ISW Daily Update March 01, 2017

These are the major events from March 01, 2017 in the theaters and from the trans-national groups that ISW monitors: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Russia, Ukraine, and ISIS.

SYRIA: Turkish President Recep Erdogan attacked the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after seizing ISIS-held al-Bab on 23 FEB as ISW forecasted. Erdogan’s primary strategic objective in Syria is to defeat the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which leads the SDF. Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and allied opposition groups attacked the SDF west of Manbij in northern Aleppo Province. Turkey and allied opposition groups could also attack westward towards the Kurdish Afrin Canton. The YPG may prioritize defending Manbij over U.S.-backed operations to seize ISIS-held ar-Raqqa City.

IRAQ: Russia is expanding its military and economic ties with Iraqi Kurdistan in order to marginalize the US and bring Iraqi Kurds into the Russian orbit. Kurdistan Regional President Masoud Barzani met with high-level Russian representatives in Arbil. Barzani discussed energy agreements with the Russian ambassador to Iraq, the deputy director of the Middle East department at the Russian Defense Ministry, the Russian Consul in Arbil, and a senior Gazprom delegation. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) renegotiated an oil agreement with Russia state-owned oil company Rosneft on February 21.

AFGHANISTAN: Kabul is not secure. The Taliban launched complex, coordinated, spectacular attacks against security installations in Kabul City. The Haqqani Network likely designed the operation. Separately, Russia is backing the Taliban in order to undermine the US and NATO mission in Afghanistan. The Kunduz Provincial Governor claimed that Russia provides military equipment to the Taliban in Kunduz via Tajikistan.

EGY: Russia continues to court U.S. allies. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi discussed establishing a Russian industrial zone in Egyptn with Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Rogozin Russia and Egypt have discussed such an economic deal for two years. Egypt and Russia also discussed civil and military industry and technology transfers. Saudi Arabia seeks to compete with Russian overtures and restore Saudi-Egyptian relations on its terms. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir will visit Cairo next week in his first visit since OCT 2016.

RUSSIA: Russian-backed separatists in Donbas seek to compel Ukraine to end an activist-led blockade which threatens separatist economic survival. Separatists seized over 40 Ukrainian industrial enterprises in occupied Donbas and may use the facilities to export coal to Russia or to leverage them for an end to the blockade.

ISIS: Pro-regime forces breached ISIS-held Palmyra, Syria, denying ISIS the opportunity to attack Damascus, Homs, and Hama from that terrain. ISIS had recaptured Palmyra on 13 DEC 2016. Pro-regime forces may expand operations further into eastern Syria.