The Syrian regime and its allies launched a major, multi-pronged offensive in Aleppo Province on October 15 in order to bolster the regime's foothold in Aleppo City. Both Russia and Iran likely aim to enable Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to reassert control over Syria’s largest city given the heavy involvement of their military forces in these operations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s primary objective in Syria is to constrain U.S. freedom of action – not fight ISIS and al Qaeda. Russia’s military deployments at current levels will not enable the Iranian-penetrated Assad regime to secure Syria. Moscow’s deepening footprint in Syria threatens America’s ability to defend its interests across the Middle East and in the Mediterranean Sea. The next U.S.
Conditions on the ground are not set for a political solution to the Syrian Civil War despite diplomatic efforts by regional powers. The third round of Astana Talks on March 14 – 15 failed to generate significant results amidst an opposition boycott. Meanwhile, two major double suicide attacks targeted the Old City of Damascus on March 11 and March 15.
The U.S. deployed at least four hundred soldiers from the 75th U.S. Army Ranger Regiment and 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to Northern Syria in order to both support the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) against ISIS in Ar-Raqqa City and prevent an open confrontation between the SDF and Turkey in Manbij in Eastern Aleppo Province. The latest round of Geneva Talks on the Syrian Civil War concluded without significant progress.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is neither sovereign nor a viable U.S. partner against ISIS and al-Qaeda. Russia and Iran have penetrated the Syrian Arab Army’s command-and-control authorities at all levels and propped up the force by providing the bulk of its offensive combat power. The pro-regime coalition cannot secure all of Syria and primarily serves as a vehicle for Moscow and Tehran’s regional power projection.
Opposition groups backed by Turkey in Operation Euphrates Shield attacked the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Manbij in Northern Aleppo Province. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) conducted a complex attack targeting two heavily-secured regime intelligence branches in Homs City. Pro-regime forces recaptured Palmyra in Eastern Homs Province from ISIS.
The U.S. cannot drive a wedge between Russia and Iran in the near term. Tehran and Moscow share regional and global interests across the Middle East, North Africa, Caucasus, and Central Asia. Their common interests and overarching objective of expelling the U.S. from the Middle East will likely bind Iran and Russia together into an enduring partnership.
The Syrian Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have seized the majority of ISIS-held territory in the eastern countryside of ar-Raqqah and is positioned to complete the isolation of the city in coming months. The U.S.’s main partners in Syria, the SDF and Turkey, are competing to lead the next phase of operations to seize ar-Raqqah City and thereby solidify their influence over post-ISIS governance.