ISW Daily Update March 09, 2017

These are the major events from March 09, 2017 in the theaters and from the trans-national groups that ISW monitors: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Russia, Ukraine, and ISIS.

SYRIA: The U.S. deployed its first major contingent of conventional forces to Syria, signaling deepening American support for Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) operations against Raqqa city.The U.S. confirmed that approximately 400 U.S. Marines and Army Rangers deployed near Raqqa and Manbij, respectively, in order to support the SDF. U.S. CENTCOM Commander Gen. Joseph Votel also indicated that upcoming operations against ISIS in Syria will likely require additional conventional forces.

IRAQ:  Two Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) officials directed inflammatory rhetoric at the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), accusing the PKK of obstructing Kurdish independence and warning of the possibility of conflict. The statements mark a major escalation in the KDP’s aggressiveness towards the PKK. The KDP, backed by Turkey, may move to physically remove the PKK from northern Iraq, which could trigger wider ethnic conflict.

RUS/UKR: Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed ten high ranking generals and officials from posts across Russia’s federal and regional governments. These dismissals follow major reshuffles of federal and military positions since Putin's reelection as president in 2012, including the leadership of the Baltic Sea Fleet and Russia’s regional governorships. Putin will likely continue to concentrate efforts in areas where electoral support is critical ahead of the 2018 presidential elections, especially secondary population centers with minimal Western influence.

AFG: ISIS is exerting social control in northeastern Afghanistan. ISIS-linked militants in Jowzjan Province torched historic shrines and graveyards, reminiscent of the cultural genocide enacted by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. ISIS may increasingly emphasize Afghanistan within its global campaign as it losses terrain near Mosul and Raqqa.

EGY: Egyptian-Hamas rapprochement continues to accelerate. Egypt allowed concrete pumps into Gaza Strip on 07 MAR for the first time in a decade. Additionally, Hamas is considering removing all references to the Muslim Brotherhood from its charter as well as cutting organizational ties. Egypt is likely to lessen the Gaza blockade as a result and possibly open the Rafah border crossing on a permanent basis.

ISIS: Sunni-on-Sunni violence in Salah ad Din, Iraq threatens security in the province, which will buffer ISIS from defeat. Unknown militants, likely ISIS detonated multiple SVESTS at a wedding party near Baiji in an apparent effort to stoke intra-Sunni violence in an area where some Sunnis are cooperating with Shi'a militias providing local security. This dynamic will create opportunities for ISIS as well as Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandia and al-Qaeda to gain traction among disenfranchised Sunnis in Salah ad Din.