SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

Military Dynamics
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Readers of SyriaSource are all too familiar with an argument advanced in these pages for well-over two years: ISIS (Daesh, ISIL, Islamic State) should be neutralized quickly in eastern Syria; an American-led, professional ground force coalition-of-the-willing should be assembled to preempt ISIS terror operations in Turkey and Western Europe and minimize Syrian civilian casualties in complex urban battle terrain; and that a post-combat stabilization plan should be drafted and implemented to keep ISIS dead, one drawing on pre-ISIS local councils and the anti-Assad Syrian opposition. The idea was to parlay the defeat of ISIS into a stable, protected eastern Syria where humanitarian aid could be expedited and reconstruction begun, and to exclude the cause of terrorism and state failure in Syria—the Assad regime—from the area.

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The race to Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria is accelerating. Syrian regime and allied forces, supported by Russia, are attempting to seize the strategically vital city by advancing from the north along the Euphrates valley. Meanwhile, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are advancing in an effort to take as much of the city as possible in operation code-named Jazeera Storm. The coming days therefore present the possibility of US and Russian-backed forces clashing in Deir Ezzor.

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In recent weeks, the so-called Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) has suffered a string of defeats in eastern Syria. It has lost swaths of territory in Deir Ezzor city to advancing pro-Syrian government forces and has been driven from villages and oil fields on the eastern banks of the Euphrates River by a US-backed paramilitary group.

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Once the Syrian regime realized the opposition had the ability to decide the war militarily, especially after the “Allahu Ghalibun” offensive launched by Jaish al-Islam which shook the foundations around Damascus, direct Russian intervention ultimately saved the Assad Regime from collapse.

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"The Cubs of the Caliphate” is what the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIS, or Daesh) calls its child recruits and fighters under the age of  eighteen.  An estimated 2,000 conscripted minors have undergone “Sharia” and military training in ISIS camps, learning to use light and medium weaponry, shoot, dismantle and reassemble weapons, go on raids using live ammunition, and do other tasks for for the group such as logistics, spying, guard duties, manning checkpoints, and forced labour. The organization has raised them in its way of thinking, taught them to declare other Muslims infidels, and instilled them with all of its extremist beliefs. It has used them to spy and hunt down its enemies, as well as displaying them in its videos, to send a message to its enemies: this war will last generations.

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The Turkey, Iran, and Russia-led Astana talks concluded their sixth round in the Kazakh capital yesterday, with the announcement of an initial agreement about Idlib reached between the guarantors. After multiple rounds of UN-led peace talks over the course of the conflict failed to make progress, Astana has become the incubator for the current multilateral peace initiatives. While a process directed by the three main players at Astana is unlikely to form the basis for a political solution that assuages concerns of Western governments or international bodies, it does provide a roadmap toward a reduction in violence through the 'de-escalation' proposal, first posited at the fourth round of talks last May.

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The Ahrar al-Sham movement was shattered when Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) launched a massive assault against it. The movement lost all its financial resources and many of its most strategically vital territories, including a border crossing that earned it more than $8 million a month. In the wake of the attack, its young leader Ali al-Omar quit and was replaced by Hassan Soufan from Lattakia city.

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Increasing tensions are hurting the relationship between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Arab tribal Syrian Elite Forces (SEF) at a time when both groups are cooperating in the battle for Raqqa. On August 25, seven units from the SEF, whose fighters are largely from Deir Ezzor province, defected and joined the SDF’s recently-formed Deir Ezzor Military Council—the coalition of forces that the SDF and the United States are establishing in preparation for the anticipated battle to drive the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) from Deir Ezzor. While the SEF seemingly remains part of the Raqqa operation alongside the SDF, the prospects for the two groups collaborating are bleak. Recent tensions may increase, and, given the small size of the SEF, the tribal force could find itself worse off if it gets pushed out of the battle for Deir Ezzor and loses US support.

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Russia announced earlier this month the deployment of its cutting-edge 9K333 Verba Man-Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) to it forces in the eastern Ghouta region near Damascus. According to pro-Russian outlets, the aim is for MANPADS to destroy drones used by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance dominated by the rebranded al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. This development followed a Russian brokered new ceasefire deal in the rebel held territories of Ghouta, which exclude HTS members. But a closer look at HTS capacity shows that the group is not known to have the capacity to weaponize the commercial store-bought drones that many groups in Syria use to spy on their enemies. Russia could have also used cheaper drone-buster devices capable of locking onto a drone and jamming its communications.

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The Pentagon announced on August 21 that it agreed to a buffer zone (or deconfliction line) that roughly adhered to the Euphrates River. This new buffer zone agreement re-establishes a previous agreement and was reached after the United States shot down a Syrian regime SU-22 in June, creating fears of escalation that could draw international players into direct conflict. While the immediate purpose of the buffer zone is to prevent fighting between the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—and their myriad respective associated backers—to focus the fighting on defeating the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh), it also reconfigures the battlefield and creates new pitfalls and opportunities.

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