Monday, March 2, 2020

Opposition Insurgents Begin Seizing Terrain in Southern Syria

By: Michael Land and Blane Wallace

Key Takeaway: The armed anti-Assad insurgency* in southern Syria demonstrated its growing strength on March 1 by seizing several positions held by pro-Assad forces in Dera’a Province in reaction to a large pro-regime security operation in the north of the province. The scope and scale of the insurgent attacks represent a new threshold for the southern insurgency. The anti-Assad attack coincided with large local protests against both the pro-regime forces’ security operations and the ongoing Russian-led pro-regime offensive in Idlib Province. The timing of the flare-up in Dera’a demonstrates that the anti-Assad insurgency in southwest Syria seeks to link its struggle with the crisis in Idlib. The anti-Assad insurgency in Dera'a could further metastasize as Assad continues to prioritize the Idlib offensive, which is deepening the security gap in southern Syria. The Assad regime and its allies will likely struggle to quell the insurgency, which has already grown in breadth, coordination, and effectiveness.

*ISW assesses with low confidence that the anti-Assad insurgency in southwest Syria includes a mix of former Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters, extremists linked to al Qaeda-affiliated groups, and ISIS members. This post was updated on March 4, 2020 to reflect this assessment.

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