The U.S. Anti-ISIS Campaign has inadvertently emboldened select factions of Kurds in Iraq and Syria in a manner that threatens to exacerbate preexisting political and ethnic divisions, stoke regional conflict, and disrupt current momentum against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. risks the long-term failure of its mission if the coalition proves unable to reduce tensions along these seams and rebalance its campaign to incorporate a wider variety of partner forces on the ground.
Pro-regime forces seized at least five opposition-held districts in Eastern Aleppo City on November 26 - 28 following a heavy air campaign that began on November 15. Meanwhile, Turkey stated that an alleged regime airstrike killed at least three soldiers of the Turkish Armed Forces participating in Operation Euphrates Shield near Al-Bab in Northern Aleppo Province on November 24.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has kept international attention riveted on Russian operations in Syria while escalating military deployments and political operations across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Putin’s global strategy relies on creating the impression that a U.S. challenge to Russian expansion would be met with a conventional military or even nuclear Russian response. Putin aims to present the incoming administration with the false dichotomy of partnering with Russia and allowing Putin to operate with impunity or going to war.
The Iraqi Council of Representatives (CoR) passed a law on November 26 that solidifies the Popular Mobilization, the majority of which are Shi’a militias with a history of sectarian violence, as a permanent security institution in Iraq.
Iraq could face another Sunni insurgency after ISIS loses control of Mosul. The U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve has not resolved the political conditions that originally caused Sunni Arabs to mobilize in a non-violent protest movement in 2012-2013. Sunni Arabs in Iraq who are liberated from ISIS’s control will not necessarily be reconciled to the Iraqi Government.
Pro-regime forces backed by heavy airstrikes seized the Masakin Hanano, Jabal Badro, Sakhur, and Haydariyah Districts of Eastern Aleppo City on November 26 - 27, recapturing nearly a third of the remaining urban pocket held by opposition forces.
The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) made limited gains in eastern Mosul from November 22 to 28 as it struggled to identify and target ISIS militants operating among the significant civilian population remaining in the city. Meanwhile, Iraqi Shi’a militias turned their offensive towards remaining ISIS-held cities in far western Ninewa province, as Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced that the Iraqi army and police would recapture Tel Afar.
The composition and behavior of the force that recaptures ar-Raqqah City will in part determine the long-term success of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS campaign in Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is the U.S.’s most effective partner fighting ISIS in Syria, but it has limitations that risk undermining the gains it makes on the ground. The SDF, although dominated by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), is not monolithic.
The campaign for Mosul entered its second month, with current momentum indicating that the operation will last into January 2017. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) remained entrenched in eastern Mosul while facing fierce ISIS resistance from November 16 to 21, and Shi’a militias are on the outskirts of Tel Afar after seizing the nearby airbase on November 16.
Russia announced the start of a “major operation” allegedly targeting ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Western Syria. The operation included fighter jets launched from the Russian Aircraft Carrier ‘Admiral Kuznetsov’ in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea as well as cruise missile strikes by naval warships and strategic bombers. Local activists also reported the resumption of intense airstrikes against Aleppo City.