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.
Syria Situation Report
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.
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.
Opposition groups backed by Turkey in Operation Euphrates Shield seized full control over Al-Bab in Northern Aleppo Province as well as two neighboring towns, ending more than three months of heavy clashes. Meanwhile, UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura opened the Geneva IV Talks with the goal of reaching a political solution to the Syrian Civil War.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan reiterated that the “ultimate goal” of Turkey in Operation Euphrates Shield is the establishment of a five-thousand square kilometer ‘safe zone’ that includes Al-Bab, Manbij, and Ar-Raqqa City in Northern Syria. Meanwhile, preparations continued for the next round of Geneva Talks on the Syrian Civil War scheduled to begin on February 23.
Russia resumed its aggressive air campaign in northern Syria in a renewed attempt to defeat the acceptable opposition and coerce the integration of its remaining fighters into Salafi-jihadi groups, demonstrating its unfitness to serve as a U.S. counter-terrorism partner.
U.S. President Donald Trump held a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 28 that included talks on “mutual cooperation” against ISIS in Syria. President Trump later solicited the support of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for an unspecified initiative to establish ‘safe zones’ in Syria.
Russia shifted the focus of its air campaign to Eastern Syria from January 14 – 25 in order to counter a major offensive by ISIS in Deir ez-Zour City. Nonetheless, the dramatic surge in strikes against ISIS in Syria represents an attempt by Russia to maintain its strategic interest in bolstering the claim of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to all of Syria rather than an opportunity to serve as a reliable counter-terrorism partner.
Delegations from the regime and opposition held indirect negotiations on the Syrian Civil War at the Astana Talks brokered by Russia, Turkey, and Iran on January 23 - 24 but failed to reach an initial breakthrough on efforts to reinforce a faltering nationwide ceasefire. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda continued to consolidate control over Idlib and Western Aleppo Provinces in preparation for the next phase of its campaign against the regime.