-term intent to conduct a larger offensive into Greater Idlib Province. ISW will continue to monitor the situation in Greater Idlib Province, and provide updates and warnings as needed.