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[l] at 8/11/21 2:37pm

 By Katherine Lawlor and Nicholas Carl

Contributor: Camille Jablonski

Key takeaway: Iran’s Iraqi proxies have likely become more willing to kill Americans and may soon do so to catalyze the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and Syria. These proxies are advancing an Iran-directed campaign that has increased in frequency, accuracy, and lethality since January 2021. This campaign is expanding to include not just Iraq but also Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria. Proxies have also begun using more lethal munitions and drones that can bypass US defenses. Attacks will continue until US forces withdraw from Iraq and Syria or reestablish deterrence with both Iran and its proxy network.

The Iran-directed escalation campaign to expel US forces from Iraq and Syria has changed in five ways since the Biden administration took office in January 2021:

  1. Proxies are increasing the frequency of their attacks against US forces in Iraq. The militias have conducted 20 rocket attacks and 11 drone attacks on US personnel and facilities in Iraq and Syria since President Biden took office in January 2021.[1] Six of those attacks occurred in the first week of July alone. That is a dramatic increase in tempo compared to the five proxy rocket attacks conducted in the final three months of the Trump administration. Iran and its proxies remain demonstrably undeterred. [2]
  2. Proxies are increasingly attacking US intelligence and military assets in the once-protected Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).  Iran’s proxies conducted their first known attack on US forces in the KRI under in September 2020, firing six rockets at Erbil International Airport from beyond the KRI borders. The small-caliber rockets caused no casualties. Proxies have attacked US facilities inside the KRI five times since then, including a 14-rocket barrage in February 2021.[3] Drone attacks targeted an alleged CIA hangar at Erbil International Airport in April, a presumed US Joint Special Operations Command headquarters at Harir airbase near the Iranian border in May, a civilian house in Erbil Province in June, and Erbil Airport again in July.[4] The June attack triggered US retaliatory airstrikes along the Iraq-Syria border.
  3. Proxies are increasing the geographic scope of their escalation to include US basing in Syria. The US retaliatory strikes struck minor Iranian proxy facilities in Iraq’s Anbar Province and Syria’s Deir ez-Zor Province on June 28.[5] Proxies fired 34 122 mm rockets at US forces stationed at a counter-ISIS forward operating base in Deir ez-Zor known as Green Village hours after the US strikes.[6]  US air defenses at Green Village prevented injury—never a guarantee with such large salvos of high-caliber munitions. [7] Proxies conducted another drone attack against the same US base on July 7, likely demonstrating their intention to continue targeting forces in Syria as well as Iraq.[8]
  4. Proxies appear increasingly willing to inflict US casualties. The June 28 attack on Green Village in Syria is one of the largest attacks against the United States in the Middle East since US forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011—second only to Iran’s ballistic missile attack on Ain al-Assad airbase after the killing of Qassem Soleimani in January 2020. The scale of the Green Village attack indicates that Iran and its militias intended to inflict casualties. The 122 mm rockets used are larger and more lethal than the usual 107 mm Katyushas that proxies use in harassing attacks throughout the region. Other attacks in 2021 have also demonstrated a readiness to inflict casualties, including the February 15 attack on Erbil International Airport that killed one and injured 14 and the July 7 rocket barrage on Ain al-Assad that injured two.[9]
  5. Proxies are demonstrating increasingly advanced drone capabilities to bypass US defenses. Iran-backed Iraqi militants conducted their first drone attack targeting a presumed CIA hangar in Erbil on April 14, 2021. They have since conducted nine additional drone attacks in Iraq and Syria. The drones used are coded with their targets’ GPS coordinates, often evade the US air defense systems that regularly intercept rocket attacks, and have struck multiple sensitive US assets.[10]

Iran has likely calculated that causing US casualties will motivate a US withdrawal from Iraq and Syria. Iranian leadership holds that the United States is extremely casualty-averse.[11] Tehran and its proxies likely believe that even a small number of US casualties in Iraq and Syria could convince the Biden administration to withdraw forces from those theaters—a key Iranian strategic objective. Iran and its proxies are likely emboldened by the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and believe that a similar bleeding of the US political will to remain will achieve the same outcome in Iraq. The head of the Iran-backed militia Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Qais al-Khazali, announced in April that “dialogue and logic does not work … the Afghan method is the only way to expel [US forces from Iraq].”[12]

Iran will continue its campaign to expel US forces from Iraq and Syria regardless of the outcome of US-Iran negotiations to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran’s leadership has seemingly assessed that the Biden team is prioritizing the JCPOA above all else. That calculation has also emboldened them. Tehran is likely concerned that a future American president will pursue another “maximum pressure” policy similar to that of the Trump administration. The regime will therefore try to prepare itself economically and militarily to better resist coercion upon the potential return of maximum pressure during or after the Biden administration. Proxy attacks will likely continue so long as Iranian leaders see little risk and the potential for a huge reward (the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and Syria).[13]

Forecast: Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria will likely continue to escalate against US forces and facilities until the United States withdraws its forces or reestablishes deterrence. Escalations will likely include simultaneous rocket and drone attacks to better evade US defenses in Iraq and Syria, the use of larger, more lethal munitions like 122 mm rockets, and the continued targeting of alleged US intelligence assets in Iraqi Kurdistan. Proxies will increasingly aim to inflict US casualties to create a politically untenable situation for the Biden administration, thereby catalyzing a US withdrawal.

 

This analysis is co-published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.

 


[1] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/iraqs-drone-and-rocket-epidemic-numbers.

www dot alaraby dot co.uk/politics/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82-%D8%A5%D8%B3%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B7-%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1%D8%AA%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%AA%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%BA%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D8%A5%D8%AD%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%87%D9%85%D8%A7-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84-%D9%85%D8%AA%D9%81%D8%AC%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA.

www dot alaraby dot co.uk/politics/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%86%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D9%85%D8%AD%D9%8A%D8%B7-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%86%D8%B7%D9%82%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AE%D8%B6%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%A8%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D8%A5%D8%B3%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B7-%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D9%85%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A9.

https://apnews.com/article/syria-iraq-middle-east-d28a8cf02234a8f6c2ff431118f27c51
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/rockets-land-in-baghdads-green-zone-near-us-embassy/2021/07/08/f24aa1aa-dfd6-11eb-a27f-8b294930e95b_story.html

www dot alaraby dot co.uk/politics/%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D8%A8%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D9%85%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D9%8A%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%81-%D9%85%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%A3%D8%B1%D8%A8%D9%8A%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B0%D9%8A-%D8%AA%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AC%D8%AF-%D9%81%D9%8A%D9%87-%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%B1%D9%83%D9%8A%D8%A9.

https://twitter.com/OIRSpox/status/1406598211679272961.

https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/rockets-hit-iraqi-base-housing-us-forces-no-casualties-us-coalition-2021-07-05/.

https://twitter.com/OIRSpox/status/1412720373691469825.

[2] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/deterring-militias-iraq-what-works-and-what-doesnt

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/pauliddon/2021/02/27/why-werent-us-air-defenses-in-erbil-airport-activated-during-recent-rocket-strike/?sh=2e514f4a2178

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/04/world/middleeast/iran-drones-iraq.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iraq-militia-drones-threat/2021/05/28/864e44d0-bc8f-11eb-922a-c40c9774bc48_story.html

https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/explosive-laden-drone-hit-erbil-airport-iraq-aimed-us-base-security-sources-2021-07-06/

www dot rudaw dot net/english/kurdistan/26062021

[5] https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Releases/Release/Article/2672875/statement-by-the-department-of-defense/

[6] https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2021-03-12/us-troops-syria-civil-war-biden

https://twitter.com/OIRSpox/status/1409976895425417219?s=20

[7] https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/2676421/pentagon-press-secretary-john-f-kirby-holds-a-press-briefing/

[8] https://apnews.com/article/syria-iraq-middle-east-d28a8cf02234a8f6c2ff431118f27c51

[9] https://apnews.com/article/syria-iraq-middle-east-d28a8cf02234a8f6c2ff431118f27c51

[10] https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/28/politics/us-airstrikes-new-iran-drone-attacks-avoid-surveillance/index.html

[11] https://iranprimer.usip.org/resource/irans-military-doctrine

[12] https://t dot me/Tura313/13542

[13] https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/iran-file/iranian-presidential-election-tracker-the-coronation-of-ebrahim-raisi

 

 

 

 

[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Iraq]

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[l] at 8/11/21 2:05pm
By George Barros

Russia’s Southern Military District (SMD) announced on August 8 that it is conducting district-wide exercises practicing combined arms operations from August 9 to September 15.  The commander of the SMD, General Alexander Dvornikov, said the exercises will contain tactical tasks between motorized rifle, tank, and artillery battalions of the SMD and attached specialized units. The attached specialized units include chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense (CBRN), engineering, electronic warfare, reconnaissance, logistics, medical, military police, army aviation, and transport aviation units. [1]  Warships from the Caspian Flotilla and the Black Sea Fleet, naval infantry, and at least 80 fixed and rotary wing aircraft are also participating. [2]  SMD Commander Dvornikov will directly oversee the exercises. The Ministry of Defense (MoD) did not state that these exercises were preplanned and did not discuss the exercises before August 8.

Click the map below to expand.



The exercises will occur across several training grounds in southern Russia, Armenia, and Russian-occupied Crimea and Georgia.  The MoD stated that the exercises will occur at 20 combined arms training grounds in Astrakhan, Rostov, Stavropol, Kuban, Adygea, Dagestan, North Ossetia, and Chechnya as well as in Russian-occupied Crimea and at Russian military bases in Armenia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. [3]  These locations include the permanent bases of the Russian 100 th  and 127 th  reconnaissance brigades; 25 th  Spetsnaz Regiment; 810 th , 414 th , and 727 th  naval infantry brigades; 70 th , 71 st , 102 nd , 103 rd , and 291 st  motorized rifle regiments; 19 th , 136 th , and 205 th  motor rifle brigades; and 68 th  and 163 rd  tank regiments. [4]

The Russian military is framing the exercises as testing the ability of Russian officers to use attached assets and demonstrate creative decision-making.  The MoD announcement said the exercises seek to improve company and battalion-level commanders’ ability to execute combined arms tactical tasks and their ability to manage and coordinate attack aviation, reconnaissance, and other specialized units. [5]  SMD Commander Dvornikov said participating officers must make “independent decisions” and demonstrate “personal choice,” rather than follow doctrinal templates. [6]  The language of the exercise announcement mirrors that of regular Russian tactical exercises intended to practice joint operations and test officer initiative, two key Russian learning priorities drawn from experience in Syria. [7]  The MoD framed these exercises as tactical, rather than as operational or strategic staff exercises, but the exercises’ full size and posture are unclear. The MoD stated that approximately 10,000 Russian servicemen per day are participating in these exercises but did not provide a total number of participants. [8]

These SMD exercises will coincide with Zapad-2021, Russia’s capstone annual military exercise in the Western Military District (WMD) and Belarus in September.  The Russian military holds an annual capstone military exercise every September, rotating between Russia’s four military districts – East, Center, South, and West. Zapad-2021 will occur in the Western Military District and Belarus from September 10-16. Russian units began deploying to Belarus for Zapad-2021 in late July. [9]  It is unclear how these newly announced SMD exercises and Zapad-2021 will interact, if at all. ISW will continue to monitor the situation closely and provide updates.



[1]  [“The Scale of Battalion Tactical Exercises in the Southern Military District Will Expand with the Actions of All Branches of the Military,”]  Russian Ministry of Defense,  August 8, 2021, https://structure.mil dot ru/structure/okruga/south/news/more.htm?id=12376138@egNews; [“Subdivisions of the Southern Military District for Combating Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Worked out to Cover Command Posts,”]  Russian Ministry of Defense,  August 10, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12376449@egNews; [“More than 500 Marines of the Caspian Flotilla Take Part in Large-Scale Exercises of the Southern Military District,”]  Russian Ministry of Defense,  August 10, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12376443@egNews.

[2]  [“The Scale of Battalion Tactical Exercises in the Southern Military District Will Expand with the Actions of All Branches of the Military,”]  Russian Ministry of Defense,  August 8, 2021, https://structure.mil dot ru/structure/okruga/south/news/more.htm?id=12376138@egNews; [“Subdivisions of the Southern Military District for Combating Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Worked out to Cover Command Posts,”]  Russian Ministry of Defense,  August 10, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12376449@egNews; [“More than 500 Marines of the Caspian Flotilla Take Part in Large-Scale Exercises of the Southern Military District,”]  Russian Ministry of Defense,  August 10, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12376443@egNews.

[3]  [“The Scale of Battalion Tactical Exercises in the Southern Military District Will Expand with the Actions of All Branches of the Military,”]  Russian Ministry of Defense,  August 8, 2021, https://structure.mil dot ru/structure/okruga/south/news/more.htm?id=12376138@egNews

[4]  Catherine Harris and Fredrick Kagan, “Russia’s Military Posture: Ground Forces Order of Battle,”  Institute for the Study of War,  March 2018, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Ground%20Forces%20OOB_ISW%20CTP_0.pdf.

[5]  [“The Scale of Battalion Tactical Exercises in the Southern Military District Will Expand with the Actions of All Branches of the Military,”]  Russian Ministry of Defense,  August 8, 2021, https://structure.mil dot ru/structure/okruga/south/news/more.htm?id=12376138@egNews

[6]  [“The Scale of Battalion Tactical Exercises in the Southern Military District Will Expand with the Actions of All Branches of the Military,”]  Russian Ministry of Defense,  August 8, 2021, https://structure.mil dot ru/structure/okruga/south/news/more.htm?id=12376138@egNews

[7]  Mason Clark, “The Russian Military’s Lessons Learned in Syria,”  Institute for the Study of War,  January 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/report/russian-military%E2%80%99s-lessons-learned-syria.

[8]  [“Subdivisions of the Southern Military District for Combating Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Worked out to Cover Command Posts,”]  Russian Ministry of Defense,  August 10, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12376449@egNews.

[9]  Mason Clark, “Russia in Review: July 21 – August 3, 2021,”  Institute for the Study of War,  August 5, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-july-21-august-3-2021.

 

 

 

[Author: Institute for the Study of War]

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[l] at 8/11/21 1:46am

    By Mason Clark

July 8, 2021

ISW has revamped its Russia in Review product to provide more-complete snapshots of Russian activity around the globe.

Russian Navy Increases Number of Aggressive Actions to Counter NATO Exercises and Freedom of Maneuver Operations in the Black Sea

NATO is currently conducting its largest-ever Black Sea naval exercises to strengthen maritime collective defense and resist Russian efforts to limit international access to the Black Sea. Sea Breeze 2021 is the largest iteration yet of NATO’s annual Sea Breeze exercises, held in the Black Sea since 1997 to strengthen interoperability between NATO and partner navies. The United States and Ukraine are cohosting the ongoing Sea Breeze 2021 exercise, which runs from June 28 to July 10, in the Black Sea. [1]  NATO explicitly intends Sea Breeze 2021 to “demonstrate presence and assure allies of [NATO’s] maritime commitment to collective defense.” The exercises involve 32 states, 5,000 personnel, 32 ships, and 40 aircraft. [2]  Participating warships and personnel will practice multiple types of operations, including amphibious warfare, maritime interdiction, air defense, and anti-submarine warfare. [3]

The Kremlin decries Sea Breeze 2021 as a NATO provocation and violation of Russian waters and is conducting several naval exercises in response. Five Russian warships in Russia’s Mediterranean Taskforce, including the missile cruiser and Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva, the frigates Admiral Essen and Admiral Makarov, and two submarines began exercises in the Mediterranean Sea on June 25. [4]  The exercises practiced repelling simulated air attacks and defending Russia’s naval base in Tartus, Syria. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, based in Crimea, began conducting air defense training checks on June 29 (the day after the start of Sea Breeze 2021) including several S-400 and Pantsir air defense systems and 20 aircraft. [5]  The Moskva and Admiral Essen redeployed from the Mediterranean to Crimea on June 5 to replenish supplies and join these ongoing Black Sea Fleet training checks. [6]  The Russian Black Sea Fleet and Mediterranean Task Force will likely continue to hold exercises parallel to Sea Breeze 2021 to demonstrate Russian capabilities and imply limits on NATO freedom of action in the Black Sea.

The Kremlin increased its aggressive responses to NATO and Ukrainian actions in international waters in June prior to Sea Breeze 2021. The Kremlin claimed its forces fired warning shots and dropped bombs near the Royal Navy’s HMS Defender while it conducted a freedom of navigation operation off the shore of occupied Crimea on June 23. [7]  The United Kingdom denied Russian claims of bombing the HMS Defender and asserted the United Kingdom’s freedom of navigation rights near Crimea. [8]  Russian aircraft have shadowed NATO warships in the Black Sea throughout June, and the Kremlin likely used electronic warfare to falsify the locations of several NATO warships in late June, making them appear to be violating Russia’s claimed territorial waters. [9]

Expanded NATO exercises and freedom of maneuver missions are necessary to support US partners in the Black Sea region and counter the Kremlin’s illegal efforts to limit international access to the Black Sea. The Kremlin seeks to limit Ukraine and NATO’s freedom of action in the Black Sea to cement Russian dominance over this region and pressure US allies including Ukraine, Georgia, and Turkey. The Russian Navy has expanded its aggressive actions in the Black Sea in 2021 and intends to normalize Russian dominance over international waters in violation of international law.



  1. The European Union (EU) rejected a Franco-German proposal to hold a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. France and Germany submitted a proposal to the European Council on June 23, 2021, without advance notice, calling for a summit between EU leadership and Putin to develop closer EU-Russia engagement. [10]   The European Council rejected this proposal during a private meeting on June 25, instead issuing a joint statement calling on Russia to “demonstrate a more constructive engagement” as a condition of further EU outreach. [11]   Central and Eastern European states—particularly Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania—publicly decried France and Germany’s call for closer relations with Russia as a dangerous concession in the absence of changes to Russia’s malign actions in Europe. [12]   French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated their intent to meet with Putin independently of the EU following the June 25 European Council summit. [13]   Macron directly called for a “structured dialogue” with Russia during a call with Putin on July 2. [14]   Direct engagement with the Kremlin by EU members without substantial changes in Russian malign behavior will undermine collective European policies and further embolden Putin to act without fear of repercussions.
  2. Belarus withdrew from the EU's Eastern Partnership cooperation initiative after the EU levied sectoral sanctions against Belarus. The EU approved sectoral sanctions against the Belarusian economy on June 24 in response to Belarus' grounding of Ryanair flight 4978 on May 23. [15]   Belarus suspended its participation in the EU’s Eastern Partnership Initiative—an EU framework to promote trade, travel agreements, and democracy between Western Europe and former Soviet states, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine—in response on June 28. [16]   EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated the EU is ready to continue working with the “Belarusian people” despite the Belarusian government’s withdrawal from the Eastern Partnership, likely through communication with exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. [17]   The Kremlin will likely take advantage of Belarus’ increasing isolation from non-Russian partners to further isolate Belarus and integrate it into Russian-controlled structures. [18]
  3. Russia and China signed a five-year extension to the Sino-Russian friendship treaty.  Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a five-year extension of the Sino-Russian Treaty on Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation (signed in 2001) on June 28. [19]   Putin praised the agreement for reaffirming mutual support for protecting “state unity and territorial integrity,” (referencing Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea) and the rejection of the first use of nuclear weapons. Putin claimed that joint Sino-Russian economic projects and Sino-Russian cooperation have a stabilizing role in world affairs, highlighting the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS, and Sino-Russian cooperation in the Korean Peninsula, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran. President Xi Jinping praised Sino-Russian efforts to build a multipolar world order and said he appreciated that Russia and China support each other's interests on the international stage. The Kremlin continues to be threatened by rising Chinese power but will increasingly seek to selectively leverage China against US efforts to counter Russia’s aggressive foreign policy.
  4. The Russian Pacific Fleet was highly active during June 2021. The Russian Pacific Fleet conducted its largest naval exercises since the Cold War in the central Pacific Ocean and near Hawaii from June 14 to 30, practicing the simulated destruction of an enemy carrier strike group and strikes against shore facilities. [20]   Approximately 20 warships participated, including the missile cruiser Varyag (the Pacific Fleet’s flagship), two destroyers, three corvettes, a missile-tracking ship, an unspecified number of submarines and support vessels, and at least 20 aircraft. A US Navy Indo-Pacific Command spokesperson said some of the Russian vessels operated 20 to 30 nautical miles off the coast of Hawaii. [21]   The US scrambled F-22 fighters in Hawaii on June 14, likely in response to this Russian activity. [22]   The Russian MoD additionally announced on June 29 that the Russian Pacific Fleet will expand the infrastructure at its Kamchatka submarine base by the end of 2021. [23]   The Russian Navy is increasing its power projection capabilities in the Pacific to support the Kremlin’s campaign to expand its global military footprint.
  5. The Kremlin likely continued to pressure Belarus for additional concessions on Russo-Belarusian government integration. Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikita Patrushev—a senior Kremlin security official close to Vladimir Putin—and self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko discussed Russo-Belarusian security cooperation issues “not subject to public disclosure” in Minsk on June 29. [24]   Lukashenko atypically declined to make any public statement on the meeting. The unusually sensitive nature of their conversation indicates they likely discussed Russo-Belarusian security and military integration. Senior Russian-Belarusian meetings at this level have historically precipitated significant Belarusian security integration concessions and new deals for the Kremlin. [25]   Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko held another call on July 1, discussing further security and economic cooperation. [26]   The Kremlin is continuing to advance its campaign to establish a permanent military presence in Belarus postured against NATO and Ukraine. [27]  
  6. Russian President Vladimir Putin approved an increasingly combative National Security Strategy (NSS) that removed all mention of cooperation with the West. Putin approved the new NSS on July 3, replacing the existing NSS written in 2015. [28]   The new NSS paints an increasingly alarmed picture of perceived Western threats. The NSS increases formal emphasis on protecting Russia’s “cultural sovereignty” and traditional values against perceived Western pressure, policy changes the Kremlin has prioritized since 2015. The NSS removes all references to cooperation with the United States and NATO, as well as specific arms control and nuclear non-proliferation objectives previously included in the 2015 strategy. Much of the strategy remains the same from 2015, and the Kremlin has already enacted many of the policy changes and adaptations formalized in this document. [29]   The Kremlin’s formalization of its defensive worldview and removal of all mentions of cooperation with the West indicate an increasingly combative mindset that is unlikely to respond to Western outreach or strategic dialogue in good faith.
  7. Tajikistan will mobilize military reservists to the Afghan border with Kremlin promises of support. Tajik President Emomali Ramhmon ordered the mobilization of 20,000 reservists to support ongoing military deployments to Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan on July 5 in response to Taliban advances in Afghanistan. [30]   Putin promised his counterparts from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan support from the Russian military both bilaterally and through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) on July 6. [31]   The Russian Foreign Ministry further stated Russia’s 201st military base in Tajikistan— Russia’s only formal international military base—is equipped with “everything necessary” to support Tajikistan if required. [32]   The Kremlin will likely increase its military presence in Central Asia to counter the potential threat of a jihadist resurgence in Afghanistan. The Kremlin will also prioritize maintaining its dominant influence in Central Asia and advancing its unitary security interests; its deployments to the area are unlikely to effectively replace NATO security operations in Afghanistan.

 

 


[1]  “U.S. Sixth Fleet Announces Sea Breeze 2021 Participation,” US Navy, June 21, 2021, https://www.navy.mil/Press-Office/News-Stories/Article/2664699/us-sixth-fleet-announces-sea-breeze-2021-participation/.

[2]  The states participating in Sea Breeze 2021 include Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, France, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Morocco, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Senegal, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States.

[3]  “NATO Allies and Partners Ready for Exercise Sea Breeze 2021,” Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, June 25, 2021, https://shape.nato.int/news-archive/2021/nato-allies-and-partners-ready-for-exercise-sea-breeze-21.

[4]  [“Ships of the Russian Navy repelled an Attack of a Mock Enemy During Exercises in the Mediterranean Sea,”] TASS, June 27, 2021, https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/11765763.

[5]  [“Pilots of the Naval Aviation of the Black Sea Fleet and Aviation of the Southern Military District Checked the Air Defense System of Crimea,”] Russian MoD, June 29, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12369232@egNews.

[6]  [“Guards Missile Cruiser ‘Moskva’ and frigate ‘Admiral Essen’ of the Black Sea Fleet are Returning from the Mediterranean Sea,”] Russian MoD, July 5, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12370157@egNews.

[7]  “Russian Border Guards to Continue Thwarting Provocations in the Black Sea – Kremlin,” TASS, June 24, 2021, https://tass dot com/politics/1306799; “Any Actions Possible in Response to Provocations Violating Russian Borders, Says Kremlin,” TASS, June 24, 2021, https://tass dot com/politics/1306821.

[8]  Ben Wallace, “Exercises In the Black Sea,” UK Parliament, June 24, 2021, https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2021-06-24/hcws122.

[9]  “Black Sea Fleet Monitor US Destroyer Entering Black Sea – Russian Defense Ministry,” TASS, June 26, 2021, https://tass dot com/defense/1307593; H I Sutton, “Positions of Two NATO Ships Were Falsified Near Russian Black Sea Naval Base,” USNI News, June 21, 2021, https://news.usni.org/2021/06/21/positions-of-two-nato-ships-were-falsified-near-russian-black-sea-naval-base.

[10]  Sam Fleming, Valentina Pop, Mehreen Khan, Michael Peel, Henry Foy, and Victor Mallet, “Berlin and Paris Propose Reset for EU Relations with Moscow,” Financial Times, June 23, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/03528026-8fa1-4910-ab26-41cd26404439.

[11]  European Council Conclusions on External Relations, 24 June 2021,” European Council of the European Union,  June 24, 2021, https://www.consilium.europa dot eu/en/press/press-releases/2021/06/25/european-council-conclusions-on-external-relations-24-june-2021/.

[12]  “European Council Conclusions on External Relations, 24 June 2021,” European Council of the European Union,  June 24, 2021, https://www.consilium.europa dot eu/en/press/press-releases/2021/06/25/european-council-conclusions-on-external-relations-24-june-2021/; Sabine Siebold, Robin Emmott, and Gabriela Baczynska, “France and Germany Drop Russia Summit Plan after EU's East Objects,” Reuters, June 25, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/france-germany-drop-plans-russia-summit-after-eu-outcry-2021-06-25/; “Kremlin 'Regrets' EU Rejection Of Proposed Summit With Putin,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, June 25, 2021 https://www.rferl.org/a/eu-summit-brussels-putin-russia-france-germany-lithuania/31325264.html.

[13]  David Herszenhorn, “Summit Exposes Stark Clash of EU Views on Russia,” Politico, June 25, 2021, https://www.politico dot eu/article/emmanuel-macron-russia-vladimir-putin-european-union/.

[14]  [“Telephone Exchanges with Mr Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation,”] French Presidency, July 2, 2021, https://www.elysee.fr/emmanuel-macron/2021/07/02/echange-telephonique-avec-m-vladimir-poutine-president-de-la-federation-de-russie; [“Telephone Covnersation with French President Emmanuel Macron, Kremlin, July 2, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66055.

[15]  “EU Imposes Sanctions on Belarusian Economy,” European Council of the European Union, June 24, 2021, https://www.consilium.europa dot eu/en/press/press-releases/2021/06/24/eu-imposes-sanctions-on-belarusian-economy/.

[16]  Olga Demidova, [“Belarus Suspends Participation in Eastern Partnership,”] Deutsche Welle, June 28, 2021, https://www.dw dot com/ru/belarus-priostanovila-uchastie-v-vostochnom-partnerstve/a-58080349.

[17]  Tweet. Josep Borrell Twitter Account, June 28, 2021, https://twitter.com/JosepBorrellF/status/1409594465296306179.

[18]  George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Forced Integration with Russia – Not the Protest Movement – is Lukashenko’s Biggest Threat,” Institute for the Study of War, February 19, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-forced-integration-russia%E2%80%94not-protest-movement%E2%80%94-lukashenko%E2%80%99s.

[19]   [“Conversation with President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping,”] Kremlin, June 28, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/65940; [“Joint statement of the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China on the Twentieth Anniversary of the Signing of the Cooperation Agreement on Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation Between the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China,”] Kremlin, June 28, 2021, http://static.kremlin dot ru/media/events/files/ru/hkwONx0FSpUGgXPaRU3xUHRmkRneSXIR.pdf.

[20]  The Russian Ministry of Defense reported the “main part” of the exercises concluded on June 24. The final reported exercises concluded on June 30. Anna Berestovaya, Denis Ivlev, [“In the Central Part of the Pacific Ocean, the main Part of the Operational Exercises of the Pacific Fleet has been Completed,”] TVZvezda, June 24, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/2021624254-pGRxa.html; [“The Crews of the Ships of the Pacific Fleet During the Exercise in the Far Sea Zone Worked out the Tasks of Destroying the Aircraft Carrier Strike Group of the Mock Enemy,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 21, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12367884@egNews; [“In the Central Part of the Pacific Ocean, an Operational Exercise of the Diverse Forces of the Pacific Fleet is Being Conducted,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 10, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12366072@egNews; [“A Squadron of Ships of the Pacific Fleet Conducted Rocket and Artillery Fires in the Pacific Ocean,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 30, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12369401@egNews; [“A Squadron of Ships of the Pacific Fleet Conducted Rocket and Artillery Fires in the Pacific Ocean,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 30, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12369401@egNews.

[21]  William Cole, “Russian Naval Exercise Ends as Spy Ship Remains in Hawaii area,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, June 21, 2021, https://www.staradvertiser.com/2021/06/21/breaking-news/navy-conducts-drills-near-hawaii-as-russian-spy-ship-cruises-north-of-oahu/; Brendan Cole, “Russian Navy Warships Come Within Two Dozen Miles of Hawaii,” Newsweek, June 23, 2021, https://www.newsweek.com/hawaii-pacific-fleet-russian-navy-uss-vinson-coast-close-1603292.

[22]  Tyler Rogoway, “Hawaii-Based F-22s Scrambled on FAA's Request But Nobody Will Say Why (Updated),” The Drive, June 14, 2021 https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/41089/hawaii-based-f-22s-scrambled-on-faas-request-but-nobody-will-say-why.

[23]  Timur Sherzad, [“Kamchatka Submariners Will Receive Three Dozen New Structures by the End of the Year,”] Tv Zvezda, June 29, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/20216291239-oEvxv.html.

[24]  [“Lukashenko Discussed Issues with the Secretary of the Russian Security Council,”] Izvestia, June 29, 2021, https://iz dot ru/1185699/2021-06-29/lukashenko-obsudil-s-sekretarem-sovbeza-rossii-voprosy-bezopasnosti-stran.

[25]  George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Belarus Confirms Plans to PurchaseAdvanced Air Defense Systems from Russia,” Institute for the Study of War, January 14, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-belarus-confirms-plans-purchase-advanced-air-defense-systems; George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Putin Intensifies Russian-Belarusian Military Integration,” Institute for the Study of War, October 27, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-intensifies-russian-belarusian-military-integration.

[26]  [“VIII Forum of the Regions of Russia and Belarus,”] Kremlin, July 1, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/65982.

[27]  George Barros, “Russia in Review: Russia Opens Permanent Training Center in Belarus and Sets Conditions for Permanent Military Basing,” Institute for the Study of War, April 8, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-russia-opens-permanent-training-center-belarus-and-sets-conditions.

[28]  [“On the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation,”] Kremlin, July 3, 2021, http://static.kremlin dot ru/media/events/files/ru/QZw6hSk5z9gWq0plD1ZzmR5cER0g5tZC.pdf; [“On the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation,”] Kremlin, December 31, 2015, http://static.kremlin dot ru/media/acts/files/0001201512310038.pdf. 

[29]  Nataliya Bugayova, “Putin’s Offset: The Kremlin’s Geopolitical Adaptations Since 2014,” Institute for the Study of War, September 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/report/putins-offset-kremlin%E2%80%99s-geopolitical-adaptations-2014.

[30]  [“Tajikistan Mobilizes 20,000 Personnel amid Taliban Offensive,”] RBC, July 5, 2021, https://www.rbc dot ru/politics/05/07/2021/60e3266e9a794748f0fb74fd; [“Meeting of the Security Council of the Republic of Tajikistan,”] President of the Republic of Tajikistan, July 5, 2021, http://president dot tj/ru/node/26124.

[31]  [“Telephone Conversation with President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon,”] Kremlin, July 5, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66143; [“Telephone Conversation with President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev,”] Kremlin, July 5, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66144.

[32]   [“The Russian Foreign Ministry Said that the 201st Military Base is Equipped to Provide Assistance Near the Border with Afghanistan,”] TASS, July 6, 2021, https://tass dot ru/politika/11833209.

 

[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Ukraine]

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[l] at 8/11/21 12:58am

By Eva Kahan and Ezgi Yazici

Key Takeaway: The United States and Russia are exerting pressure to limit Iran’s military and diplomatic leverage in Syria. The United States conducted several airstrikes targeting Iranian proxies in Albu Kamal, Deir ez-Zour Province, on February 25, 2021, in response to a series of proxy rocket attacks in Iraq in mid-February. Meanwhile, Russia began several new diplomatic initiatives on the behalf of the Assad regime that could diminish Iran’s potential economic and political leverage in Syria. Russia facilitated a deal to renew oil trade between the Assad regime and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), possibly reducing the Assad regime’s reliance on Iranian oil. Russia additionally brokered a prisoner exchange between Israel and Syria in which Israel also agreed to finance the purchase of Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine for the Syrian government. Russia led trilateral talks with Turkey and Qatar that could be aimed at cutting Iran out of the peace process. 

Click the image below to enlarge.



[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Syria]

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[l] at 8/11/21 12:19am
By George Barros
Key Takeaway: The joint Russian-Belarusian-Serbian military exercise Slavic Brotherhood 2021 advanced Russian efforts to gain control over the Belarusian military and cultivate partner forces that the Kremlin can use in future Russian deployments. Russia and Belarus operated integrated combat units at the company level for the first time, building on previous exercises fielding combined battalions. The Kremlin practiced integrating non-Belarusian troops into Russian-controlled companies and platoons for the first time—a dangerous development that will expand Russian control over the militaries of sovereign states, enhance Russian force generation capabilities, and help the Kremlin obfuscate its military activity by framing Russian activities as multilateral. The Kremlin will develop these capabilities further in future exercises, including the upcoming annual capstone strategic readiness exercise, Zapad 2021, in September.
Joint military exercises among Russian, Belarusian, and Serbian forces from June 8 to 18, 2021, advanced ongoing Kremlin efforts to subordinate the Belarusian military to Russian-controlled structures and cultivate partner forces that the Kremlin can use in Russia’s future force deployments. The exercise was the sixth iteration of the annual Slavic Brotherhood exercises and involved almost 1,000 Russian, Belarusian, and Serbian troops in the Raevsky Training Ground in Novorossiysk, Russia.





Map: A battalion-sized Belarusian element (over 350 personnel) of the Vitebsk-based 103rd airborne brigade, a Russian-reinforced battalion (over 500 personnel) of the Novorossiysk-based 108th airborne regiment, and a roughly company-sized Serbian element (approximately 100 personnel) of the 63rd airborne and 72nd special operation brigades participated in Slavic Brotherhood 2021 at the Raevsky Training Ground in Novorossiysk, Russia, from June 8 to 18.[1]
Russian and Belarusian forces likely operated as a combined battalion, advancing the Kremlin’s efforts to integrate Belarusian combat units into Russian command structures. Russian and Belarusian forces formed an unspecified “consolidated unit” that served as Slavic Brotherhood 2021’s main operational group.[2] This force was likely comprised of one or more combined Belarusian-Russian battalions, though official sources did not confirm the exact unit structure unlike in previous exercises. Slavic Brotherhood 2021 had strong similarities with previous exerxises in which Russian and Belarusian forces formed combined battalions. Russian and Belarusian forces conducted exercises as a single combined combat battalion for the first time in September 2020 and formed three combined battalions in March 2021.[3]
Russia and Belarus operated integrated combat units at the company level for the first time—a development that could support a permanent Russian military presence in Belarus. The Russian Ministry of Defense stated that Belarusian forces operated “as part of an airborne company,” suggesting a Belarusian element was part of a larger combined Russo-Belarusian company.[4] Observed Russo-Belarusian unit integration previously has not occurred below the battalion level.[5] Combined Russo-Belarusian companies would be the next logical step in increased unit integration and would indicate progress in Kremlin efforts to control Belarusian tactical formations.
The Kremlin’s increasing capability to create integrated units with Belarus is likely intended to support a permanent Russian presence in Belarus. The Kremlin may also be preparing Russian forces to subsume elements of Belarusian combat units in the event of a Russian intervention against the will of the Belarusian government—an unlikely but dangerous course of action ISW has previously warned of.[6]
The Kremlin practiced integrating non-Belarusian troops into combined Russian-controlled companies and platoons for the first time—a significant Russian achievement that will enhance Russian force projection capabilities. Such unit integration will expand Russian control over the militaries of sovereign states, enhance Russian force generation capabilities, and help the Kremlin obfuscate its military activity by framing Russian activities as multilateral. The Kremlin likely seeks to replicate the combined combat unit integration it has achieved with Belarus and now Serbia (on a smaller scale) with other Russia-amenable states. The West must scrutanize Russian efforts to enlist non-Russian forces within Russian-controlled tactical formations. During the Slavic Brotherhood exercises, Serbian elements operated both as discrete country units and in combined companies and platoons.[7] Russian, Belarusian, and Serbian forces also conducted their first-ever joint parachute landing.[8] The Kremlin likely seeks to expand military unit integration with its partner forces below the battalion level.
The Kremlin used Slavic Brotherhood 2021 to develop Belarus’ ability to deploy forces long distances—supporting Russian capabilities to leverage Belarusian forces in future deployments.[9] The Kremlin likely seeks to develop Belarus’ ability to deploy forces long distances to support assessed Kremlin efforts to cultivate partner forces that the Kremlin can use to augment Russia’s own force deployments.[10] Belarus deployed armored vehicles and a battalion of airborne infantry from Vitebsk, Belarus, to Novorossiysk, Russia—a challenging logistical undertaking for Belarusian forces that typically do not deploy outside Belarus at that scale.[11] ISW forecasted in January 2021 that the Kremlin would likely leverage non-Russian forces in future expeditionary operations in and that the Kremlin may deploy Belarusian forces to Syria in September 2021.[12]
The Kremlin is progressing its effort to expand Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) interaction with non-CSTO states and to turn the CSTO Rapid Reaction Force (RRF)—a theoretically multinational rapid reaction force—into a Moscow-controlled force. The Kremlin likely used Slavic Brotherhood 2021 to practice Russo-Belarusian cooperation in the RRF. The RRF is a multinational CSTO contingent tasked with quickly responding to threats against CSTO member states. A Russian officer with senior RRF responsibilities and Belarus’ 103rd brigade—which contributes 2,000 personnel to the RRF—participated in Slavic Brotherhood 2021.[13] Serbia’s likely interaction with elements of the RRF in Slavic Brotherhood 2021 indicates the Kremlin is successfully expanding interaction between the CSTO and non-CSTO members. ISW has warned that the Kremlin may frame Russian expeditionary deployments as CSTO “peacekeeping missions” to obfuscate Russian actions.[14]
The Kremlin used Slavic Brotherhood 2021 to prepare for Russia’s upcoming annual capstone strategic readiness exercise, Zapad 2021. The Russian military’s primary stated objective for Slavic Brotherhood 2021 was to improve cohesion between the staff headquarters and combat units of participating states—a focus likely intended to support joint operations between Russian and Belarusian command staffs in Zapad 2021.[15] Slavic Brotherhood 2021 participants additionally conducted tactical tasks that Russian and Belarusian Zapad 2021 participants will likely repeat.[16] Russia and Belarus will likely intensify their unit and headquarters integration efforts in the buildup to Zapad, which will occur in September 2021.
ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.


[1] Belarusian participants returned to Vitebsk on June 19. [“Slavic Brotherhood 2021 Exercises,”] Serbian Ministry of Defense, June 9, 2021, http://www.vs dot rs/sr_cyr/vesti/C19D09D2C92E11EB8D050050568F5424/vezba-slovensko-bratstvo-2021; [“The Active Phase of the Russian-Belarusian-Serbian Tactical Exercise "Slavic Brotherhood-2021" Has Ended at the Raevsky Training Ground,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 18, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12367538@egNews; [“Units of the Vitebsk Airborne Formation of the Belarusian Special Forces Arrives in Novorossiysk for Joint ‘Slavic Brotherhood-2021’ Exercises,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 8, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12365830@egNews; [“Home With Victory!,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, June 19, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/114031/.
[2] [“The Active Phase of the Russian-Belarusian-Serbian Tactical Exercise "Slavic Brotherhood-2021" Has Ended at the Raevsky Training Ground,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 18, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12367538@egNews; [‘Slavic Brotherhood-2021’ Exercise Participants Blocked and Destroyed the Illegal Armed Group Training Camp at the Training Ground in the Krasnodar Territory,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 18, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12367285@egNews.
[3] George Barros, “Russia in Review: Russia Opens Permanent Training Center in Belarus and Sets Conditions for Permanent Military Basing,” Institute for the Study of War, April 8, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-russia-opens-permanent-training-center-belarus-and-sets-conditions; George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: NEXTA Actively Encourages Belarusian Security Service Defections,” Institute for the Study of War, September 20, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-nexta-actively-encourages-belarusian-security-service-defections.
[4] [‘Slavic Brotherhood-2021’ Exercise Participants Blocked and Destroyed the Illegal Armed Group Training Camp at the Training Ground in the Krasnodar Territory,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 18, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12367285@egNews.
[5] George Barros, “Russia in Review: Russia Opens Permanent Training Center in Belarus and Sets Conditions for Permanent Military Basing,” Institute for the Study of War, April 8, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-russia-opens-permanent-training-center-belarus-and-sets-conditions.
[6] George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: NEXTA Actively Encourages Belarusian Security Service Defections,” Institute for the Study of War, September 20, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-nexta-actively-encourages-belarusian-security-service-defections.
[7] [“A Slavic Landing Fights Together,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, June 16, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/113964/.
[8] [“‘Slavic Brotherhood-2021’: How the Exercises Are Conducted at a Training Ground that Has No Analogues in the World”] Sputnik Uzbekistan, June 18, 2021, https://uz.sputniknews dot ru/20210618/slavyanskoe-bratstvo-2021-kak-proxodyat-ucheniya-na-poligone-ne-imeyuschem-analogov-v-mire-19297969.html.
[9] [“During the Russian-Belarusian-Serbian Tactical Exercise ‘Slavic Brotherhood – 2021’ the Issues of Deployment of Troops Over Long Distances Were Worked Out,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 17, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12367095@egNews.
[10] Mason Clark, “The Russian Military’s Lessons Learned in Syria,” Institute for the Study of War, January 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/The%20Russian%20Military%E2%80%99s%20Lessons%20Learned%20in%20Syria_0.pdf.
[11] [“Units of the Vitebsk Airborne Formation of the Belarusian Special Forces Arrives in Novorossiysk for Joint ‘Slavic Brotherhood-2021’ Exercises,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 8, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12365830@egNews; [“The ‘Slavic Brotherhood – 2021’ Exercise Starts in Novorossiysk,”] Sputnik Belarus, June 8, 2021, https://sputnik dot by/defense_safety/20210608/1047828356/Uchenie-Slavyanskoe-bratstvo--2021-startuet-v-Novorossiyske.html.
[12] Mason Clark, “The Russian Military’s Lessons Learned in Syria,” Institute for the Study of War, January 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/The%20Russian%20Military%E2%80%99s%20Lessons%20Learned%20in%20Syria_0.pdf; George Barros with Jennifer Cafarella, “Belarus Warning Update: Belarusian Forces May Deploy to Syria in Late 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, February 4, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-belarusian-forces-may-deploy-syria-late-2021.
[13] “Russia, Belarus, Serbia Kick Off Slavic Brotherhood Joint Counter-Terror Drills,” TASS, June 16, 2021, https://tass dot com/defense/1303171; Andrzej Wilk, “Russia’s Belarusian Army: The Pratcial Aspects of Belarus and Russia’s Militart Integration,” Centre for Eastern Studies, March 2021, https://www.osw.waw dot pl/sites/default/files/OSW-Report_Russia%E2%80%99s-Belarusian-army_net.pdf.
[14] George Barros, “Russia in Review: Putin’s ‘Peacekeepers’ Will Support Russian Wars,” Institute for the Study of War, November 16, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-putins-%E2%80%9Cpeacekeepers%E2%80%9D-will-support-russian-wars; George Barros with Jennifer Cafarella, “Belarus Warning Update: Belarusian Forces May Deploy to Syria in Late 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, February 4, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-belarusian-forces-may-deploy-syria-late-2021.
[15] [“The International Tactical Exercise "Slavic Brotherhood-2021" Began in the Krasnodar Territory,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 16, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12367029@egNews.
[16] Slavic Brotherhood 2021 participants conducted airborne infantry jumps, river-crossings, envelopment maneuvers, and conducted an airborne assault to support the arrival of a main force. Slavic Brotherhood also had a combined arms component; Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft supported Slavic Brotherhood’s ground units and an Il-76 transport airdropped cargo onto the training ground. [“In Preparation for the ‘Slavic Brotherhood-2021’ Tactical Exercise, the First Classes Were Held with Landings from MI-8 AMTSh ‘Terminator’ Helicopters,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 11, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12366192@egNews; [“The Armed Forces of Russia, Belarus and Serbia Are Preparing for the ‘Slavic Brotherhood – 2021’ exercises,”] EurAsia Daily, June 11, 2021, https://eadaily dot com/ru/news/2021/06/11/vs-rossii-belorussii-i-serbii-gotovyatsya-k-ucheniyam-slavyanskoe-bratstvo-2021; Anna Berestovaya, [“The Military Worked Out Parachute and Parachute-Free Landing Before the ‘Slavic Brotherhood-2021’ Exercises,”] TV Zvezda, June 11, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/2021611218-5a0y7.html; “Russia, Belarus, Serbia Kick Off Slavic Brotherhood Joint Counter-Terror Drills,” TASS, June 16, 2021, https://tass dot com/defense/1303171; [“Shoulder to Shoulder at the Raevsky Training Ground,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, June 18, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/114017/; [“Servicemen of the Special Operations Forces of the Republic of Belarus Crossed a Water Barrier at the Raevsky Training Ground in Preparation for the ‘Slavic Brotherhood-2021’ Joint Exercise,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 15, 2021 https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12366752@egNews; [“The Active Phase of the Russian-Belarusian-Serbian Tactical Exercise "Slavic Brotherhood-2021" Has Ended at the Raevsky Training Ground,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 18, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12367538@egNews; [“The Closing Ceremony of the ‘Slavic Brotherhood-2021’ Joint Exercise Was Held at the Raevsky Training Ground,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 19, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12367549@egNews.


[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Ukraine]

[*] [+] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 8/10/21 11:19pm

By Eva Kahan

Key Takeaway: ISIS escalated attacks during Ramadan 2021 despite sustained counterterrorism pressure. ISIS maintains its ability to recruit, conduct attacks, exploit gaps, and in some areas replace weakened governance systems. Local and international security forces are unlikely to fully defeat ISIS in its “core terrain” in Iraq and Syria in the short term due to competing priorities among counter-ISIS actors and decreasing international interest.

ISIS aims to expand insurgencies against the Iraqi government, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), pro-Assad regime forces, and Turkish-backed forces in Iraq and Syria to maintain ideological coherence and leadership security.  In pursuit of expanding these insurgencies, ISIS seeks to increase control zones and deep support zones, reconstituting key capabilities, generating new revenue streams, maintaining external lines of support (to Turkey, possibly Jordan, and Iran), and demonstrating its ability to rival other jihadist groups active in Syria.

ISIS must maintain its insurgent activity in Iraq and Syria – its “core terrain” – to guarantee its legitimacy and leadership security.  The   ISIS affiliates in Africa carry out faster-paced and larger-scale attacks than their Iraqi and Syrian counterparts, providing useful propaganda and justifying the ISIS argument that they are a global organization. However, ISIS groups in Africa are less clearly ideologically orthodox due to their lasting connections with their pre-ISIS networks. [1]  ISIS’s core terrain in Iraq and Syria presents a fallback option if affiliates further afield are defeated or diverge from central ISIS messaging. ISIS’s teleological ideology depends on the reclamation of a territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria, which they claim will set conditions for the end of days. [2]  ISIS leaders depend on known routes through the vast ungoverned areas of the Central Syrian Desert between Iraq’s Anbar Desert and Syria’s salafi jihadist-dominated Idlib Province. ISIS leadership in Iraq and Syria is likely vital to maintaining connections between the organization’s global cells. Were ISIS completely incapable of leading from Syria and Iraq, cells in Africa, southeast Asia, and elsewhere could be forced to decentralize similar to how al Qaeda has done in the past.



ISIS has sustained three coherent operational patterns across the Iraqi-Syrian theater. ISIS historically used its Ramadan campaigns to expand its area and scope of operations on the global stage. [3]  ISIS’s Ramadan campaigns in 2020 and 2021 have instead demonstrated the viability of its post-caliphate insurgency within these operational patterns, given the consistently degraded security infrastructure of Syrian and Iraq.

  1. ISIS exploits areas with weak governing bodies to aggravate popular discontent and reduce trust in local governance. ISIS targets tribal and civic leaders in northeast Syria, Iraq’s Disputed Internal Boundaries, and the Baghdad Belts in order to delegitimize government security and replace it with ISIS. Likely ISIS militants attacked Iraqi Security Forces in Diyala and the northern Baghdad Belts to degrade their governing capacity and perceived legitimacy during Ramadan 2021. [4]  ISIS similarly attacked symbols of SDF governance in order to diminish the SDF’s legitimacy and discourage local conscription. ISIS conducted fewer attacks on tribal leadership in northeast Syria during this time than in late 2020, and instead doubled down on attacking SDF infrastructure. [5]
  2. ISIS houses key leadership in small zones of control within sparsely populated desert and mountain areas that are largely beyond government control, including the Central Syrian Desert and the Hamrin and Makhmour Mountains. Some ISIS cells based in Central Syrian Desert control zones additionally attack high-value resources and transit routes in order to deter clearing operations targeting those control zones and erode security force will and capacity in the desert. [6]  ISIS conducted a string of attacks targeting regime-held oil and gas fields immediately prior to Ramadan 2021, leading Russian companies to abandon the project of rehabilitating those fields. Some ISIS cells in Iraq’s Hamrin Mountains aim to build complex vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs) to launch from ungoverned areas towards urban areas or disputed areas of governance, but are unlikely to build a sustainable VBIED production pipeline unless the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are significantly degraded. [7]  ISIS may also be attempting to build motorcycle-borne IED (MBIED) capacity in the deserts of northeast Syria, but have only conducted two parked, small-scale attacks since March 2021. [8]
  3. ISIS maintains small cells in urban areas with the aim of conducting high-profile and spectacular attacks that undermine government legitimacy and increase ISIS’s long-term relevancy and viability. Spectacular attacks are aimed at feeding ISIS worldwide propaganda. ISIS exacerbates and benefits from security force competition in urban areas in order to blur responsibility for the attacks, sow doubt regarding rival security forces, and avoid capture. [9]  ISIS conducted a VBIED attack in Sadr City, Baghdad, during Ramadan 2021, which was initially wrongly attributed to Iranian-backed militias, exacerbating intra-communal tensions in the city. Iranian-backed militias conduct intimidation IED attacks and rocket attacks throughout Baghdad. ISIS attacks in Aleppo and Dera’a are often misattributed to Syrian National Army (SNA) infighting and opposition remnants, respectively. ISIS activity in Dera’a and Aleppo provinces also supports smuggling routes to external support zones through Jordan and Turkey, respectively. ISIS conducted and claimed several attacks in Dera’a during Ramadan 2021, and has conducted and claimed intermittent attacks on Turkish-occupied areas north of Aleppo since June 2020. [10]

The Iraqi and Syrian security environments are too crowded and competitive to enable the conclusive defeat of the ISIS insurgency in the near term. ISIS is unlikely to significantly lose attack capabilities in the next year. However, the international coalition can take several measures to mitigate the degradation of Iraqi and Syrian partners’ security forces and contain ISIS.

The international coalition can mitigate degradation of Iraqi and Syrian partner forces and contain ISIS by:

  • Providing consistent air support to ISF and SDF counter-ISIS operations and supporting counter-ISIS planning at the operational and strategic levels.
  • Supporting the ISF in cooperating with the Kurdish Regional Government Peshmerga forces, including by building planned coordination centers in Ninewa, Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din, and Diyala Provinces.
  • Supporting continued Iraqi Army presence in Iraqi cities to the detriment of the Popular Mobilization Forces, which aim to gain influence in cities rather than countering ISIS.

Additionally, these proactive steps can help prevent ISIS from potentially making major breakthroughs in its effort to reconstitute lost territory in Iraq and Syria

  • Mediate between the SDF and partner nations, most importantly Iraq, that have yet to repatriate their citizens from al Hol. Facilitating those returns will protect the thousands of innocent displaced persons in the camp from ISIS-initiated violence and will slow the spread of ISIS’s ideology to the next generation.
  • Support the SDF in decentralizing governance in Arab tribal communities and slow attacks by ISIS and pro-regime insurgents.
  • Renew airstrikes that target ISIS-occupied and -claimed territory in the Central Syrian Desert. This campaign could prevent ISIS from abusing oil and gas resources in the Central Syrian Desert to generate revenue.
  • Gain support from Turkish partners to openly face the ISIS threat in Turkish-held northwest Syria and slow ISIS smuggling routes between Turkey and Europe.

[1]  https://ctc.usma.edu/outlasting-the-caliphate-the-evolution-of-the-islamic-state-threat-in-africa/

[2]  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30083303

[3]  http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/ISIS Ramadan Chart.pdf

[4]  http://www dot sotaliraq dot com/2021/04/26/وساطة-الحكومة-تفشل-بتخفيف-التوتر-في-دي/; http://pukmedia dot com/AR_Direje.aspx?Jimare=157835

[5]  https://www dot syriahr dot com/%d9%85%d8%ac%d9%87%d9%88%d9%84%d9%88%d9%86-%d9%8a%d9%81%d8%ac%d8%b1%d9%88%d9%86-%d9%85%d9%82%d8%b1%d8%a7%d9%8b-%d8%b3%d8%a7%d8%a8%d9%82%d8%a7%d9%8b-%d9%84%d9%82%d8%b3%d8%af-%d9%81%d9%8a-%d9%82%d8%b1/435025/

[6]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/isis-poised-ramadan-surge-syria

[7]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/isis-and-iranian-backed-militias-compete-control-baghdad-region

[8]  https://www dot syriahr dot com/en/208831/

[9]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/isis-and-iranian-backed-militias-compete-control-baghdad-region

[10]  https://www.stitcher.com/show/overwatch-2/episode/e34-isis-escalates-violence-in-turkish-held-parts-of-northwest-syria-76964317

 

[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Iraq, Syria]

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[l] at 8/10/21 10:42pm
By Mason Clark
Key Takeaway: The Kremlin launched a disinformation campaign against Ukraine in early March that could support renewed Russian offensive conventional operations in 2021, but Russia is unlikely to launch offensive operations in the coming weeks. Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine deployed to full combat readiness on March 16. Despite that potential indicator of a possible operation, the Russian military is not postured to support an imminent offensive. The Kremlin’s disinformation campaign may be intended to pressure Ukraine into engaging in negotiations on unfavorable terms or to set conditions for a Russian escalation in late spring 2021 or both. ISW will continue to assess indicators of a potential Russian escalation and monitor the Kremlin’s ongoing disinformation campaign.
Russia’s proxy forces in eastern Ukraine deployed to full combat readiness on March 16, 2021. Ukrainian intelligence reported Russia’s proxy forces in occupied Donetsk and Luhansk deployed to the highest degree of combat readiness, withdrew personnel from vacations early, and replenished ammunition for front line units on March 16.[1] Russian proxies have increased their pace of readiness drills since early March.[2] Ukrainian intelligence and independent reporting confirm that Russia’s proxies are currently improving their defensive positions.[3]
The Russian military has not set the conditions necessary to support offensive operations and an imminent escalation is unlikely. Russia is conducting an annual Russian Airborne (VDV) exercise in Crimea from March 16-19, 2021, involving 2,000 troops, but this exercise is likely preplanned and has occurred in mid-March every year since 2017.[4] ISW has not observed reporting of any other Russian forces redeploying or conducting snap exercises near Ukraine in recent weeks. Russia has not deployed additional combat assets into Donbas, such as artillery and armor units, to support an escalation. The weather in eastern Ukraine is currently poor and unsuited to offensive operations.[5] Ukrainian intelligence characterizes ongoing Russian proxy activity as preparations for “provoking tension” and “provocative action,” not a new offensive.[6] Increased readiness drills and improved defensive positions in the absence of necessary preparations for offensive action indicate an imminent escalation is unlikely. Proxy leaders may have taken defensive measures around the anniversary of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea on March 18, 2014, amid annual intense rhetoric from Ukraine and Russia. Russian proxies are likely additionally supporting an ongoing Kremlin information campaign against Ukraine.
The Kremlin began a disinformation campaign in early March claiming Ukraine is preparing to launch an offensive against Donbas later in spring 2021. The Kremlin-funded Federal News Agency likely originated this false narrative on March 1, 2021, by distorting a Ukrainian military analyst’s discussion of “Western instructors” assisting new Ukrainian urban warfare training centers. The Federal News Agency claimed these new centers indicated an imminent Ukrainian offensive against occupied Donbas in spring 2021.[7] Retired Russian Colonel Viktor Baranets stated on March 3 that Ukraine is likely preparing for an offensive in mid-May and after the spring thaw at the earliest.[8] Baranets is an unofficial mouthpiece for the Russian military and often acts as a leading indicator for Russian intent.[9] Russia’s proxies in Donetsk issued statements warning of a possible “new cycle of escalation” by Ukraine in spring 2021 on March 4 and 16.[10]
The Kremlin boosted this narrative on March 4. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated Russia is concerned about a potential Ukrainian escalation and renewed force deployments.[11] Russian representative to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich claimed the Ukrainian military is deploying additional forces to Donbas and training for offensive operations—misquoting the same Ukrainian analyst cited by the Federal News Agency—and accused Ukraine of stalling negotiations with Russia to buy time to prepare for offensive action.[12] Kremlin representatives and state-run media have continued to amplify this narrative throughout March 2021. Director Andrei Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council, a key Kremlin-run think tank, forecasted Ukraine will escalate the Donbas conflict “in the near future” on March 14.[13] Russian envoy to Ukraine Boris Gryzlov claimed Ukraine continues to deploy additional troops to Donbas and seeks a pretext for escalation on March 17.[14]
The Kremlin’s disinformation campaign may be intended to pressure Ukrainian President Zelensky into renewed unfavorable negotiations with the Kremlin or direct engagement with Russian proxies. Kremlin representatives and media outlets have accused Ukrainian President Zelensky of preparing for an offensive due to his unwillingness to continue negotiations with Russia. Ukraine has refrained from direct engagement with Russia’s proxies in Donbas to avoid legitimizing them as independent actors through direct engagement.[15] Russian envoy Gryzlov accused Ukraine of preparing an escalation to break the “impasse” on negotiations and claimed Ukraine’s only alternative to a military escalation is direct talks with Russian proxies.[16] Lukashevich similarly accused Ukraine of preparing an escalation to avoid what the Kremlin frames as Kyiv’s “commitment” to begin direct engagement with Russian proxies in Donbas.[17] Russia’s proxy authorities in Donetsk accused Ukraine of seeking a forceful end to the conflict instead of negotiations on March 17.[18] The Kremlin previously failed to coerce Ukraine into direct talks with Russian proxies in May 2020 through an information campaign and increased military pressure—including raising its proxies to full combat readiness on May 19, 2020.[19] The Kremlin may seek to use Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s 2019 election promise to end the war in Donbas to pressure him into entering further Kremlin-favorable negotiations.[20]
The Kremlin’s disinformation campaign may be setting conditions for its own kinetic escalation in spring 2021. The Kremlin routinely accuses Ukraine of refusing to consider Russia-favorable negotiations and of perpetuating the conflict in eastern Ukraine. However, claims emanating directly from the Kremlin overtly accusing Ukraine of preparing for an offensive are unusual. Russian claims of a Ukrainian offensive in May might indicate that Russian leaders intend to conduct a kinetic escalation in late spring 2021. The Kremlin likely intends to build its disinformation campaign over several months and may seek to provoke Ukrainian forces into action Russia that can frame as a justification for a renewed offensive against Ukraine.
ISW will continue to monitor the situation and assess indicators of a potential Russian escalation. Russia has not deployed the forces necessary for a kinetic escalation as of late March but may do so in the coming weeks. ISW will monitor and report on indicators—including Russian military exercises, command changes, deployment of additional assets to Donbas, and heightened rhetoric—of a Russian escalation. ISW will additionally continue to monitor the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign against Ukraine, including its likely triggers and objectives.

 


[1]  [“Summary of the Press Service of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine on the Situation in the Area of the Joint Forces Operation,”] Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, March 16, 2021, https://www.mil.gov dot ua/news/2021/03/16/zvedennya-pressluzhbi-minoboroni-ukraini-shhodo-obstanovki-v-rajoni-provedennya-operaczii-obednanih-sil/.

[2]  Eastern Human Rights Group, Facebook, March 8, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/east.hr.group/posts/2944279412497906; [“DNR Allowed to Open Pre-emptive Fire on Ukrainian Positions in Donbas,”] RBC, March 3, 2021, https://www.rbc dot ru/rbcfreenews/603f4c2a9a7947a584cd466d; [“The Armed Formations of Ukraine Continue to Violate the Complex of Additional Measures to Control Compliance with the Armistice, During the Meeting of the Contact Groups,”] DNR Army, March 3, 2021, http://armiyadnr dot su/news/ekstrennoe-zayavlenie-oficialnogo-predstavitelya-nm-dnr-257.

[3]  Joint Forces Operation, Facebook, March 16, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/pressjfo.news/posts/1079885725837376; Alexander Demchenko, [“Russian Journalist Showed Strengthening of Fighters near Donetsk,”] Radio Svoboda, March 16, 2021, https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/sladkov-staromykhaylivka-donetsk/31154191.html.

[4]  [“As Part of the Command Post of the Novorossiysk Airborne Unit, the Paratroopers Began to Plan Military Operations,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 16, 2021, https://structure.mil dot ru/structure/okruga/south/news/more.htm?id=12349219@egNews; [“Command and Staff Exercises of the Airborne Forces with the Landing of Air and Sea Assault Forces will be Held in Crimea and the Volgograd Region,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 26, 2020, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12282420@egNews; [“A Large-Scale Exercise of the Airborne Forces Began in Crimea,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 25, 2019, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12222966@egNews; [“In Crimea, a Tactical Exercise Began with an Airborne Assault Battalion of the Novorossiysk Airborne Unit,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 13, 2018, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12166534@egNews; [“For the First Time in Crimea, a Large-Scale Command-Staff Exercise with Command and Control Bodies and Subunits of Three Airborne Units is Being Held,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 20, 2017, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12115116@egNews.

[5]  “Donetsk, Ukraine Weather Forecast,” Weather.com, March 18, 2021, https://weather.com/weather/tenday/l/Donetsk+Donetsk+Ukraine?canonicalCityId=75d657e7bfd13bef4b16d01854b11965bc0dde14d1d358d24fecdf1a67103fdd; “Luhansk, Ukraine Weather Forecast,” Weather.com March 18, 2021, https://weather.com/weather/tenday/l/Luhansk+Luhansk+Ukraine?canonicalCityId=6ea53f313788daf1a7d37662995d12883da507e424586f745297c60a34f93ac1.

[6]  [“Summary of the Press Service of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine on the Situation in the Area of the Joint Forces Operation,”] Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, March 16, 2021, https://www.mil.gov dot ua/news/2021/03/16/zvedennya-pressluzhbi-minoboroni-ukraini-shhodo-obstanovki-v-rajoni-provedennya-operaczii-obednanih-sil/; Joint Forces Operation, Facebook, March 16, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/pressjfo.news/posts/1079885725837376.

[7]  [“Kyiv Trains Soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine for the "Spring" Offensive in Donbas,”] Federal News Agency, March 1, 2021, https://riafan dot ru/1396403-kiev-nataskivaet-boicov-vsu-dlya-vesennego-nastupleniya-na-donbass; Vladislav Krasinsky, [“On the Edge of the World: What is Happening in Donbas and is Ukraine Ready for ‘Putin's Response,’”] RBK Ukraine, March 1, 2021, https://daily.rbc dot ua/rus/show/grani-mira-proishodit-donbasse-gotova-ukraina-1614536137.html.

[8]  Viktor Baranets, [“When Will the War Start in Donbas and How Will it End,”] Komsomolskaya Pravda, March 3, 2021, https://www.kp dot ru/daily/27248/4377008/.

[9]  For example, Baranets discussed impending Russian military exercises in Belarus before their official announcement in late 2020. George Barros and Mason Clark, “Belarus Warning Update: he Kremlin will Likely Use october Military Exercises to Advance its Hybrid War in Belarus,”] Institute for the Study of War, October 8, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-kremlin-will-likely-use-october-military-exercises-advance-its.

[10]  DNR Foreign Ministry, Telegram, March 4, 2021, https://t dot me/mid_dnr/1281; [“The DNR Reports on the Aggravation of the Situation Along the Entire Line of Contact in Donbas,”] TASS, March 16, 2021, https://tass dot ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/10918875.

[11]  [“The Rise of Tensions in Donbas Worries the Kremlin,”] Interfax, March 4, 2021, https://www.interfax dot ru/russia/754516.

[12]  [“Speech by the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OSCE A.K. Lukashevich at the Online Meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council, Vienna, 4 March 2021,”] Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 4, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4607224.

[13]  [“The Expert did not Rule Out Escalation in Donbas in the Near Future,”] TASS, March 14, 2021, https://tass dot ru/politika/10900609.

[14]  [“Gryzlov: Ukraine is Deploying New Forces and Means to the Contact Line in Donbas,”] TASS, March 17, 2021, https://tass dot ru/politika/10929895.

[15]  George Barros and Nataliya Bugayova with Mason Clark, “Russia in Review: Kremlin Escalates in Ukraine while Playing Peacemaker,” Institute for the Study of War, June 1, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-kremlin-escalates-ukraine-while-playing-peacemaker.

[16]  [“Gryzlov: Ukraine is Deploying New Forces and Means to the Contact Line in Donbas,”] TASS, March 17, 2021, https://tass dot ru/politika/10929895.

[17]  [“Speech by the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OSCE A.K. Lukashevich at the Online Meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council, Vienna, 4 March 2021,”] Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 4, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4607224.

[18]  [“Kyiv Aims at War Instead of Peaceful Solution to the Conflict in Donbas - DPR Delegation in KG,”] Donetsk News Agency, March 17, 2021, https://dan-news dot info/politics/kiev-nacelen-vojnu-vmesto-mirnogo-reshenija-konflikta-v-donbasse-delegacija-dnr-v-kg.html.

[19]  George Barros and Nataliya Bugayova with Mason Clark, “Russia in Review: Kremlin Escalates in Ukraine while Playing Peacemaker,” Institute for the Study of War, June 1, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-kremlin-escalates-ukraine-while-playing-peacemaker.

[20]  Nataliya Bugayova, “Ukraine’s New President: The Stakes for Ukraine and the West,” Institute for the Study of War, April 22, 2019, http://www.iswresearch.org/2019/04/ukraines-new-president-stakes-for.html.

 

[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Ukraine]

[*] [+] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 8/10/21 10:00pm

By Eva Kahan with Katherine Lawlor

Key Takeaway : Iranian-backed militias are increasingly supplanting other Iraqi security forces and asserting control over Baghdad and surrounding areas, creating opportunities for ISIS to infiltrate Baghdad. Iranian-backed militias are also exerting control over populations and transit routes around Baghdad in hopes to eject US forces and set conditions to maintain a long-term demographic majority. Militia activity causes other Iraqi security forces to divide their attention between countering militias and countering ISIS, reducing the effectiveness of both efforts. ISIS is exploiting this gap to build durable support zones through the Baghdad Belts from which it can stage spectacular attacks. The Iraqi Security Forces must develop better local security strategies to more effectively counter both militia and ISIS campaigns in Baghdad and the Baghdad Belts.

Iranian-backed militias expanded control in the Baghdad Belts following US drawdowns in early 2020.  The United States accelerated withdrawal plans from five bases outside Baghdad in spring 2020 in response to COVID-19. [1]  The draw down marked the transition to the “normalization” phase of the coalition’s counter-ISIS campaign. [2]  Iranian-backed militias had set conditions to expand their presence around several bases with a US presence during their rocket campaigns in 2019 and 2020 .  Iranian-backed militias, including US-designated terrorist organization Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH), then expanded their presence at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing at Qaim, Anbar Province, following the US departure from that area in March 2020. [3]   US-designated terrorist organization Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) maintained a presence in the northern Baghdad Belts near Balad, Salah ad-Din Province, since at least July 2018, from which it launched rocket attacks targeting Balad Air Base and Camp Taji until the United States transferred Taji to Iraqi Security Forces control in August 2020. [4]  Iranian-backed militias filled the security gaps left by the base’s transfer and now likely control checkpoints and road traffic around the base. [5]

Militias have also escalated improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on Iraqi-operated logistics convoys contracted by the US-led Coalition traveling through the southern Baghdad Belts and out toward eastern Anbar and southern Salah ad-Din in 2021. These attacks began in February 2020 and escalated dramatically in late 2020 and into 2021. [6]  They are intended to intimidate Iraqi businesses out of cooperating with the United States, making continued US involvement in Iraq more costly and difficult to sustain. Iranian proxy militia IED attacks may increasingly oblige Iraqi Security Forces to protect Coalition-contracted convoys, drawing critical resources from other operations by those forces. [7]

Iranian-backed militias are also capitalizing on their counter-ISIS mission to expand their presence and profiteering in the northern Baghdad Belts. Militias use the cover of counter-ISIS operations in Baquba, Tarmiya, and Fallujah to expand their presence at key bases and along transit routes. Militias abuse their position as security providers to maintain financial control over lucrative border crossings and prevent local Sunni populations from establishing independent security forces. [8]

ISIS is fighting to maintain mobility along lines of control connecting Baghdad to ISIS safe havens in northern Iraq.  ISIS aims to stage spectacular attacks in Baghdad and southern Iraq in order to recruit new fighters and to delegitimize the Iraqi Security Forces and Iraq’s Shi’a-led government among Shi’a communities. ISIS maintains safe havens and conducts training in Iraq’s Disputed Internal Boundaries (DIBs) to set conditions for those attacks. The DIBs include areas of Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din, and Diyala provinces claimed by both the Kurdish Regional Government and federal Iraq, which are more haphazardly secured thanks to their disputed status. ISIS moves materiel from the DIBs and through the Baghdad Belts to reach Baghdad. ISIS developed multiple vehicle-borne IED (VBIED) production cells in northeastern Salah ad-Din Province before February 2021 to enable attacks in the Baghdad Belts which aimed to weaken local Iraqi Security Forces. VBIEDs are expensive and indicate that ISIS is prioritizing spectacular attacks around Baghdad over concurrent attack campaigns elsewhere in Iraq. The Iraqi Security Forces discovered three VBIED facilities in the Hamrin Mountains and al-Dour District, Salah ad-Din Province, between February 10 and March 10, 2021, possibly with the intent of targeting Samarra, a key transit node along the Tigris River Valley just north of the Baghdad Belts. [9]  ISIS likely maintains several such factories throughout the southeastern Hamrin Mountains. ISIS also attempted to revive its VBIED network in Fallujah and Ramadi, Anbar Province, in October 2020, possibly to employ along lines of transit approaching Baghdad toward Abu Ghraib. [10]

ISIS and Iran-backed militias perpetuate ethnic conflict and displacement in the Baghdad Belts to exert control over the Sunni and Shi’a populations, respectively . ISIS aims to ignite tensions between Shi’a militias and local Sunni populations in the Baghdad Belts in order to exacerbate Sunni disillusion with and isolation from the Iraqi state. [11]  ISIS militants conducted a complex attack targeting a holy Shi’a site in Khazraj, 10 km northeast of Balad, Salah ad-Din Province, on August 19, 2020. [12]  The attack killed three soldiers from the 1 st  PMF Brigade, which is affiliated with the Iranian-backed Badr Organization, and sparked renewed tensions between the local Sunni and Shi’a communities. ISIS similarly assassinated a high-ranking Iraqi Army officer in Tarmiya, Salah ad-Din Province, in July 2020, triggering statements by Sunni Iraqi parliamentarian Dhafer al Ani that retaliatory PMF activity would displace Sunni residents of Tarmiya. [13]  ISIS also accelerated attacks in late 2020 and early 2021 targeting Iranian-backed militias in Jurf al-Sakhar, a previously majority Sunni area that is now majority Shi’a and dominated by Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH). [14]  KH prevents the previous Sunni inhabitants from returning and excludes other Iraqi security forces from operating in Jurf al-Sakhar to mask their activities from the Iraqi government. ISIS may intend to provoke KH into lashing out against and displacing additional nearby Sunnis.

Shi’a militias maintain a vested demographic interest in perpetuating Sunni displacement in Diyala Province as well, particularly along lines of control between Baghdad and the Iranian border. [15]  Non-Shi'a populations in Diyala Province often complain that Iranian-backed PMF militias fail to adequately protect their communities, thereby enabling further displacement. [16]  Shi’a militias have also facilitated the relocation of displaced persons from federally controlled Iraq, including in Baghdad and Diyala provinces, to overcrowded camps in the Kurdistan Region, to create an electoral advantage for Iranian-backed parties in Baghdad and Diyala and a Shi’a demographic majority for decades to come. [17]  Although Iran-backed militias likely engage in this behavior throughout Iraq, it is particularly visible in the historically mixed region in the Baghdad Belts and Diyala Province. Unidentified, likely Iranian-backed actors within Iraq’s Independent High Election Commission manipulated the voter registration information of thousands of displaced Sunnis from Jurf al-Sakhar to reregister them in the majority-Kurdish region where they currently reside, rather than allowing them to vote in Jurf as mandated by law. [18]  Iran-backed election manipulation may formalize Jurf as a Shi’a-majority district, granting Iran-backed parties additional seats in Iraq’s 2021 elections and cementing militia control of the southwestern Baghdad Belts. Iranian-backed militias are likely to continue aiding, perpetuating, and taking advantage of ISIS-initiated ethnic population displacement in order to gain a demographic and electoral advantage, as they did in 2016. [19]

Militias and ISIS use Iraq’s muddied information environment to avoid responsibility for their attacks, thus evading legal consequences and provoking popular discontent against the Iraqi Security Forces.  Militias exploit their networks in Iraqi media and politics to falsely attribute militia attacks to ISIS and create a culture of militia impunity. [20]  This behavior is most evident when ISIS and Shi’a militia campaigns overlap in and around Baghdad. Pro-militia media faked an ISIS claim for the killing of security analyst and political advisor Husham al-Hashimi in Baghdad’s Zaiyouna neighborhood on July 6, 2020. [21]  The falsified claim allowed Iranian proxies to deflect blame for the assassination. Similarly, likely members of Iranian proxy Asa’ib Ahl al Haq (AAH) abducted and killed eight Sunni civilians in Farhatiya, 10 km northwest of Balad, Salah ad-Din Province, on October 17, 2020. The Iraqi government refused to publicly acknowledge militia responsibility for the Farhatiya attack, likely due to militia pressure on government stakeholders. General Yahya Rasool, the spokesperson for the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, initially asserted that ISIS was responsible, in contrast with the US State Department assertion of Iranian proxy responsibility. [22]  Rasool withdrew his accusation shortly thereafter but refused to reallocate blame to Iranian proxies. [23]  Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered AAH to leave the Farhatiya area and be replaced by unidentified Iraqi Army units, but ISW cannot confirm that such a replacement ever took place. [24]  

ISIS sometimes impersonates militia forces to further obscure attribution.  ISIS militants stole Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) uniforms and wore them in two attacks in southern Salah ad-Din Province in March 2021. [25]  ISIS networks posted photos of the victims of the first attack, indicating likely ISIS responsibility. [26]  However, Sunni Member of Parliament Quteiba al-Jibouri blamed Iranian-backed “factions” for the crime, asserting that the ISIS claims were covering up for a militia-run money-making scheme. [27]  ISIS is more likely to be responsible than Iran-backed factions; ISIS’s use of PMF uniforms in both attacks effectively aggravated local resentment borne from legitimate concerns about militia abuses of power. ISIS also claimed two Katyusha rocket attacks that were more likely perpetrated by militias in August and September 2020. [28]

By masquerading ISIS members as militiamen and falsely claiming militia activity, ISIS reduces popular willingness to cooperate with the PMF and renders identification and pursuit of perpetrators for a given attack increasingly difficult for the Iraqi Security Forces. Non-PMF Iraqi security forces cannot safely confront most militia groups, which operate with relative impunity under the protection of powerful political networks. The inability of non-PMF security forces to protect local populations from Iranian-backed militias deepens mistrust between Sunnis and the Iraqi government and risks radicalization of the Sunni population. 

Shi’a extremist militias escalated social control efforts in Baghdad in late 2020, further degrading Iraqi Security Forces control.  Iranian-backed militias maintain support zones in Baghdad City from which they have been conducting an on-again off-again rocket campaign since at least 2018, targeting major US-led Coalition assets including the US Embassy and Baghdad International AirportThe militias expanded attacks targeting local businesses from Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood to widespread support zones, from which it had previously launched rockets, in November 2020. Rab’allah, a Shi’a vigilante group likely sponsored and coordinated by Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH), concentrated attacks on liquor stores in mixed sectarian neighborhoods. Rab’allah’s activities may be aimed at controlling voter behavior or intimidating political rivals in advance of the upcoming parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for October 2021, while setting the framework for KH to control Baghdad politics in the longer term. Militia attacks are concentrated in mixed or Christian neighborhoods in election districts 8 and 12, which are visibly gerrymandered in contrast with municipal district lines, likely to ensure that Shi’a voters can electorally overwhelm Sunni and Christian voters and candidates. [29]  Rab’allah’s attacks likely also intend to restrict population collaboration with the Iraqi Security Forces, establishing militias as the dominant security force in central Baghdad. Rab’allah escalated its behavior with an ISIS-style armed parade through eastern Baghdad on March 25. The parade’s posters threatened major stakeholders in the Iraqi government, including the prime minister, and challenged ISF authority in Baghdad.


ISIS exploits security vacuums in Baghdad neighborhoods where militias have pushed out the Iraqi Security Forces.  ISIS conducted two successive suicide attacks in Tayaran Square in Baghdad’s Bab al-Sharqi neighborhood on January 21, 2021, killing at least 32 and wounding 110. [30]  The attack marked the first mass-casualty ISIS attack in the capital since June 2019. Iraqi security forces uncovered an extensive ISIS network in Baghdad in the lead-up to the attack but were unable to prevent it. [31]  The ISIS threat in Baghdad persists despite a spate of Counter-terrorism Services (CTS) arrests in Baghdad and Abu Ghraib in late January as well as the killing of ISIS Wali in Iraq, Abu Yassir al Issawi, on January 27 with coalition support. [32]  ISIS conducted a smaller-scale grenade attack on Shi’a pilgrims in Kadhimiya, Baghdad, on March 8. [33]

Militias used the January 21 ISIS attacks to escalate their rhetoric against other regional actors. [34]  Kata’ib Hezbollah and its associated front groups blamed Saudi Arabia for funding ISIS and used the January 21 attack to justify a drone attack launched from Iraq into Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on January 23, expressly stating that “[one suicide bombing] in Baghdad = [one] drone in Riyadh.” [35]  Kata’ib Hezbollah-linked channels threatened the United Arab Emirates with retaliation for alleged Saudi and Emirati funding of ISIS operations in Iraq. [36]

Security in Baghdad will continue to degrade to the advantage of both ISIS and Iranian-backed militias without an integrated counter-militia/counter-ISIS approach.  The Iraqi Security Forces’ efforts to counter militias in Baghdad have been largely unsuccessful. CTS counter-militia efforts have focused on arresting representatives of those militias, who are frequently freed by their political allies hours later, but have left victims of everyday intimidation unprotected. CTS made symbolic deployments to Baghdad’s Green Zone and Karrada neighborhood following the March 25 Rab’allah parade, but does not have the manpower to address the threat that militias and ISIS pose to the greater Baghdad population. Prime Minister Kadhimi’s regular use of CTS forces to counter militia aggression with limited effectiveness may strain the bandwidth of that small force, limiting its ability to counter ISIS in other areas. [37]  In a concerning development, the Badr Organization-infiltrated Ministry of Interior has worked to push the Iraqi Army away from the capital and other major cities. [38]  If successful, these efforts could cement militia control over populations in urban areas and further limit the effectiveness of more formalized counter-ISIS forces. In the most dangerous scenario, PMF units could restrict Iraqi Army mobility in urban areas; militias have already conducted high-profile attacks targeting other Iraqi security officials in Shula and al-Mansour. [39]  Militias additionally continue to contest the Iraqi Security Forces’ control over key routes in the Baghdad Belts, opening space for ISIS to operate. The Iraqi Security Forces will likely be unable to reclaim the southern approach route through Jurf al-Sakhr, but may be able to secure Tarmiya and Abu Ghraib by focusing on protecting the population from militia and ISIS intimidation.

US-led coalition forces providing security force assistance in Iraq can offer potentially pivotal assistance to the Iraqi Security Forces’ counter-militia/counter-ISIS security campaign.  US CJTF-OIR advisors can share intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance from assets already focused on monitoring militias with security forces. Coalition advisors can also offer operational-level guidance on how best to provide local security. Simultaneously, US advisors can support the Iraqi government in supplanting the levers of social control currently administered by the militias and their political wings: namely, the public sector employment and PMF positions that are often the only jobs available to Iraqis. [40]  Efforts to diversify the Iraqi economy and reduce dependence on militia employment, while encouraging reforms to minimize PMF expansion and independence, could reduce the degree to which militias control the population. [41]  The Iraqi population needs political and economic security to withstand militia intimidation and strengthen local security in and around Baghdad.



[1]  "US Troops Pull Out of Iraqi Base in Mosul,” Asharq al Awsat, March 31, 2020,  https://english.aawsat.com//home/article/2208756/us-troops-pull-out-iraqi-base-mosul

Shelly Kittleson, "Impacts of US withdrawal from Qaim base in Iraqi border with Syria,”  al Monitor,  March 23, 2020,    https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2020/03/iraq-us-troops-syria.html#ixzz6sUt7ERtV

“U.S.-led forces depart Iraqi military base near Mosul in drawdown,”  Reuters , March 26, 2020,  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iraq-security-usa-idUSKBN21D1UR

Samya Kullab, “ US-led forces pull out of 3rd Iraqi base this month,” AP News, March 29, 2020,   https://apnews.com/article/1ffca83b46bd8589b4015e1f1f80f278

Brian W. Everstine, “OIR: Withdrawing Forces From Iraq a Sign of Success in ISIS Fight,”  Air Force Magazine , July 22, 2020,  https://www.airforcemag.com/oir-withdrawing-forces-from-iraq-a-sign-of-success-in-isis-fight/

[2]  “LEAD INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT TO THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS October 1, 2020-December 31, 2020,” Department of Defense Inspector General, February 9, 2021,  https://media.defense.gov/2021/Feb/09/2002578750/-1/-1/1/LEAD%20INSPECTOR%20GENERAL%20FOR%20OPERATION%20INHERENT%20RESOLVE.PDF

[3]  “[The PMF and Army extend 160 km towards Nukhayb,” al Hashed, May 4, 2020,  al-hashed dot net/2020/05/04/%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ad%d8%b4%d8%af-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b4%d8%b9%d8%a8%d9%8a-%d9%88%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ac%d9%8a%d8%b4-%d9%8a%d8%b5%d9%84%d9%88%d9%86-%d9%83%d9%8a%d9%84%d9%88-160-%d9%88%d9%8a%d9%86%d8%b7%d9%84/

“[PMF and border police target ISIS supply routes in 3rd Ramadan operation in western Anbar,” al Hashed, May 7, 2020,  al-hashed dot net/2020/05/07/%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ad%d8%b4%d8%af-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b4%d8%b9%d8%a8%d9%8a-%d9%88%d8%b4%d8%b1%d8%b7%d8%a9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ad%d8%af%d9%88%d8%af-%d9%8a%d8%b3%d8%aa%d9%87%d8%af%d9%81%d8%a7%d9%86-%d8%b7%d8%b1/

“[al Ameri coalition warns against withdrawing PMF from Qaim: a plan to empty the borders and restore ISIS,]” al Quds al Araby, April 28, 2020,  https://www.alquds.co.uk/ تحالف - العامري - يحذّر - من - سحب - الحشد - من - ا /

[4]  “[On Video:  PMF thwarts ISIS movement south of Samarra and confirms its readiness to stop terrorists.,]” al Sumaria, July 12, 2018,   www dot alsumaria dot tv/news/241696/%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81%D9%8A%D8%AF%D9%8A%D9%88-%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D8%B4%D8%AF-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%A8%D8%B7-%D8%AA%D8%B3%D9%84%D9%84%D8%A7-%D9%84%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D8%AC%D9%86%D9%88%D8%A8-%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D9%88/ar#

[5]  “In Pictures… Discovering 46 gear containers hidden in a civilian vehicle,” Mawazin, October 6, 2020,  www dot mawazin dot net/Details.aspx?jimare=125346

“[Iraq’s Tarmiya threatened with displacement: mimicking Sunni “Jurf al Sakhar”… and the Iranian militias observed objectives,]” Orient News, February 27, 2021,  orient-news dot net/ar/news_show/188285/0/

[6]  ”Explosion targets convoy of US military vehicles south of Iraqi capital,” al Arabiya English, February 10, 2020,  english dot alarabiya dot net/en/News/middle-east/2020/02/10/Explosion-targets-US-troops-south-of-Iraqi-capital.html

Tamim al Hasan, “[Protection companies belonging to the parties and armed factions control the logistical convoy targeting file,]” al Mada, March 29, 2021,  almadapaper dot net/view.php?cat=235026&__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=b3d71468c3a77ea0afce698fb8a1bef4a7d3a30d-1617201589-0-ATy0s9GLCQC6Ul7OL4xpReW6y-ZUSx3E78gv9c-9RKzdNYbNE9A2SyjHruWgOPY0NC0WDG0k-J-8Kn3nLHlE6kyxiPCrnM40dQ_p3cv1P8m-LkYENFZbzMR7EEGfm1Z6XzjXdzhrs35-LWzSP1X7zlFTSy1UQ5gqGD2CArG22RwuXNKoEPOgYb917iHlBTM7qcfvcoiCDGGUn-Wgi-yJG7TR8s_0FIAYXEsZryD2uYMMSSv5fC7fneqN4c4ggm0WJpZbPcKwmnhrG-G7g0ZCVU0dIpW0cgdfzeuyaTUTtR8R40xkymjRWmQlFqLMyPGCHnoxnHoIv5ON-AhbKIFXc-lO8z4aycoxc8BAO5HRnJPyoRcMpfE21we7o5x5IKvqlbygulqac7nL4_ynbc1FKYGNYe4co3gpJW02fDgVr1BcaExUKuSjrTFfg_CG25OoZKsmIJJu_Eq1lhZmRpioLFM

[7]  “[Iraqi forces search for IEDs which logistics convoys have faced on the international road,]”  Shafaq , April 13, 2021,    shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%80%D9%86/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%A8%D8%AD%D8%AB-%D8%B9%D9%86-%D8%B9%D8%A8%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B3%D9%81%D8%A9-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%B7%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%82-%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D9%8A-%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%B6%D8%AA-%D9%81%D9%8A%D9%87-%D8%B1%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81-%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%81%D8%AC%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA

[8] Maya Gebeily, “ 'Worse than a jungle': the cartel controlling Iraqi borders,” Agence-France Presse, March 29, 2021,   https://au.news.yahoo.com/worse-jungle-cartel-controlling-iraqi-022242405.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly90LmNvLw&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAMePCRdLc9pLT1eM5NMhs9vX5QvtrMWciDcuVfcxvXyJMPdyS_BjalPCR1VnI_-E-7-QwZR__C-WRKIXfMD-0ywqaoucSFnATfEXA8XulkFttwQNI5GTRoUHTYECiGBxl2Z0TZ_GmE3gnzehV8qy7HLG38WeO3EWtmgcYq5-qnXG

[9]  ”[The PMF and the Army discover a vehicle-borne IED in eastern Salah ad-Din,]” al Hashed, February 10, 2021,  al-hashed dot net/2021/02/10/%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ad%d8%b4%d8%af-%d9%88%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ac%d9%8a%d8%b4-%d9%8a%d8%b9%d8%ab%d8%b1%d8%a7%d9%86-%d8%b9%d9%84%d9%89-%d8%b3%d9%8a%d8%a7%d8%b1%d8%a9-%d9%85%d9%81%d8%ae%d8%ae%d8%a9-%d8%b4%d8%b1/

“[Thwarting and burning a vehicle-borne IED in eastern Salah ad-Din,]” Shafaq, February 10, 2021,  shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%80%D9%86/%D8%B6%D8%A8%D8%B7-%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AD%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82-%D8%B9%D8%AC%D9%84%D8%A9-%D9%85%D9%81%D8%AE%D8%AE%D8%A9-%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%82-%D9%85%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%B8%D8%A9-%D8%B5%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AD-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%8A%D9%86

“[PMF seizes an ISIS camp which includes an explosives factory in eastern Salah ad-Din,” al Hashed, March 8, 2021, al-hashed dot net/2021/03/08/ الحشد - الشعبي - يضبط - معسكرا - لـداعش - يضم - م /

“[A rmy aviation destroyed four motorcycles and four guesthouses for ISIS terrorist gangs,]” Iraqi National News Agency, March 10, 2021,  ninanews dot com/Website/News/Details?key=892819

[10]  “[Two explosions and rockets in Anbar and Mosul,” Shafaq, October 23, 2020,  shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%80%D9%86/%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%81%D8%AC%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%88%D9%82%D8%B5%D9%81-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%88%D8%B5%D9%84

“Civilian injury and vehicle-borne IED explosion in Ramadi,” Sumaria TV, October 22, 2020,  www dot alsumaria dot tv/news/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%86/362081/%D8%A7%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%A9-%D9%85%D8%AF%D9%86%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%81%D8%AC%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D9%85%D9%81%D8%AE%D8%AE%D8%A9-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A

“[Source reveals the nature of the explosion in Fallujah and confirms the injuries of 5 people,]” Sumaria TV, October 5, 2020,  www dot alsumaria dot tv/news/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%86/360562/%D9%85%D8%B5%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%8A%D9%83%D8%B4%D9%81-%D8%B7%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%B9%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%81%D8%AC%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81%D9%84%D9%88%D8%AC%D8%A9-%D9%88%D9%8A%D8%A4%D9%83%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%A9-%D8%AE%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D8%B4

 “[Security Media announces the injury of three people in a vehicle-borne IED explosion in Ramadi,” Sumaria TV, September 1, 2020,  www dot alsumaria dot tv/news/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%86/357042/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B9%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%86%D9%8A-%D8%AA%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%86-%D8%A7%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%A9-%D8%AB%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AB%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D8%B4%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%B5-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%81%D8%AC%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%B1

 “ IS Claims 8 Casualties in VBIED Attack at Iraqi Military Checkpoint in Ramadi ,” SITE Intel Group, September 1, 2020,  https://ent.siteintelgroup.com/Statements/is-claims-8-casualties-in-vbied-attack-at-iraqi-military-checkpoint-in-ramadi.html

[11]  This is a longstanding ISIS strategy, see " February 2004 Coalition Provisional Authority English translation of terrorist Musab al Zarqawi letter obtained by United States Government in Iraq,” US Department of State Archive,  https://2001-2009.state.gov/p/nea/rls/31694.htm

[12]  “ 5 members of the PMF killed in an ISIS attack in Saladin,” Shafaq, August 20, 2020,  https://shafaq.com/en/Iraq-News/5-members-of-the-PMF-killed-in-an-ISIS-attack-in-Saladin

“ ISIS attacks Malik al-Ashtar shrine in Iraq leaves 13 killed and wounded ,” IranPress, August 20, 2020,  iranpress dot com/content/25411/isis-attacks-malik-al-ashtar-shrine-iraq-leaves-killed-and-wounded

[13]  Shelly Kittleson, ”Iraqi PM visits Islamic State hotbed after sniper kills general,” al Monitor, July 21, 2020,   https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2020/07/tarmiya-iraq-baghdad-government-militias.html#ixzz6sV1av0fy

“[al Ani: There is a plot driven by the militias to ethnically cleanse Tarmiya,]” al Tagheir TV, July 19, 2020,  altaghier dot tv/2020/07/19/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A-%D9%87%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%83-%D8%AE%D8%B7%D8%A9-%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A8%D9%82%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%82%D9%88%D8%AF%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A/

“[Iraq’s Tarmiya threatened with displacement: mimicking Sunni “Jurf al Sakhar”… and the Iranian militias observed objectives,]” Orient News, February 27, 2021,  https://orient-news.net/ar/news_show/188285/0/

Shelly Kittleson, “Post-ISIS Security Pitfalls Lurk in a Small Town Near Baghdad,”  Newlines Magazine , March 9, 2021, https://newlinesmag.com/reportage/post-isis-security-pitfalls-lurk-in-a-small-town-near-baghdad/

[14] Likely ISIS militants attacked power infrastructure in Jurf al-Sakhar, Babil Province and near Baquba, Diyala Province on January 19, 2021, possibly to distract capital security in advance of the devastating suicide vest attacks in Baghdad on January 21.

“Power cut in three Iraqi governorates after explosions and sabotaging acts,” Shafaq, January 19, 2021,  https://shafaq.com/ar/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%80%D9%86/%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%82%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%83%D9%87%D8%B1%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D8%B9%D9%86-%D8%AB%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AB-%D9%85%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%B8%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D8%AA%D9%81%D8%AC%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%88-%D8%B9%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%AA%D8%AE%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%A9

[15]  Iraqi Security Forces and Iranian-backed militias, including the PMF’s 9 th , 22 nd , and 23 rd  Brigades (Badr) and the 41 st  Brigade (AAH) conducted clearing operations in Diyala Province in July 2020 with the stated objective of facilitating the return of displaced persons. However, dozens of persons who attempted to return were rejected by their communities due to their assumed ISIS affiliations, with Badr and AAH reportedly enforcing their re-expulsion

Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Facebook, July 20, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/mod.mil.iq/posts/2910801552482664

Security Media Cell, Facebook, July 11, 2020,  https://www.facebook.com/SecMedCell/posts/693984081384002

Iraqi CTS, Twitter, July 11, 2020,  https://twitter.com/iraqicts/status/1282760288497016834

“[’al Qaeda affiliates’ slow returns of displaced persons to ISIS stronghold in Iraq,]” Shafaq, August 21, 2020,  https://shafaq.com/ar/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%80%D9%86/%D8%B9%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D9%8A%D8%B9%D8%B1%D9%82%D9%84%D9%88%D9%86-%D8%B9%D9%88%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B2%D8%AD%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B9%D9%82%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%B8%D9%8A%D9%85-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82

Hassan al Obeidi, “ Militias prevent IDPs return to Iraqi provinces,” Diyaruna, September 9, 2020,  https://diyaruna.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_di/features/2020/09/09/feature-01

[16]  “[Warning.. ISIS on the outskirts of Khanaqin due to ‘terrifying neglect’],” Shafaq, June 17, 2020,  shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%80%D9%86/%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%B0%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%AA%D8%AE%D9%88%D9%85-%D8%AE%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%82%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%AC%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AE%D9%8A-%D9%85%D8%AE%D9%8A%D9%81/

Mateen Amin, "[With the sadness of Iraqi Kakai in her voice… Rubar sings,” Irfaa Sawtak, July 27, 2020,  www dot irfaasawtak dot com/iraq/2020/07/24/%D8%AD%D8%B2%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%83%D8%A7%D9%83%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%8A%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%8A%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%B5%D9%88%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%AA%D8%BA%D9%86%D9%91%D9%8A

[17]  When the Iraqi government expelled 30,000 IDP camp residents in November 2020, 38% did not return to their home neighborhoods and many likely moved to still-open displaced persons camps in the Kurdistan region. The majority of those who did return reported a lack of food and hygiene services. “ Camp Departure Follow-Up Survey - Round 31 - 21Jan2021,” UNHCR, January 24, 2021,   https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/details/84404

[18]  Salam al Ja’if, “[‘al Araby al Jadeed’ publishes documents evidencing manipulation of voter names in Iraq,]” al Araby al Jadeed, March 16, 2021,  https://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics/%22%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A8%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%AF%22-%D9%8A%D9%86%D8%B4%D8%B1-%D9%88%D8%AB%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%82-%D8%AA%D9%83%D8%B4%D9%81-%D8%AA%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%8B-%D8%A8%D8%A3%D8%B3%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%AE%D8%A8%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82

[19]  “Iraq: Possible War Crimes by Shia Militia,” Human Rights Watch, January 31, 2016, 

  https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/01/31/iraq-possible-war-crimes-shia-militia

“ IRAQ: Ethnic and Sectarian Cleansing In Diyala,” Geneva International Centre for Justice, February 17, 2016,  https://www.gicj.org/gicj-reports/500-human-rights-in-iraq-diyala-province-2

“After Liberation Came Destruction,” Human Rights Watch, March 18, 2015,  https://features.hrw.org/features/HRW_2015_reports/Iraq_Amerli/index.html

“Iraq: Militias Escalate Abuses, Possibly War Crimes,” Human Rights Watch, February 15, 2015, 

https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/02/15/iraq-militias-escalate-abuses-possibly-war-crimes

Hassan al Obeidi, “ Iran-backed Iraqi militias block access to liberated areas,” Diyaruna, December 14, 2018,  https://diyaruna.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_di/features/2018/12/14/feature-01

[20]  Other scholars have noted militia abuse of information networks to shift blame for ambiguous activity and provoke outrage: see Crispin Smith, “ “Pylon-Gate”: Reconstruction of a Muqawama Disinformation Operation,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, February 12, 2021,

  https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/pylon-gate-reconstruction-muqawama-disinformation-operation

[21]  “[ISIS terrorist group adopts the assassination of the security expert Hisham al Hashemi,]” IQNA, July 7, 2020,  iqna dot ir/ar/news/3477264/%D8%AC%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%A9-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D8%B1%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%AA%D8%A8%D9%86%D9%89-%D8%A5%D8%BA%D8%AA%D9%8A%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AE%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%86%D9%8A-%D9%87%D8%B4%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%B4%D9%85%D9%8A

[22]  Morgan Ortagus, “Attacks on Civilians in Salah al-Din Governorate, Iraq,” U.S. Department of State, October 19, 2021, https://2017-2021.state.gov/attacks-on-civilians-in-salah-al-din-governorate-iraq/index.html

David M. Witty, Twitter, October 21, 2020, https://twitter.com/DavidMWitty1/status/1318953068256501762

[23]  Yehia Rasool, Twitter, October 21, 2020, https://twitter.com/IraqiSpoxMOD/status/1319031270454775810

[24]  “[Iraq: Decision to withdraw militia tied to Iran involved in execution of civilians from Salah ad-Din,]” al Araby, October 21, 2021, https://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82-%D9%82%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%A8%D8%B3%D8%AD%D8%A8-%D9%85%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D9%85%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%B8%D8%A9-%D8%B5%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AD-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%B7%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D8%A5%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%85%D8%AF%D9%86%D9%8A%D9%8A%D9%86

[25]  “[ISIS adopts incident in Salah ad-Din,” Iraqi National News Network, March 12, 2021,  ninanews dot com/Website/News/Details?key=893129  

“[New details… Tarmiya operation applied with the tactics of the ‘Albu Dor’ massacre,]”  Shafaq , March 14, 2021,   shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%80%D9%86/%D8%AA%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B5%D9%8A%D9%84-%D8%AC%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D8%B9%D9%85%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%86%D9%81%D8%B0%D8%AA-%D8%A8%D8%AA%D9%83%D8%AA%D9%8A%D9%83-%D9%85%D8%AC%D8%B2%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D9%88-%D8%AF%D9%88%D8%B1

[26]  The claim was distributed by multiple known ISIS media networks (Amaq video, photo, and written claims, as well as the Naba weekly magazine). It is difficult to assess whether the channels issuing ISIS claims are authentic, as Telegram and Twitter typically deplatform ISIS channels on a daily basis, forcing ISIS to recreate accounts under new names. The proliferation of relatively new ISIS channels would making spoofing claims easy for anyone with basic Photoshop and Arabic language capabilities. In a low-probability scenario, the photos could have been taken by non-ISIS members and distributed by ISIS media; they showed no visually identifiable ISIS members. In a low-probability high-risk scenario, Iranian-backed militias could have negotiated with ISIS cells in Salah ad-Din to subcontract out militia-motivated killings, as Iranian-backed militias have done in eastern Syria. Iranian-backed militias with experience in eastern Syria may yet attempt to bring this approach home to Iraq (See Joel Rayburn, during “ Diplomacy or Dead End: An Evaluation of Syria Policy ”, House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing, December 9, 2020,   https://foreignaffairs.house.gov/2020/12/diplomacy-or-dead-end-an-evaluation-of-syria-policy )

[27]  “[‘Albu Dor’ Massacre investigation complete… and the responsible party is clarified,]” Shafaq, March 12, 2021,  shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%80%D9%86/%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%AD%D9%82%D9%8A%D9%82-%D8%A8%D9%85%D8%AC%D8%B2%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D9%88-%D8%AF%D9%88%D8%B1-%D9%88%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%AF-%D9%87%D9%88%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B3-%D9%88%D9%84

“Salah ad-Din Operations reveals the responsible party in the Albu Dor Massacre,]” Sot al Iraq, March 12, 2021,  www dot sotaliraq dot com/2021/03/12/%d8%b9%d9%85%d9%84%d9%8a%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%b5%d9%84%d8%a7%d8%ad-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%af%d9%8a%d9%86-%d8%aa%d9%83%d8%b4%d9%81-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ac%d9%87%d8%a9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d9%86%d9%81%d8%b0%d8%a9-%d9%84/

Tamim al Hassan, “[Doubts and investigations in Albu Dor and armed factions expel residents to expand their trade in liberated areas,]” al Mada Paper, March 13, 2021,  almadapaper dot net/view.php?cat=234519

[28]  Nafiseh Kohnavard, Twitter, August 3, 2020,  https://twitter.com/nafisehkBBC/status/1290265231428468738 , Security Media Cell, Twitter, July 30, 2020,  https://twitter.com/SecMedCell/status/1288904753548865538

“ IS Claims Rocket Strike on Joint American-Iraqi Base in Anbar ,” SITE Intelligence Group, September 30, 2020,  https://ent.siteintelgroup.com/Statements/is-claims-rocket-strike-on-joint-american-iraqi-base-in-anbar.html

[29]  The most recent Baghdad municipal district map was updated in accordance with the Baghdad Provincial Council development plan in August 2016 “[Baghdad Provincial Council Agreeds to divide capital in 20 districts and 67 sectors,]” al Mada Paper, December 3, 2016,   https://almadapaper.net/view.php?cat=160786

Note that the most recent per-neighborhood demographic data available was produced by M. Izady for the Gulf2000 map project in 2021. Izady’s methodology is unclear and ISW does not have the capacity to validate these measures. To the extent that these numbers reflect the on-the-ground realities, they paint a similar picture to the demographic shifts described above: onetime Sunni areas in the Baghdad Belts, including Abu Ghraib and Tarmiya, have Shi’a populations growing at a higher rate than Sunni as compared to 2016 metrics. Sunni populations in central Baghdad are shrinking in comparison to 2016 metrics.

https://gulf2000.columbia.edu/images/maps/Baghdad_Ethnic_2020_lg.png

[30] Samya Kullab and Qassim Abdul-Zahra, “ Twin suicide bombings rock central Baghdad, at least 32 dead,” AP News, January 21, 2021,  https://apnews.com/article/2-suicide-bombs-baghdad-32-dead-d138cf4f0b9bf91221e959ea4d923128

[31]  ” Seventeen terrorists in the custody of Security forces,” Shafaq, January 13, 2021,  https://shafaq.com/en/Iraq-News/Seventeen-terrorists-in-the-custody-of-Security-forces

[32]  Jane Arraf and Falih Hassan, “ U.S. Airstrike Kills Top ISIS Leader in Iraq,” The New York Times, January 29, 2021,  https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/29/world/middleeast/us-airstrike-kills-top-isis-leader-in-iraq.html

[33]  “ Bomb Blast Targets Shia Pilgrims in Baghdad,” BasNews, March 8, 2021,  www dot basnews dot com/en/babat/674492

Security Media Cell, Twitter, March 8, 2021,  https://twitter.com/SecMedCell/status/1369013950344540163 ,

[34]  Katherine Lawlor and Nicholas Carl, “Iraqi militant attack on Riyadh could signal a larger shift in Iran’s regional approach,” Critical Threats Project, January 29, 2021,  https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iraqi-militant-attack-on-riyadh-could-signal-a-larger-shift-in-irans-regional-approach

[35]  Sabereen News, Telegram, January 26, 2021,  t dot me/sabreenS1/18063

[36]  Sabereen News, Telegram, January 23, 2021,  t dot me/sabreenS1/17955

[37]  Marsin Alshamary, “Six months into his premiership, what has Mustafa al Kadhimi done for Iraq,” Brookings Institute, November 13, 2020,  https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/11/13/six-months-into-his-premiership-what-has-mustafa-al-kadhimi-done-for-iraq/

[38]  Iraqi Joint Operations Command spokesperson says Army will continue withdrawal from cities and be replaced by Ministry of Interior forces. The Ministry of Interior will first take over security in Babil, Wasit, Muthanna, Diyala, and Diwaniyah Provinces; Khafaji asserted that many checkpoints are already in Interior Ministry control. The Iraqi Army will be stationed outside the cities in military bases, leaving internal security to their counterparts at the Interior Ministry. 

“[ The Righteous promise: a two-axis operation applied to Basra from the north and south,]” al Mada, January 10, 2021,  https://almadapaper.net/view.php?cat=232785

[39]  “[Assassination of a colonel in the Iraqi Intelligence Service in western Baghdad,]” al Arabiya, March 21, 2021,  www dot alarabiya dot net/arab-and-world/iraq/2021/03/21/%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D8%A7%D8%BA%D8%AA%D9%8A%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%B6%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%B7-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%AA%D8%A8%D8%A9-%D8%B9%D9%82%D9%8A%D8%AF-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%BA%D8%B1%D8%A8%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%BA%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AF-

“After the assassination of an intelligence officer.. bombing attack targets the home of a military officer in Baghdad,” Shafaq, March 22, 2021,  https://shafaq.com/ar/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%80%D9%86/%D8%A8%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D8%BA%D8%AA%D9%8A%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%B6%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%B7-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D8%A8%D9%82%D9%86%D8%A8%D9%84%D8%A9-%D9%8A%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%81-%D9%85%D9%86%D8%B2%D9%84-%D8%B6%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%B7-%D8%B9%D8%B3%D9%83%D8%B1%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%A8%D8%BA%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AF

[40]  Marsin Alshamary, “How Iraq’s economic crisis affects its traditional and non-traditional security sector,” Brookings Institute, January 15, 2021,   https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/01/15/how-iraqs-economic-crisis-affects-its-traditional-and-non-traditional-security-sector/

[41]  Michael Knights, Hamdi Malik, and Aymenn Jawad al Tamimi, “Honored, not Contained,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, March 2020,  https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/media/4125

 

 

[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Iraq]

[*] [+] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 8/10/21 8:53pm

By Eva Kahan and Jonathan Tishman

Key Takeaway: ISIS faces pressure along multiple fronts as it begins its annual Ramadan surge of attacks in Syria. Al-Qaeda affiliate Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS) mounted counter-ISIS operations targeting leadership cells in Idlib, likely in order to both depress ISIS’s attack capability and performatively distance HTS from other “hardline” Salafi-jihadi organizations. The British Royal Air Force and the Russian military similarly conducted precision operations, possibly intended to target high-value ISIS leadership, in eastern Syria. The US-partnered Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), meanwhile, secured camps and detention centers housing former ISIS affiliates in order to prevent ISIS from staging a prison break during the coming month. ISIS’s Ramadan campaign will likely continue to feature large-scale but disparate attacks on oil and gas facilities in the Central Syrian Desert and attacks targeting civil society leaders, exploiting existing Arab-Kurdish divisions, in SDF-held northeast Syria. 

Click the image below to expand.



[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Syria]

[*] [+] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 8/10/21 8:16pm

By George Barros

April 8, 2021

Key Takeaway: Joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises in March 2021 demonstrated several new Russian capabilities that could support a permanent Russian force presence in Belarus. Russia’s efforts to cement control of Belarusian forces and permanently deploy forces to Belarus increase Russia’s capacity to threaten NATO’s eastern flank.   Russia and Belarus announced plans to open three permanent combined combat training centers in Russia and Belarus. The Kremlin is likely increasing Belarus’ military readiness and integration with Russian forces, augmenting the Kremlin’s capability to mobilize more units for longer durations and increasing Russia’s total force projection capability against NATO. Russian military pilots may begin operating out of Belarusian airbases in 2021. The Kremlin additionally used March 2021 exercises to prepare for Russia’s upcoming annual capstone strategic readiness exercise, Zapad 2021, in September, during which Russian units will likely deploy to Belarus on a significantly larger scale than ever before.

Russian combined military exercises with Belarus in March 2021 established new capabilities to support a permanent Russian military presence in Belarus.  Russia and Belarus have held monthly combined military exercises since September 2020.[1] The March 2021 iteration of these exercises demonstrated several new Russian capabilities that advance the Kremlin’s campaign to create a permanent force presence in Belarus to threaten NATO’s eastern flank.



Russia and Belarus announced plans on March 5 to open three permanent combined combat training centers in Russia and Belarus at an unspecified future date. Russia and Belarus will open a ground forces training center in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, a naval center in Kaliningrad, Russia, and an air force and air defense center in Grodno, Belarus.[2] Belarus, it should be noted, is landlocked and has no navy.  These centers will likely support the Kremlin’s campaign to integrate the Belarusian military into Kremlin-controlled command structures and doctrine. The establishment of a permanent Russian training center in Belarus—which will likely contain a small permanent force as well as regularly rotating combat units from Russia—will enable a near-permanent Russian deployment in Belarus.

Russian military pilots may begin operating out of Belarusian airbases in 2021.  Belarusian and Russian Air Force officials conducted a combined training on March 18 to, in part, plan relocating Russian Air Force assets to Belarusian airfields.[3] Self-declared Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko previously proposed hosting Russian military aircraft in Belarusian airbases for joint use by Russian and Belarusian airmen—as opposed to opening a new Russian airbase in Belarus, which Lukashenko has previously rejected—on March 2.[4] Russian pilots’ access to Belarusian airfields, if achieved, would enhance Russian force projection capabilities against NATO’s eastern flank and constitute a significant threat to the West.

Russian forces conducted expanded Russian-Belarusian battalion-level unit exercises, advancing the Kremlin’s efforts to integrate Belarusian combat units into Russian command structures.  The Kremlin continued efforts to integrate Russian and Belarusian units down to the battalion level during their March 2021 military exercises.[5]   Russian and Belarusian forces conducted exercises as a single combined combat battalion for the first time in September 2020.[6]  Russian and Belarusian forces formed three combined battalions in March 2021. The Kremlin’s increasing capability to create integrated units with Belarus is likely intended to support a permanent Russian presence in Belarus and will allow the Kremlin to better employ Belarusian forces outside of Belarus in future operations. The Kremlin may also be preparing Russian forces to subsume elements of Belarusian combat units in the event of a Russian intervention against the will of the Belarusian government—an unlikely but dangerous course of action ISW has previously warned of.[7]

The Kremlin is likely prioritizing increasing interoperability between Russian airborne forces—Russia’s main rapid reaction force—and partner forces in Belarus and the rest of the former Soviet Union (FSU).  Two of the three combined combat battalions Russia and Belarus formed in March 2021 involved airborne units. These battalions marked a significant advance in the Kremlin’s effort to develop airborne cooperation with Belarus. Airborne units are Russia’s principal rapid reaction force and would likely be among the first units used in the event of a sustained Russian deployment to Belarus or a hybrid operation against NATO’s eastern flank.[8] Moscow’s development of airborne forces in Belarus could support other assessed Kremlin efforts to project Russian military force in the FSU, including Belarus.[9] The Kremlin likely seeks to tie a multinational Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) force to its own command structures to use these forces for its own campaigns.[10] The Kremlin may deploy a Kremlin-controlled multinational CSTO force to Belarus to obfuscate Russian efforts to undermine Belarusian sovereignty, for example.[11]

The Kremlin is likely increasing Belarus’ military capability to mobilize more units for longer durations.  Belarusian units exercised more intensively and for longer durations in March 2021 than they did in similar monthly exercises in fall 2020.[12] Five of Belarus’ six principal maneuver units exercised simultaneously in Russia and Belarus in March 2021; Belarus has not previously exercised elements of that many brigades in both Russia and Belarus simultaneously.[13] Belarusian logistical tasks’ complexity increased in March 2021 to support longer exercise deployments.[14] The Kremlin likely seeks to leverage an enhanced Belarusian capability to simultaneously mobilize multiple brigades—and multiple elements of the same brigade—for longer periods of time to augment the Kremlin’s total force projection capability against NATO’s eastern flank.

The Kremlin used units based far from Belarus’ borders in exercises for the first time, indicating a likely priority to distribute interoperability experience throughout the Russian military.  Belarusian forces conducted combined training with Central Military District and Southern Military District elements for the first time since ISW began closely watching the Belarus crisis as it began in August 2020.[15] Russian units outside the Western Military District (WMD) have not participated in previous combined Russian-Belarusian exercises in this period.[16]

The Kremlin publicly leveraged military learning from Nagorno Karabakh for the first time.  The Belarusian Ministry of Defense stated that combined air-defense training in March 2021 leveraged military learning from the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war.[17] The Kremlin will likely increasingly prioritize electronic warfare, air defense, and UAV/counter-UAV operations from lessons learned in Nagorno Karabakh.

The Kremlin additionally used the March 2021 exercises to prepare for Russia’s upcoming annual capstone strategic readiness exercise, Zapad 2021.  Belarusian forces conducted intensified joint communications and air defense exercises with the expressed goal of increasing Russian-Belarusian interoperability to prepare for Zapad 2021. Conventional Russian forces will likely deploy to Belarus in September 2021 for Zapad 2021 on a significantly larger scale than they did for the last annual Russian strategic readiness exercise in Belarus, Zapad 2017.[18] The Kremlin may not return Russian units to Russia after Zapad 2021 officially ends, opting instead to keep them in Belarus and postured against NATO.[19]

The following is a list of exercises and joint activities that Russian and Belarusian forces conducted in March 2021. This list includes nominally independent Belarusian activity that likely advanced Russian objectives given their consistency with previously observed patterns of joint Russian-Belarusian activity. Exercises are grouped by type, day, and location, as applicable.

Russian-Belarusian airborne (VDV) exercises at the Polivno Training Ground in Ulyanovsk, Russia (March 9-20)

March 9

  • A battalion-sized element of the Russian 31st Airborne Brigade based in Ulyanovsk and an unspecified company of the Belarusian 38th Airborne Brigade formed a combined Russian-Belarusian reinforced airborne battalion and began exercises emphasizing airborne and peacekeeping operations.[20] 

March 11

  • An airborne infantry element of the Belarusian 38th Airborne Brigade conducted small arms live-fire exercises.[21]

March 15

  • Russian and Belarusian airborne elements conducted exercises and deployed a mobile reserve with army aviation helicopters.[22]

March 18

  • A Russian-Belarusian “consolidated peacekeeping unit” of the combined reinforced battalion conducted peacekeeping exercises to practice managing observation posts and checkpoints, escorting humanitarian convoys, patrolling designated areas with ground and air vehicles, facility protection, demining, defense operations, and maintaining peace between two warring parties.[23] This exercise could support a potential Belarusian deployment to Syria or Ukraine.[24]

March 20

  • The company of the Belarusian 38th Airborne Brigade returned to Belarus.[25]

Russian-Belarusian airborne exercises at the Osipovichsky training Ground in Mogilev, Belarus (March 15-27)

March 14

  • A reinforced company of the Russian 234th Airborne Regiment of the Guards 76th Airborne Division based in Pskov and the Belarusian 357th Battalion of the 103rd Airborne Brigade formed a combined Russian-Belarusian reinforced airborne battalion at the Osipovichsky training ground in Mogilev, Belarus.[26]

March 15 – 27

  • The combined Russian-Belarusian reinforced battalion conducted parachute exercises, maneuvers, and ambush tactics to relieve an encircled friendly force.[27] 
  • The combined Russian-Belarusian reinforced battalion conducted force protection exercises emphasizing convoy escorts and anti-ambush actions.[28]
  • Belarusian engineers deployed a bridge to cross a water obstacle.[29]
  • A combined Belarusian-Russian company-sized element of the combined reinforced battalion performed a parachute exercise; the company departed from the Machulishchi airfield and parachuted into the Osipovichsky Training Ground[30]

March 26

  • The combined Russian-Belarusian reinforced battalion conducted combat exercises emphasizing holding a line, routing an enemy force into a prepared ambush, and destroying an enemy force with an airborne vertical envelopment.[31]

March 28

  • The reinforced company of the Russian 234th airborne regiment returned to Russia.[32]

Russian-Belarusian mechanized battalion exercises at the Mulino Training Ground in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia (March 10-April 2)

March 9

  • A company-sized element drawn from the Belarusian 6th, 19th, and 120th mechanized brigades and a company-sized element of the Russian 1st Tank Army based near Moscow formed a combined reinforced mechanized battalion at the Mulino Training Ground in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.[33]

March 15-18

  • The combined Russian-Belarusian reinforced mechanized battalion conducted exercises using drones to identify and destroy enemy firing positions with indirect fire.[34]
  • The combined Russian-Belarusian reinforced mechanized battalion used drones to identify and destroy enemy firing positions with indirect fire and conducted an armored counterattack.[35]
  • Likely Russian electronic weapons specialists of the 1st Tank Army interfered with a simulated enemy force’s communications, and tank elements of the combined Russian-Belarusian reinforced mechanized battalion conducted live-fire exercises.[36]
  • Russian and Belarusian motorized rifle and tank elements of the combined Russian-Belarusian reinforced mechanized battalion conducted exercises to practice an armored offensive under simulated enemy electronic weapons suppression and to practice countering an enemy air attack and enemy combat UAVs.[37]

March 22

  • Belarus rotated its forces at the Mulino Training Ground, roughly doubling Russian and Belarusian participation in the exercise.[38]
  • Scouts of the Russian 1st Tank Army conducted exercises on psychological operations aimed to demoralize an enemy force and convince them to surrender with targeted text messages and propaganda leaflets.[39]

March 25

  • A reinforced battalion-sized force with artillery, scouts, and signals elements of the Russian 1st Tank Army practiced destroying ground targets with 120mm and rocket artillery using UAV reconnaissance.[40]

March 26

  • The WMD transferred 20 Russian armored vehicles to Belarusian forces for combined battalion exercises.[41] 

March 29 – April 2

  • The combined Russian-Belarusian reinforced mechanized battalion conducted armor exercises emphasizing cordoning a settlement and urban combat tactics.[42]
  • A Russian chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense (CBRN) element, likely of the WMD, conducted exercises to protect Russian and Belarusian armored vehicles.[43]
  • Tank and motorized rifle elements of the combined Russian-Belarusian reinforced battalion conducted exercises using drones to identify and destroy enemy firing positions with tank fire.[44]

Belarusian airborne exercises at the Brestsky Training Ground in Brest, Belarus

March 3

  • An element of the Belarusian 38th Airborne Brigade conducted parachute exercises.[45]

March 10

  • A reinforced company of the Belarusian 38th Airborne Brigade conducted live-fire exercises to neutralize an enemy force planning to conduct raids on critical infrastructure to destabilize Brest.[46]

March 18

  • Elements, likely of the Belarusian 38th Airborne Brigade, conducted live-fire exercises with 120mm artillery.[47]

March 25 – April 5

  • Elements of the Belarusian 38th Airborne Brigade conducted exercises emphasizing maneuvers, overcoming a water obstacle, and airborne parachute drops in multiple training grounds in Brest.[48]

Belarusian Signals Activity  

March 11

  • Elements of the Belarusian 85th Communications Brigade deployed to unspecified areas in Belarus to perform coordinated signals exercises, likely in coordination with other Belarusian signals units.[49]

March 15-19

  • Elements of the Belarusian 127th Communications Brigade conducted signals training at the Obuz-Lesnovsky and Domanovo Training Grounds in Brest, Belarus. [50] This exercise’s stated objective is to test Belarusian military communications readiness to support the Russian-Belarusian Regional Grouping of Forces (RGV)—a strategic formation of Russian and Belarusian units tasked with defending the Union State—and check the technical feasibility of transmitting communications from Belarus to Russia in preparation for Zapad 2021.[51]
  • Elements of the Belarusian 83rd Radiocommunications Center conducted exercises emphasizing deploying and camouflaging mobile communications equipment at the Obuz-Lesnovsky Training Ground in Brest, Belarus.[52]
  • Elements of the Belarusian 742nd Field Communications Center conducted exercises emphasizing deploying and camouflaging communications equipment to support the Belarusian 38th Airborne Brigade and prepare for Zapad 2021.[53]
  • Unspecified Russian signals “representatives” visited Belarus on March 16-18 to discuss coordinating field communication between Russian and Belarusian units, prepare for Zapad 2021, and attend the ongoing Belarusian signals exercises at the Obuz-Lesnovsky Training Ground.[54]
  • Communications elements of the Belarusian 85th Communications Brigade completed training exercises in unspecified training grounds near Brest, Minsk, and Grodno on March 19. The stated objective of these exercises is to test a communication system similar to the one that will be deployed during Zapad 2021.[55]
  • Communications elements of the Belarusian 86th Communications Brigade deployed to unspecified areas in Belarus to conduct exercises with the stated objective to prepare for Zapad 2021 on March 19.[56]

March 24

  • A Belarusian military communications delegation met with their Russian counterparts in an unspecified location in Russia to discuss developing field communications systems between Russian and Belarusian forces and improving the RGV’s integrated communication system.[57]

Belarusian Air Defense Activity

March 10

  • Elements of the Belarusian 377th Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment conducted exercises to practice deploying the unit to a new position and increasing unit cohesion in simulated combat conditions.[58]

March 18

  • Unspecified Russian officials—likely senior officers—from Russia’s 6th, 4th, and 14th Air Force and Air Defense (VVS-PVO) Armies completed a joint staff headquarters training with Belarusian air-defense forces that emphasized planning operations with the RGV, planning deployments of Russian Air Force assets to Belarusian airfields, and controlling subordinate units of Russia and Belarus’ unified regional air defense system.[59] The Belarusian Ministry of Defense stated that combat in Nagorno Karabakh and Syria informed this training. Belarus has troops in neither Syria nor Nagorno Karabakh.  
  • A Belarusian anti-aircraft missile battalion of the Minsk-based 15th Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade conducted exercises emphasizing mobilizing and deploying equipment from stored positions.[60]

March 29

  • An element, likely a battalion, of the Belarusian 115th Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade completed air-defense exercises at the Brestsky Training Ground to prepare for Zapad 2021.[61]
  • A Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) delegation visited Belarus on March 29-April 2 to examine the Belarusian territories where Zapad 2021 will occur and discuss the formation of the joint Russian-Belarusian Air Force and Air Defense Forces training center in Grodno.[62]

Belarusian Logistics Exercises

March 9

  • A brigade-sized Belarusian element conducted readiness exercises emphasizing mobilizing equipment from storage bases in unspecified locations in Belarus.[63]

March 10-11

  • Elements of the Belarusian 36th Road and Bridge Brigade conducted exercises emphasizing countering enemy sabotage and reconnaissance and practiced deploying a field camp.[64]

March 16

  • A battalion-sized Belarusian mechanized element practiced transferring ammunition and equipment from rear storage bases in an unspecified location in Belarus.[65]

March 19

  • Elements of the Belarusian Vitebsk-based 19th and Slonim-based 11th Mechanized Brigades conducted combat readiness exercises to practice resupplying Belarusian units that conducted live fires in unspecified locations in Belarus.[66]

Miscellaneous Belarusian Exercises and Activity that Support Russian Lines of Effort

March 16

  • A company of the Belarusian 103rd Airborne Brigade held an exercise with Belarusian border guards at the Belarusian-Latvian border in Polotsk, Belarus.[67] This exercise’s stated objective is to foster interoperability between Belarusian airborne and border guard forces “in the event of the need to perform special operation forces tasks in border areas.”[68]

March 17

  • The Belarusian Army activated approximately 1,000 reservists across Belarus and conducted mechanized brigade reserve officer training in Pechi, Minsk Oblast, Belarus, and likely other locations in Belarus.[69]
  • Tank and artillery elements, likely of the Belarusian 6th Mechanized Brigade, conducted live-fire exercises at the Gozhsky Training Ground in Grodno, Belarus.[70]  The Belarusian 6th Mechanized Brigade continued exercising in Grodno until at least March 31.[71]

March 19

  • Reserve officers of the Belarusian 19th Mechanized Brigade received “special ideological, fire, and tactical” training.[72]

March 22

  • The Belarusian North Western Operational Command (a Belarusian command structure roughly equivalent to a Russian military district) conducted operational planning staff training emphasizing the use of forces based on “an analysis of the results of modern wars and conflicts.”[73] This training’s stated goal is to prepare Belarusian forces for Zapad 2021.
  • A reinforced battalion of the Belarusian 120th Mechanized Brigade conducted live-fire and maneuver exercises at the 227th combined arms training ground in Borisov, Belarus.[74]

March 29

  • Elements of the Belarusian 51st Artillery Brigade conducted artillery live-fire exercises at the Osipovichi Training Ground in Mogilev, Belarus.[75]

March 30-31

  • A reinforced battalion of the Belarusian 6th Mechanized Brigade and elements of the Belarusian 557th Engineering Brigade conducted mechanized combat exercises to practice defensive operations, launching counterattacks, repelling air attacks, and overcoming water obstacles at the Gozhsky Training Ground in Grodno, Belarus on March 30.[76]
  • Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Chief of the Belarusian General Staff Major General Viktor Gulevich discussed military cooperation on the RGV, Zapad 2021, CSTO, and the terms of the three new combined combat training centers in Moscow, Russia on March 30-31.[77]
  • A battalion-sized reservist element of the Belarusian 19th Mechanized Brigade conducted basic combat training exercises in Zaslonovo, Belarus, on March 31.[78] 
  • A reinforced battalion of the Belarusian 120th Mechanized Brigade began battalion tactical exercises at the 227th Combined Arms Training Ground in Borisov, Belarus on March 31.[79]

 


[1] Mason Clark, “Belarus Warming Update: Lukashenko Softens His Opposition to Protests, Seeking Leverage Against Increased Russian Pressure,” Institute for the Study of War, September 14, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-lukashenko-softens-his-opposition-protests-seeking-leverage.

[2] [“Results of Talks Between the Ministers of Defense of Belarus and Russia,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 16, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111189/; [“Talks Between the Heads of the Defense Ministries of Belarus and Russia,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 5, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/110984/; “Defence Ministers of Russia and Belarus Discussed Joint Activities for 2021,” Russian Ministry of Defense, March 5, 2021, https://eng.mil dot ru/en/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12347433@egNews; Belarusian Ministry of Defense, Telegram, March 16, 2021, https://t dot me/modmilby/3992.

[3] [“Joint Headquarters Training Completed in the Air Force and Air Defense Forces,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 18, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111272/.

[4] [“Lukashenko Spoke About the Details of Negotiations with Putin and Reacted to Speculation,”] Belta, March 2, 2021, https://www.belta dot by/president/view/lukashenko-rasskazal-o-podrobnostjah-peregovorov-s-putinym-i-otreagiroval-na-domysly-430898-2021/; Maria Leyva, [“Lukashenko Refused to Create a Russian Military Base in Belarus,”] RBK, October 6, 2015, https://www.rbc dot ru/politics/06/10/2015/5613ebe59a794769839c9e3f.

[5] Elements of the Russian 234th airborne regiment formed a brigade-sized unified combat formation with Belarusian forces in March 2021 similarly to how a 234th Brigade Tactical Group (BTG) did with Belarusian airborne units in September 2020. George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: NEXTA Actively Encourages Belarusian Security Service Defections,” Institute for the Study of War, September 20, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-nexta-actively-encourages-belarusian-security-service-defections.

[6] George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: NEXTA Actively Encourages Belarusian Security Service Defections,” Institute for the Study of War, September 20, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-nexta-actively-encourages-belarusian-security-service-defections.

[7] George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: NEXTA Actively Encourages Belarusian Security Service Defections,” Institute for the Study of War, September 20, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-nexta-actively-encourages-belarusian-security-service-defections.

[8] The majority of Russian units that have deployed to Belarus since the crisis began have overwhelmingly been airborne units. George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Upcoming CSTO Exercise Could Support Russian Military Deployment to Belarus,” Institute for the Study of War, November 6, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-upcoming-csto-exercise-could-support-russian-military-deployment.

[9] The Kremlin likely seeks to leverage Russian airborne units to create a new capability to rapidly deploy Russian-controlled Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) forces in the FSU. Russian and Belarusian forces conducted joint exercises in November 2020 testing the use of a Russian airborne command post as the command and control basis of the CSTO’s Rapid Reaction Force – a strategic force of approximately 18,000 personnel designed to rapidly respond to military crises in the FSU. Joint Russian-Belarusian airborne capabilities development could support this effort. George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Upcoming CSTO Exercise Could Support Russian Military Deployment to Belarus,” Institute for the Study of War, November 6, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-upcoming-csto-exercise-could-support-russian-military-deployment.

[10] George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Upcoming CSTO Exercise Could Support Russian Military Deployment to Belarus,” Institute for the Study of War, November 6, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-upcoming-csto-exercise-could-support-russian-military-deployment.

[11] George Barros, “Russia in Review: Putin’s ‘Peacekeepers’ Will Support Russian Wars,” Institute for the Study of War,  November 16, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-putins-%E2%80%9Cpeacekeepers%E2%80%9D-will-support-russian-wars; George Barros and Mason Clark, “Belarus Warning Update,” Institute for the Study of War, October 8, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-kremlin-will-likely-use-october-military-exercises-advance-its.

[12] George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Russia Deploys a Third Battalion Tactical Group to Belarus,” Institute for the Study of War, September 22, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia-deploys-third-battalion-tactical-group-belarus; George Barros, “Warning: The Kremlin Deploys a Brigade-Sized Force to Belarus Near Polish Border,” Institute for the Study of War, September 21, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/warning-kremlin-deploys-brigade-sized-force-belarus-near-polish-border; George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Multiple Russian Military Exercises Occurring in the Western Military District, Belarus, and Moldova,” Institute for the Study of War, September 19, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-multiple-russian-military-exercises-occurring-western-military; George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Upcoming CSTO Exercise Could Support Russian Military Deployment to Belarus,” Institute for the Study of War, November 6, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-upcoming-csto-exercise-could-support-russian-military-deployment; George Barros and Mason Clark, “Belarus Warning Update: The Kremlin Will Likely Use October Military Exercises to Advance its Hybrid War in Belarus,” Institute for the Study of War, October 8, 2020, http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/10/belarus-warning-update-kremlin-will.html.

[13] Elements of the Belarusian 6th, 19th, and 120th, mechanized brigades and the 38th and 103rd VDV brigades, exercised in both Russia and Belarus in March 2021.

[14] Belarus rotated forces for a month-long exercise – a logistical task more sophisticated that what Belarusian forces have done before in monthly exercises – for the first time since the crisis in Belarus began in August 2020. [“Goodbye, Mulino!”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 22, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111361/; [“Servicemen of the Republic of Belarus Arrived in the Nizhny Novgorod Region to Participate in a Joint Exercise with Servicemen of the Western Military District,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 23, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12350389@egNews; [“Joint Battalion Tactical Exercises with Units of the Ground Forces of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 23, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111420/.

[15] The 31st airborne brigade and 14th Air Force and Air Defense (VVS-PVO) Army are subordinate to the Central Military District. The 4th VVS-PVO Army is subordinate to the Southern Military District. George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: The Kremlin May Have Used Kavkaz 2020 Exercises in Part to Prepare for a Conventional Russian Military Deployment to Belarus,” Institute for the Study of War, September 26, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-kremlin-may-have-used-kavkaz-2020-exercises-part-prepare; Mason Clark and George Barros, “Russia’s Unprecedentedly Expansive Military Exercises in Fall 2020 Seek to Recreate Soviet-Style Multinational Army,” Institute for the Study of War, October 20, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia%E2%80%99s-unprecedentedly-expansive-military-exercises-fall-2020-seek-recreate-soviet.

[16] Russian Southern Military District and Belarusian units exercised together in the Kavkaz 2020 exercises in September 2020. However, Kavkaz 2020 – Russia’s annual strategic readiness capstone exercise for 2020 – included many international partners and was not part of the new monthly Russian-Belarusian exercises that began in Fall 2020. Mason Clark and George Barros, “Russia’s Unprecedentedly Expansive Military Exercises in Fall 2020 Seek to Recreate Soviet-Style Multinational Army,” Institute for the Study of War, October 20, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia%E2%80%99s-unprecedentedly-expansive-military-exercises-fall-2020-seek-recreate-soviet.

[17] [“Joint Headquarters Training Completed in the Air Force and Air Defense Forces,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 18, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111272/; Belarusian Ministry of Defense, Telegram, March 18, 2021, https://t dot me/modmilby/4023; [“From March 16 to 18, the Air Force and Air Defense Forces Will Host a Joint Staff Training,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 15, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111153/.

[18] George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Putin Intensifies Russian-Belarusian Military Integration,” Institute for the Study of War, October 27, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-intensifies-russian-belarusian-military-integration.

[19] George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Putin Will Increase Pressure on Lukashenko to Integrate Belarus in 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, December 18, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-will-increase-pressure-lukashenko-integrate-belarus-2021.

[20] [“Two Joint Russian-Belarusian Tactical Exercises of the Airborne Forces of Russia and the Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus Will Be Held in March This Year,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 7, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12347675@egNews; [“On Holding a Joint Battalion Tactical Exercise,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 9, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111022/; [“The Exercise is Completed,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 19, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111331/; [“Skillfully! Well-Coordinated! Together!”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 18, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111296/; [“A Combined Peacekeeping Unit Repelled an Attack on the Observation Post of the Peacekeeping Forces of a Conditional Illegal Armed Group at the Stage of Live Firing as Part of the Russian-Belarusian Tactical Exercises,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 18, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12349542@egNews; [“Paratroopers of the Russian Federation and Belarus Worked Out Actions at a Conditional Checkpoint Near Ulyanovsk,”] TASS, March 18, 2021, https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/10938849; [“A Belarusian-Russian Group Conducted A Peacekeeping Mission – Video,”] Sputnik, March 19, 2021, https://sputnik dot by/video/20210319/1047177205/Belorussko-rossiyskaya-gruppirovka-otrabotala-mirotvorcheskuyu-missiyu--video.html; [“A Unit of a Separate Airborne Assault Unit of the Special Operations Forces of Belarus Arrived in Ulyanovsk to Participate in a Joint Russian-Belarusian Exercise,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 9, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12348049@egNews.

[21] [“Peacekeepers Are Being Trained for a Joint Russian-Belarusian Tactical Exercise in Ulyanovsk,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 11, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111103/.

[22] [“In One language,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 15, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111166/.

[23] [“A Combined Peacekeeping Unit Repelled an Attack on the Observation Post of the Peacekeeping Forces of a Conditional Illegal Armed Group at the Stage of Live Firing as Part of the Russian-Belarusian Tactical Exercises,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 18, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12349542@egNews; [“Skillfully! Well-Coordinated! Together!”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 18, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111296/; [“Paratroopers of the Russian Federation and Belarus Worked Out Actions at a Conditional Checkpoint Near Ulyanovsk,”] TASS, March 18, 2021, https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/10938849; [“A Belarusian-Russian Group Conducted A Peacekeeping Mission – Video,”] Sputnik, March 19, 2021, https://sputnik dot by/video/20210319/1047177205/Belorussko-rossiyskaya-gruppirovka-otrabotala-mirotvorcheskuyu-missiyu--video.html.

[24] George Barros with Jennifer Carafella, “Belarus Warning Update: Belarusian Forces may Deploy to Syria in Late 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, February 4, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-belarusian-forces-may-deploy-syria-late-2021.

[25] [“To Home - With Peacekeeping Experience,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 21, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111341/.

[26] https://t dot me/modmilby/3970; [“We are glad to welcome you on Belarusian soil (video)”] https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111141/; [“On Conducting a Battalion Tactical Exercise with Personnel of 103rd Airborne Brigade,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 12, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111130/.

[27] [“The Active Phase of the Joint Exercise of the Special Operations Forces of the Republic of Belarus and the Airborne Forces of Russia Opened at the Training Ground Near Mogilev,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 22, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12350330@egNews; Viktoria Ivashechkina, [“Airborne Forces and Special Forces: The Active Phase of the Exercises of Russia and Belarus Started Near Mogilev,”] Tv Zvezda, Mach 23, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/2021323120-USc1f.html; “Belarusian, Russian Paratroopers in Joint Army Exercise,” Belta, March 22, 2021, https://eng.belta dot by/society/view/belarusian-russian-paratroopers-in-joint-army-exercise-138398-2021/; [“Joint Airborne Double Strike,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 24, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111451/.

[28] Russian Ministry of Defense, Facebook, March 24, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/1492252324350852/posts/2908892426020161/.

[29] [“Establishing a Bridge: Russian-Belarusian paratroopers led a convoy through a water barrier near Mogilev”] TV Zvezda, March 25, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/20213251124-hEfhn.html.

[30] “Belarusian, Russian Paratroopers in Joint Army Exercise,” Belta, March 22, 2021, https://eng.belta dot by/society/view/belarusian-russian-paratroopers-in-joint-army-exercise-138398-2021/.

[31] [“Russian Paratroopers and Servicemen of the Special Forces of Belarus Blocked and Destroyed a Mock Enemy at a Joint Exercise Near Mogilev,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 26, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12351015@egNews; [“Not Instead, But Together,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 26, 2021 https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111543/.

[32] [“Personnel of the Reinforced Paratrooper Company of the Pskov-Guards Airborne Assault Force of the Airborne Forces Arrived From the Republic of Belarus to their Point of Permanent Deployment,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 28, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12351297@egNews.

[33] [“Preparation for the Exercise are in Full Swing,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 11, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111102/; [“Shoulder to Shoulder,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 15, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111155/; [“Servicemen of the Republic of Belarus Arrived in the Nizhny Novgorod Region to Participate in Joint Exercises with Servicemen of the Western Military District,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 10, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12348115@egNews; [“Servicemen of the Republic of Belarus Arrived in the Nizhny Novgorod Region to Participate in a Joint Exercise with Servicemen of the Western Military District”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 23, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12350389@egNews/; [“Shoulder to Shoulder,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 17, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111245/.

[34] [“Russian and Belarusian Servicemen have Practiced the Use of Drones During an Exercise in the Nizhny Novgorod Region,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 17, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12349331@egNews.

[35] [“In the Nizhny Novgorod Region, the Military Personnel of the Western Military District and the Republic of Belarus Jointly Stopped the Offensive of the Mock Enemy,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 19, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12349683@egNews.

[36] [“Officers of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus Gained Unique Experience in Managing Disparate Units During a Bilateral Exercise Near Nizhny Novgorod,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 19, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12349631@egNews.

[37] [“Allies Win,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 19, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111329/; [“Russian-Belarusian military exercises began in the Nizhny Novgorod region,”] Regnum, March 15, 2021, https://regnum dot ru/news/polit/3215627.html

[38] The rotation brought participation in the exercise from approximately 80 Belarusian personnel and 200 Russian personnel to 150 Belarusian personnel and 350 Russian personnel. [“Joint Battalion Tactical Exercises with Units of the Ground Forces of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 23, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111420/; [“Goodbye, Mulino!”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 22, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111361/; [“Servicemen of the Republic of Belarus Arrived in the Nizhny Novgorod Region to Participate in a Joint Exercise with Servicemen of the Western Military District,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 23, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12350389@egNews; [“A Company Tactical Exercise of Military Personnel of the Western Military District and the Republic of Belarus Started in the Nizhny Novgorod Region,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 15, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12349007@egNews; [“Shoulder to Shoulder,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 15, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111155/; [“Shoulder to Shoulder,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 17, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111245/; [“Allies Win,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 19, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111329/.

[39] Anton Valagin, [“The Military Captured the City by SMS,”] Rossiyskaya Gazeta, March 22, 2021, https://rg dot ru/2021/03/22/reg-pfo/voennye-zahvatili-gorod-po-sms.html; Anastasia Eremina, [“Nizhny Novgorod Servicemen Worked Out the Capture of a City Using SMS-Messages,”] Kommersant, March 22, 2021, https://www.kommersant dot ru/doc/4740895.

[40] [“Artillerymen of the Western Military District, as Part of an Exercise Near Nizhny Novgorod, Destroyed More Than 50 Targets of a Simulated Enemy,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 25, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12350804@egNews.

[41] [“Servicemen of the Republic of Belarus Received Military Equipment to Participate in Joint Tactical Exercises,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 26, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12350999@egNews.

[42] [“Russian-Belarusian Battalion Tactical Exercise Started in the Nizhny Novgorod Region,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 29, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12351408@egNews.

[43] [“In the Nizhny Novgorod Region, the Military Personnel of the Western Military District Carried Out a Special Treatment of Armored Vehicles Involved in a Joint Russian-Belarusian Exercise,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 29, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12351399@egNews

[44] [“In the Nizhny Novgorod Region, Units of the Western Military District and the Republic of Belarus Held Joint Exercises,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, April 1, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12352044@egNews.

[45] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 3, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/110881/.

[46] [“The Landing Force Storms the Skies,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 3, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111051/.

[47] [“With a Female Name ‘NONA,’”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 18, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111284/.

[48] [“Tactical Exercise With the 38th Brest Separate Guards Airborne Assault Brigade,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 27, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111569/; [“Barriers Do Not Exist for Special Forces,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 31, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111665/; [“Barriers Do Not Exist for Special Forces,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, April 5, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111790/.

[49] [“Exam for Signalmen,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 11, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111099/.

[50] [“Readiness to Complete Tasks,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 16, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111188/; https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111254/; [“127th Guards Communications Brigade Participates in Control Exercises on Tactical and Special Training,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 19, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111316/; [“They Are Always Connected,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 23, 2021 https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111414/.

[51] [“Readiness to Complete Tasks,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 16, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111188/; [“127th Guards Communications Brigade Participates in Control Exercises on Tactical and Special Training,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 19, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111316/.

[52] [“Signalmen Hhave a Crunch Time,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 17, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111261/.

[53] [“To Keep the Connection Reliable,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 17, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111260/.

[54] [“Visit of the Russian Delegation of Signalmen to the Republic of Belarus,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 17, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111254/.

[55] [“They Are Always Connected,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 23, 2021 https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111414/.

[56] [“Preparation for the Main Exam of the Year,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 19, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111317/.

[57] [“Visit of the Belarusian Delegation of Signalmen to the Russian Federation,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 24, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111459/.

[58] [“Strength Test,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 10, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111066/.

[59] [“Joint Headquarters Training Completed in the Air Force and Air Defense Forces,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 18, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111272/; Belarusian Ministry of Defense, Telegram, March 18, 2021, https://t dot me/modmilby/4023; [“From March 16 to 18, the Air Force and Air Defense Forces Will Host a Joint Staff Training,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 15, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111153/.

[60] [“They Checked Combat Readiness,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 18, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111297/; [“Military Unit 30151,”] Fanipol Online, Accessed, April 5, 2021, http://fanipol dot net/business/business.php?id=30; [“Young Servicemen of Military Unit 30151 Swore Allegiance to the Motherland,”] DZR, June 16, 2020, https://dzr dot by/novobranczy-v-ch-30151-prisyagnuli-na-vernost-rodine/.

[61] [“Combat Readiness is the Priority,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 29, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111609/.

[62] [“Visit of the Delegation of the Aerospace Forces of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 29, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111602/; [“Delegation of the Aerospace Forces of the Russian Armed Forces Visits Belarus,] Belta, March 29, 2021, https://www.belta dot by/society/view/delegatsija-vozdushno-kosmicheskih-sil-vs-rossii-poseschaet-belarus-434813-2021/; [“A Delegation of the Russian Aerospace Forces Has Arrived in Belarus to Prepare the Zapad-2021 Exercises,”] TASS, March 29, 2021, https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/11019551.

[63] [“The Armed Forces Began the Second Stage of a Comprehensive Check of Troops,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 9, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111021/.

[64] [“Special Tactical Exercise,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 15, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111164/.

[65] [“A Complex Check Continues,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 16, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111190/.

[66] [“A Comprehensive Check Continues in the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 19, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111323/.

[67] [“Airborne Shield at the Borders of the Fatherland,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 16, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111219/.

[68] [“Airborne Shield at the Borders of the Fatherland,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 16, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111219/.

[69] [“A Complex Check Continues,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 17, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111264/.

[70] [“The Power of the ‘Staff,’”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 17, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111262/.

[71] [“Exercise Is the Best School and Baptism by Fire,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 31, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111666/.

[72] [“The Mood is a Fighting One,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 23, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111432/.

[73] [“Joint staff training is being held at the North Western Operational Command,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 22, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111388/.

[74] [“Battalion Tactical Exercise of the 120th Separate Guards Mechanized Brigade,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 22, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111390/.

[75] [“Everyone Knows Their Maneuver,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 29, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111591/.

[76] [“A Large-Scale Exercise at the Gozhsky Training Ground,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 30, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111642/.

[77] [“Within the Framework of Bilateral Military Cooperation”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 30, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111635/; [“Issues of Military Cooperation Between Belarus and Russia Discussed in Moscow,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 31, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111674/; [“Chiefs of General Staffs of Russia and Belarus Discussed Issues of Joint Defense Policy in Moscow”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 31, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12351838@egNews.

[78] [“Margin of Safety,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 31, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111667/.

[79] ["Our Armor is Strong and Our Tanks Are Fast,"] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, March 31, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/111683/.

  

[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Ukraine]

[*] [+] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 8/10/21 7:45pm

By Eva Kahan

Key Takeaway: ISIS has established a stable territorial base in the mountainous regions of the Central Syrian Desert and has begun to overtake pro-Assad regime forces in the area. ISIS is waging a coordinated campaign to draw pro-regime forces into an untenable security posture in defense of energy and oil assets threatened by ISIS. Assad’s Russian and Iranian backers have attempted to contain ISIS’s insurgency but are unwilling to commit force at the scale necessary to succeed. ISIS is already using its territorial base to destabilize other parts of Syria. ISIS could attempt to seize new territory or financial assets in central Syria during its Ramadan campaign beginning in April 2021.

ISIS has begun to overtake pro-regime forces in the Central Syrian Desert. ISIS controls several small swaths of territory from which it is conducting a coordinated campaign across multiple zones of the Central Syrian Desert (CSD). The Central Syrian Desert encompasses rough terrain studded with oil and gas assets and crisscrossed by ground lines of communication (GLOCs) that connect regime-held population centers. ISIS’s strongholds are located in mountainous terrain overlooking those GLOCs and the desert’s few population centers, indicated in figure 1. [1]  ISIS has successfully defended these strongholds when pressured, demonstrating sustainable control of rural terrain. In one instance, Russian-backed Syrian Arab Army 5th Corps units, likely with elite Tiger Forces support, attempted to clear an ISIS control zone northeast of Rahjan, Hama Province, on December 13, 2020. [2]  ISIS ambushed the clearing unit and forced it to retreat, preventing the unit from recovering its wounded until the arrival of air support hours later. [3]

Figure 1, click the image below to expand it:



From its strongholds, ISIS has applied consistent military pressure against pro-regime forces’ internal supply lines within the Central Syrian Desert, jeopardizing their operations across most of Syria. ISIS regularly conducts complex ambushes on regime convoys at five key chokepoints along GLOCs that connect pro-regime bases and oil/gas infrastructure in Deir ez-Zour, Raqqa, Hama, and Homs provinces. [4]  These attacks cause tens to low-hundreds of regime casualties monthly according to available reporting and analysis from open-source researchers. [5]   In order to supply bases around the desert and in Palmyra, pro-regime forces will have to continue to suffer these manpower losses or dedicate scarce air units to transport and supply their forces, as Russian units are already doing for themselves. [6]  ISIS likely also extorts and disrupts commercial traffic along these routes, depriving the regime of revenue. The US-led coalition conducted at least one airstrike against an ISIS training camp in the CSD in October 2020, demonstrating growing coalition recognition that pro-regime forces are failing to contain ISIS’s resurgence.

ISIS’s campaign threatens key Syrian oil and natural gas infrastructure and is forcing the pro-regime coalition to overextend its manpower to secure these facilities. ISIS has repeatedly attempted to take key oil and gas infrastructure in the CSD. ISIS successfully seized the Doubayat gas field three times in September and October 2020. [7]  The field is 12 miles south of al Sukhnah, one of the two major population centers in the eastern Homs Desert. The regime recaptured the field each time and now holds it. [8]  However, two of those recapture operations required Russian air support, indicating that Syrian units may not be able to retake the field independently in the future. [9]  ISIS has also laid improvised explosive devices (IEDs) around energy infrastructure, including the al Taym and al Tayba oil fields, to limit the mobility of pro-regime forces securing the area. [10]  Al Taym oil field is 10 miles south of Deir ez-Zour City and hosts a base for Russian-backed forces; Tayba oil field is 15 miles north of Sukhna. ISIS’s pressure is forcing pro-regime forces to regularly redeploy high-end assets to recapture seized fields.

Pro-regime counter-ISIS operations are plagued by the same constraints that limit other pro-regime campaigns across Syria:

  • Limited operational capacity.  Pro-regime forces can only mass capable forces in one area of responsibility at a time, leaving security gaps for ISIS to exploit. [11]  ISW has reported on the consistent inability of pro-regime forces to operate simultaneously across multiple fronts. [12]  
  • Manpower deficits and incompetent conscripts.  The Assad regime does not have the manpower to perform capable area security. Neither Russia nor Iran is likely to invest the manpower necessary to secure the CSD. [13]  Russian units, including Wagner Private Military Forces deputized by the Russian government, are formally responsible for securing multiple oil fields in the area but do not perform wider area security. [14]  The Syrian regime often tries to fill this gap by sending ill-trained hired or conscripted troops to hold untenable positions deep in the desert, further weakening the regime’s footing and making the Central Syrian Desert deployment infamously undesirable. [15]
  • Russo-Iranian friction.  ISIS has exploited and fueled tensions between Russian and Iranian-backed units. ISIS assassinations of members of rival factions have led those factions to accuse one another of providing information to ISIS. These assassinations exacerbate preexisting squabbles over control of the CSD’s valuable resources. [16]  Russian forces agreed to transfer security positions near valuable phosphate fields and along high-volume GLOCs between Sukhna and Palmyra to Iranian proxies to appease Iranian demands on January 26. [17]  Poorly equipped Iranian-backed proxies replaced Russian-backed units around Palmyra after the agreement, creating vulnerabilities that ISIS has exploited. [18]

ISIS’s pressure is preventing elite and mobile pro-regime units from taking the initiative in the counter-ISIS fight. ISIS is exploiting the regime’s vulnerabilities to attack key Russian and Iranian bases across multiple zones to force the limited capable and rapidly deployable pro-regime units, including the Tiger Forces, to respond defensively across multiple zones in succession, as seen in figure 2. [19]  For example, ISIS carried out a large explosive attack–possibly using a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED)–on al Taym oil field, 10 miles south of Deir ez-Zour City, on February 3 to compel Russian-backed forces to abandon an operation against the ISIS stronghold in Jabal Bishri and redeploy to secure the field. [20]  Then, as those units became fixed at al Taym oil field, ISIS attacked oil facilities in Fasida, 20 miles southeast of Ithriya, on the same day. [21]  ISIS’s successive, geographically disparate attacks deny the regime opportunity to counter ISIS pro-actively.

Figure 2, click the image below to expand it:


 

New Russian-led efforts to contain ISIS have not meaningfully restricted the militants’ territorial grasp in Central Syria. Russia began a new effort to contain ISIS in the CSD in August 2020. [22]  Russian-led operations with elite Syrian proxies have focused on securing a few key oil assets including al Doubayat, al Shoula, and al Taym Oil Fields. [23]  Attempts by Russian-backed units to re-establish secure GLOCs to those fields have been unsuccessful. For example, ISIS resumed ambushes along the “secured” Khanasir-Ithriya highway just weeks after Russian-sponsored clearing operations ended in September 2020. [24]  Similarly, ISIS attacked a Russian-backed unit along the Deir ez-Zour-Palmyra highway near Kabbajab on February 18, 2021, three weeks after Deir ez-Zour National Defense Forces leader Nizar al Khidr declared the highway “secure.” [25]  Russia’s Ministry of Defense has asserted that it is achieving success against ISIS, claiming to have killed 327 ISIS militants in a several-day air campaign in August 2020. [26]  ISIS deaths in Russian air campaigns cannot be substantiated and, given the minimal impact of those campaigns on the security situation, are almost certainly exaggerated.

ISIS’s pressure in the CSD has begun to disrupt pro-regime operations in vital population centers outside the desert. The reallocation of pro-regime military resources to central Syria is already thinning the regime’s front lines in Idlib and the Hama-Homs corridor as pro-regime forces redeploy from these areas to the CSD. [27]  Russia also redeployed the Russian-backed 5th Corps 8th Brigade from Dera’a to the CSD on February 26, weakening the Russian effort to stabilize southwestern Syria. [28]  ISIS is also threatening pro-regime forces’ ability to reinforce front lines with Turkey north of Raqqa City. [29]

ISIS pressure has forced the regime to turn to Russia and Iran for increasing economic and military support. ISIS attacks on energy infrastructure have driven up oil prices and limited oil access, worsening the economic collapse in regime-held Syria and fueling growing instability in loyalist areas. [30]  Russia and Iran have seized this opportunity to expand their military presence along the Euphrates River Valley, provoking more resource competition within the pro-regime coalition but also increased Russian and Iranian recruitment from the Arab tribes in SDF-held Syria, potentially threatening the SDF’s control. [31]

ISIS is exploiting the regime’s newly thinned defenses and attacking key villages in Hama. ISIS temporarily seized populated terrain near the town of Rahjan three times between October 2020 and January 2021, forcing civilians to flee the area and setting up multiple layers of defense to block the regime’s counter-attack. [32]  Rahjan is key terrain that hosts a regime base. If ISIS seized the town itself, the group would be able to threaten regime GLOCs through Ithriya, the key node of regime transit between Idlib and Raqqa provinces. The regime has recaptured the terrain each time, but in two cases was only able to do so by redeploying additional units to the area and calling in artillery support and Russian airstrikes. [33]  In a sign of the regime’s failing defenses, the regime was incapable of sending elite Tiger forces to secure Rahjan and instead attempted to organize local tribes into an anti-ISIS militia after the October 2020 seizure. [34]  The militia likely lacks the skills and equipment to prevent ISIS from retaking this terrain, thus reinforcing its dependence on Russian air support, which is in short supply. Future ISIS attacks in this area are likely. ISIS’s central media has thus far refrained from claiming land seizures in Rahjan, possibly indicating that ISIS is wary to do so until it can hold the terrain. [35]  

ISIS may scale up efforts to seize populated terrain and oil infrastructure in the coming months, including during Ramadan from April 12 to May 12, 2021. ISIS typically launches a surge in operations during Ramadan that includes major attacks that surpass the prior baseline of activity. [36]  This year, ISIS is well-positioned to scale up its attacks on oil infrastructure, potentially seizing multiple facilities–including the T2 oil pump station 40 miles west of Albu Kamal along the Iraq-Syria pipeline or the al Hayl or Tuweinan gas refineries. In a most dangerous scenario, ISIS and pro-regime forces could reach some accommodation in central Syria that allows ISIS to retain control of oil or gas facilities if it decreases pressure on regime GLOCS and pivots to surge in other areas the regime wants destabilized. ISIS could alternately launch a new attempt to seize rural towns or to attack into urban centers thus far secured by pro-regime forces, including Sukhna or Palmyra.

ISIS is positioned to expand its campaign outward from the CSD. ISIS could move north from the CSD to further undermine Turkish-backed governance and strengthen smuggling routes across the Turkish-Syrian border. [37]  ISIS already escalated attacks in Turkish-controlled portions of Aleppo Province in June 2020 after two years of relative inactivity in that zone. [38]  As ISIS continues to expand westward into Hama, ISIS cells could also begin to threaten pro-regime transit along the M5 highway, which would cause a major economic disruption that the regime cannot afford. ISIS has similarly begun to expand out of the CSD to the southwest: ISIS cells in the CSD attacked energy infrastructure between al Dumayr and Adra, 20 miles northeast of Damascus, in August of 2020, causing blackouts along the entire Syrian coast. [39]  ISIS conducts regular assassinations and possibly explosive attacks in loosely regime-held Dera’a and is likely overlapping campaigns with anti-regime forces and intra-regime feuds from its base in the CSD. [40]  ISIS could use its nascent base southwest of Palmyra, near Quryatayn, to escalate attacks on regime positions outside Damascus or through Suwayda to Dera’a. Finally, ISIS can also pivot east. ISIS is already using its positions in regime-held Deir ez-Zour to infiltrate and destabilize SDF-held areas. [41]  ISIS could expand its control from Faydat in the northeastern CSD, along the road to Mayadin, from which it could launch attacks to attempt to seize SDF-held villages across the Euphrates from Mayadin. [42]


[1]  “[ISIS Destroys 3 sites belonging to the Iranian militias in Deir ez-Zour],” Syria TV, December 10, 2020,   http://syria dot tv/%D8%A8%D8%AF%D8%B9%D9%85-%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%8A-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A-%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%AC%D9%85-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D9%88%D8%B1

[5 regime forces killed in repeated attacks by ISIS in the desert near Palmyra], Radio al Kul, December 4, 2020, .https://www dot radioalkul.com/p357059/

[2]  “ISIS claims killing regime units in rural Salamiya,” Enab Baladi, December 14, 2020 [1] https://www dot enabbaladi.net/archives/440077

“Syrian desert in 24 hours | 22 regime soldiers and ISIS members killed in violent clashes, while nearly 70 Russian airstrikes pound the region,” Syria Observatory for Human Rights, December 13, 2020, .https://www dot syriahr.com/en/195855/

“[ISIS announces that it killed 13 members of the regime in rural Hama],” Qasioun News, December 15, 2020, .https://www dot qasioun-news.com/ar/articles/232388/%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%B8%D9%8A%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D8%A9-%D9%8A%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%86-%D9%85%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84-%D9%88%D8%A5%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%A9-13-%D8%B9%D9%86%D8%B5%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%8B-%D9%85%D9%86-% 

D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AD%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%A9

Similarly, Liwa al Fatemiyoun, Liwa al Quds, and SAA 7th Division 137th Artillery Regiment attempted to secure the Shula-Kabbajab sector of the DeZ-Palmyra highway on 08-11 JAN. After establishing a base near Shoula, Liwa al Quds and possible Tiger Forces in support moved to reclaim the Tayba oil field, 12 mi north of Sukhna. ISIS repelled a clearing attempt of Tayba with IEDs, killing at least 5 LQ members and possibly damaging a tank

“ISIS resurgence | Nearly 20 members of regime forces and Al-Quds Brigade killed and wounded in new attack in Deir Ezzor desert”, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, January 11, 2021, https://www.syriahr.com/en/199972/

“[’Desert Ambushes’ continue… regime dead and wounded in rural Deir ez-Zour and Raqqa,]” Shaam News Network, January 11, 2021, http://www dot shaam.org/news/syria-news/%D9%83%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B5%D9%84-%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%88%D8%AC%D8%B1%D8%AD%D9%89-%D9%84%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A8%D8%A3%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A7%D9%81-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D9%88%D8%B1-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%82%D8%A9.html

“[The Syrian Desert: ISIS kills and injures tens of regime forces and develops its attack methods,” al Quds, December 5, 2020, https://www dot alquds.co.uk/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%B8%D9%8A%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D8%A9-%D9%8A%D9%88%D9%82%D8%B9-%D8%B9%D8%B4/

[3]  “ISIS claims killing regime units in rural Salamiya,” Enab Baladi, December 14, 2020, https://www dot enabbaladi.net/archives/440077

“Syrian desert in 24 hours | 22 regime soldiers and ISIS members killed in violent clashes, while nearly 70 Russian airstrikes pound the region,” Syria Observatory for Human Rights, December 13, 2020, .https://www dot syriahr.com/en/195855/

“[ISIS announces that it killed 13 members of the regime in rural Hama],” Qasioun News, December 15, 2020, https://www dot qasioun-news.com/ar/articles/232388/%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%B8%D9%8A%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D8%A9-%D9%8A%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%86-%D9%85%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84-%D9%88%D8%A5%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%A9-13-%D8%B9%D9%86%D8%B5%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%8B-%D9%85%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AD%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%A9

[4]  Some of the most high-profile of these attacks:
Qaryatayn: “[Simultaneous with attacks by ISIS… Regime warplanes target several locations in Deir ez-Zour,]” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, October 2, 2020, https://www dot syriahr.com/%D8%AA%D8%B2%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%8B-%D9%85%D8%B9-%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D9%86%D9%81%D8%B0%D9%87-%D8%B9%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B5%D8%B1-%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%B8%D9%8A%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84/401406/

Shoula: The Fourth Division, Facebook, December 30, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=2864498750496573&id=2011572052455918&__cft__[0]=AZWC9MfxzonOmHq-J3v6QrDm6hksSlJ24ccI5m6bMBcGjxxlV5a5_GVrcWB-qQNwdtGOlo0xcVEi-Nox8_MZq2n1dBPThhyMmroKHL6iX9K0AyPsCdcIPWdDEORKOKcBbFW7HQPNW5-TJVTHK012vmsU&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R

Site Intel Group, “IS Claims Killing 40 Syrian Soldiers in Ambush on Bus” SITE, December 31, 2020,  https://ent.siteintelgroup.com/Statements/is-claims-killing-40-syrian-soldiers-in-ambush-on-bus.html 

DNGTS: “[The leader of the 17th Division swears revenge over the deaths of Assad regime fighters in the southern Deir ez-Zour Desert,]” Deir ez-Zour 24, December 31, 2020, https://deirezzor24 dot net/%d9%82%d8%a7%d8%a6%d8%af-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%81%d8%b1%d9%82%d8%a9-17-%d9%8a%d8%aa%d9%88%d8%b9%d8%af-%d8%a8%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a7%d9%86%d8%aa%d9%82%d8%a7%d9%85-%d9%84%d9%82%d8%aa%d9%84%d9%89-%d9%82%d9%88%d8%a7/

“[Dead in the targeting of a convoy transporting regime forces to eastern Syria,]” Enab Baladi, December 12, 2020, https://www dot enabbaladi.net/archives/444578

“[Most of them died in an ambush in rural Deir ez-Zour… The deaths of tens of officers and forces for the regime in various areas,]” Shaam News Network, December 31, 2020, http://www dot shaam.org/news/syria-news/%D9%85%D8%B9%D8%B8%D9%85%D9%87%D9%85-%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%88%D8%A7-%D8%A8%D9%83%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%81-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D9%88%D8%B1-%D9%85%D8%B5%D8%B1%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B4%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%85%D9%86-%D8%B6%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B7-%D9%88%D8%B9%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B5%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A8%D9%85%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B7%D9%82-%D9%85%D8%AA%D9%81%D8%B1%D9%82%D8%A9.html

Ithriya:”[Five Assad forces dead in ISIS attacks on the Ithriya-Khanasir road,]” Shaam News Network, September 21, 2020, http://www dot shaam.org/news/syria-news/%D8%AE%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A9-%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%85%D9%86-%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D8%B3%D8%AF-%D8%A8%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%84%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%B7%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%82-%D8%A5%D8%AB%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%AE%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B5%D8%B1.html

Resafa: “[Raqqa: Announcement of the death of regime forces in an ISIS attack,]” Enab Baladi, October 2, 2020, https://www dot enabbaladi.net/archives/420345

Faydat: “ISIS resurgence | Leader of “137th Regiment” among nearly 30 regime soldiers and NDF members killed and injured by ambush in Al-Mayadeen,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 18, 2020, https://www dot syriahr.com/en/192470/

[5]  This study is sincerely indebted to the work of Gregory Waters, which provided a priceless reference point and quality check for all of the author’s independently gathered data.

Gregory Waters, “'A Force They Haven’t Seen Before': Insurgent ISIS in Central Syria,” Middle East Institute,  April 15, 2020, https://www.mei.edu/publications/force-they-havent-seen-insurgent-isis-central-syria

Gregory Waters “Strengthening and Expanding: ISIS’ Central Syria Campaign,” Newlines Institute, August 19, 2020, https://newlinesinstitute.org/isis/strengthening-and-expanding-isis-central-syria-campaign/

[6]  “[Under the name of ‘White Desert’… A military operation to follow ISIS in the desert,]” Euphrates Post, September 7, 2020

https://euphratespost dot net/%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%AD%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%B6%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%B9%D9%85%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%B9%D8%B3%D9%83%D8%B1%D9%8A/

[7]  Gregory Waters, Twitter, August 26, 2020, https://twitter.com/GregoryPWaters/status/1299025578419519489

“[The Doubayat field in the Syrian Desert… the scene of violent battles between ISIS, the regime, and Russia,” SY-24, September 8, 2020, https://www.sy-24 dot com/news/D8ADD982D984-D8A7D984D8B6D8A8D98AD8A7D8AA-D8A8D8A7D984D8A8D8A7D8AFD98AD8A9-D8A7D984D8B3D988D8B1D98AD8A9-D985D8B3D8B1D8AD-D984D985/

“Russian forces spread through Deir ez-Zour… what’s the reason?” Baladi News, September 15, 2020,

https://www dot baladi-news.com/ar/articles/65105/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%B4%D8%B1-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D9%88%D8%B1-..-%D9%85%D8%A7-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D8%A8%D8%A8%D8%9F

Gregory Waters identified the third assault as an attack seizing checkpoints “around Sukhnah” that killed 4; the author assesses that these were checkpoints at or around Doubayat.

Gregory Waters, Twitter, October 8, 2020 https://twitter.com/GregoryPWaters/status/1314223394011914240;

Gregory Waters, “ISIS Redux: The Central Syria Insurgency in October 2020,” Counter-Extremism Project, November 10, 2020, https://www.counterextremism.com/blog/isis-redux-central-syria-insurgency-october-2020

Al Badia 24, Facebook, October 5, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/ALBADIA24/posts/398981808166245?__cft__%5b0%5d=AZWvRkT9Q7rrovYJtXnmKfMsuqvN_Dp4AK2GTO9noxXwk5eMReApvJRXfpgiDWIJTdeZT57pzDFQNV4lQWAcVh7aQrUyk1pRcu-uCSsK2egh4ruTMCjBEhXTRYv7Ayy_idBjvUfn4ePRyNKgGXt43noY&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R

NORSforStudies, Twitter, October 5, 2020, https://twitter.com/NorsForStudies/status/1313237788565929989

No reporting on this attack specifies what regime units were involved; the assessment that this was 5th Corps is based on deaths in the area later that same week.

[8]  “Russian forces spread through Deir ez-Zour… what’s the reason?” Baladi News, September 15, 2020,

https://www dot baladi-news.com/ar/articles/65105/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%B4%D8%B1-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D9%88%D8%B1-..-%D9%85%D8%A7-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D8%A8%D8%A8%D8%9F.

[9]  “Russian forces spread through Deir ez-Zour… what’s the reason?” Baladi News, September 15, 2020,

https://www dot baladi-news.com/ar/articles/65105/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%B4%D8%B1-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D9%88%D8%B1-..-%D9%85%D8%A7-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D8%A8%D8%A8%D8%9F.

[10]  “Russian general killed in roadside bombing attack in east Syria,” al Masdar News, August 19, 2020, https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/russian-general-killed-in-roadside-bombing-attack-in-east-syria/

Adnan Ahmed and Abd al Rahman Khidr, “Russia trains Syrian regime forces and the US coalition supports the SDF,” al Araby, January 16, 2021

https://www dot alaraby.co.uk/node/1361919

“[The Syrian Desert: ISIS kills and injures tens of regime forces and develops its attack methods,” al Quds, December 5, 2020, https://www dot alquds.co.uk/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%B8%D9%8A%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D8%A9-%D9%8A%D9%88%D9%82%D8%B9-%D8%B9%D8%B4/

[11]  A key example of a gap between zones is at Tibni, southwest of Ma’adan, where locals have formed independent militia to mitigate the regime-sponsored security vacuum. See Kayla Koontz and Gregory Waters, “Between the Coalition, ISIS, and Assad: Courting the Tribes of Deir ez-Zour,” Middle East Institute, November 3, 2020, https://www.mei.edu/publications/between-coalition-isis-and-assad-courting-tribes-deir-ez-zor.

There are likely similar gaps in the deep desert at Juweif, north of Faydat, and possibly at Ulayniya, south of Palmyra.

[12]  Christopher Kozak, “’An Army in All Corners’ Assad’s Campaign Strategy in Syria” Institute for the Study of War, April 2015, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/An%20Army%20in%20All%20Corners%20by%20Chris%20Kozak%201.pdf

[13]  Gregory Waters, ““A Force They Haven’t Seen Before”: Insurgent ISIS in Central Syria,” Middle East Institute,  April 15, 2020, https://www.mei.edu/publications/force-they-havent-seen-insurgent-isis-central-syria

[14]  “The Russians delegate leadership of battles against ISIS to Wagner group,” Qasioun news, December 2, 2020

  https://www dot qasioun-news.com/ar/articles/231961/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3-%D9%8A%D9%85%D9%86%D8%AD%D9%88%D9%86-%D9%82%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%83-%D8%B6%D8%AF-%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%B8%D9%8A%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D8%A9-%D9%84%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%BA%D9%86%D8%B1

Emad Karkas, “Syrian: Iranian militia deaths in an ISIS attack in Deir ez-Zour,” al Araby, 10 December, 2020, https://www dot alaraby.co.uk/politics/%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%84%D9%84%D9%85%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D9%84%D9%80%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D9%88%D8%B1

“The Latest: Russian private military contractors in Syria,” AP News, June 20, 2019, https://apnews.com/article/61b26d25e24e4115873b39a8de8dcf32

George Barros with Jennifer Cafarella, “Belarusian Forces May Deploy to Syria in late 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, February 4, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-belarusian-forces-may-deploy-syria-late-2021

[15]  “[Dead from the Baqir militia in rural Salamiya.. ISIS adopts the attack,]” Enab Baladi, February 3, 2021, https://www dot enabbaladi.net/archives/455440

“IS Attack Kills 19 in Central Syria,” Naharnet, February 3, 2021, http://www dot naharnet.com/stories/en/279166-is-attack-kills-19-in-central-syria

“ISIS resurgence | Members launch new surprise attack, killing nearly 20 regime soldiers and loyal militiamen in eastern Hama”,  Syria Observatory for Human Rights, February 3, 2021, https://www dot syriahr.com/en/203535/

“19 killed in an ISIS attack in Hama,”  Shafaq, February 3, 2021, https://shafaq dot com/en/World/19-killed-in-an-ISIS-attack-in-Hama

“19 Assad forces dead in an ISIS attach,” PUK Media, February 3, 2021, http://pukmedia dot com/AR_Direje.aspx?Jimare=153980

Jalal Bakur, “10s killed and injured from the Syrian regime in ISIS attack in Hama,” al Araby, February 3, 2021, https://www dot alaraby.co.uk/politics/%D9%85%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84-%D9%88%D8%AC%D8%B1%D8%AD-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B4%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%85%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D9%84%D9%80%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%AD%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%A9

Gregory Waters, Twitter, February 17, 2021, https://twitter.com/GregoryPWaters/status/1362150967416938496

[16]  Emad Karkas, “Syrian: Iranian militia deaths in an ISIS attack in Deir ez-Zour,” al Araby, 10 December, 2020, https://www.alaraby dot co.uk/politics/%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%84%D9%84%D9%85%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D9%84%D9%80%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D9%88%D8%B1

“Meeting of Russians with regime leaders after the death of the 137th Brigade leader in Deir ez-Zour,” HalabTodayTV, November 20, 2020,

https://halabtodaytv dot net/archives/166642

[17]  Manhal Bareesh, “[After the death of 40 members of the 4th Division: Will ISIS drag ISIS into the shifting sands of the Syrian Desert],” al Quds, January 2, 2021,  

https://www.alquds dot co.uk/بعد-مقتل-40-عنصرا-من-الفرقة-الرابعة-هل-سي/

[18]  “Death and injured from the Iranian forces in the Syrian Desert,” JesrPress, February 21, 2021, https://www.jesrpress dot com/2021/02/21/%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%88%D8%AC%D8%B1%D8%AD%D9%89-%D9%85%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%81%D9%8A/

New ambush | ISIS kills four regime soldiers on Damascus-Deir Ezzor highway,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 17, 2021, https://www dot syriahr.com/en/205392/

“[ISIS attack targets a convoy of Qaterji tankers in rural Homs,]” Qasiyoun, February 11, 2021,

https://www dot qasioun-news.com/ar/articles/234227/%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D9%84%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D9%8A%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%81-%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%81%D9%84%D8%A9-%D8%B5%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%AC-%D9%84%D9%84%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B7%D8%B1%D8%AC%D9%8A-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AD%D9%85%D8%B5

[19]  Tiger Forces have supported high-stakes clearing operations by the SAA 5th Corps in Deir ez-Zour/Homs (in Sukhna/Doubayat (06-12 SEP) and Mayadin (02 DEC)), and separately in the Hama/Raqqa theater (Khanasir-Ithriya (17 SEP) and Rahjan (13-16 DEC; 31 DEC-08 JAN)). It is unknown whether Tiger Forces are permanently stationed in small numbers at the hardened Russian bases in each theater (DeZ Airport in DeZ/Homs, Abu ad Duhor or Tabqa in Hama/Raqqa); they are more likely are moving between these two theaters and possibly the Idlib front lines. The regime has a limited stock of these well-trained elite forces and cannot afford to have them clear a given area for long periods – hence the repeated loss of Doubayat Gas Field following the departure of high-quality regime units. 

“[The Doubayat field in the Syrian Desert… the scene of violent battles between ISIS, the regime, and Russia,” SY-24, September 8, 2020, https://www dot sy-24.com/news/D8ADD982D984-D8A7D984D8B6D8A8D98AD8A7D8AA-D8A8D8A7D984D8A8D8A7D8AFD98AD8A9-D8A7D984D8B3D988D8B1D98AD8A9-D985D8B3D8B1D8AD-D984D985/

No official armored units were involved in this operation and the 5th Corps 7th Brigade has not used tanks previously. However, the Tiger forces had an “Armored unit of unknown size” as of OCT 2018 which used T-90 and T-72 tanks. Tiger forces also have BMP infantry fighting vehicles which are often misreported as tanks.

Gregory Waters, “The Tiger Forces: Pro-Assad Fighters Backed by Russia,” Middle East Institute, October 2018, https://www.mei.edu/sites/default/files/2018-11/TigerForces.pdf

“The Russians delegate leadership of battles against ISIS to Wagner group,” Qasioun news, December 2, 2020

https://www dot qasioun-news.com/ar/articles/231961/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3-%D9%8A%D9%85%D9%86%D8%AD%D9%88%D9%86-%D9%82%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%83-%D8%B6%D8%AF-%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%B8%D9%8A%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D8%A9-%D9%84%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%BA%D9%86%D8%B1

Gregory Waters, Twitter, September 19, 2020

https://twitter.com/GregoryPWaters/status/1307527149558132737

“ISIS claims killing regime units in rural Salamiya,” Enab Baladi, December 14, 2020

https://www dot enabbaladi.net/archives/440077

“[ISIS claims attacks on the Syrian regime in rural Salamiya,]” Enab Baladi, December 14, 2020

https://www dot biladynews.com/2020/12/31/%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A9-%D8%BA%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D9%85%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%B8%D8%A9-%D8%AD%D9%85%D8%B5-%D8%A8%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D9%85%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B4%D8%B1/

“ISIS attacks the Syrian regime in eastern Hama,” January 8, 2021,

https://www dot elbalad.news/4648397

[20]  ISIS VBIED attack at al Taym on 03 February likely intended to disrupt Russian counter-ISIS operations along the DeZ-Palmyra road throughout January; those c-ISIS operations paused for at least a week to recover.

Omar Abu Layla, Twitter, February 3, 2021, https://twitter.com/OALD24/status/1357067712007196672

“ISIS attack kills 7 regime loyalists in Syria’s eastern province of Deir Ezzor,” Al Arabiya, January 9, 2021, http://english dot alarabiya.net/News/middle-east/2021/01/09/ISIS-attack-kills-7-regime-loyalists-in-Syria-s-eastern-province-of-Deir-Ezzor

“Deir Ezzor | Unknown gunmen attack military checkpoint with RPG, and others open fire on civilian official of Autonomous Administration,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 1, 2021, https://www dot syriahr.com/en/203264/

“[Tens killed and injured from Assad’s forces in a large explosion in Deir ez-Zour,” el Dorar, February 4, 2021, https://eldorar dot com/node/160183

Similarly, the ISIS attack on Hamdan airbase in late OCT 2020 likely intended to disrupt Iranian response to ISIS’s ongoing operations in Hama.

“[ISIS continues its attacks in rural Deir ez-Zour and reaches the area of the airport,” Xeber 24, October 28, 2020,

https://xeber24 dot org/archives/304567

[21]  “[Dead from the Baqir militia in rural Salamiya.. ISIS adopts the attack,]” Enab Baladi, February 3, 2021, https://www dot enabbaladi.net/archives/455440

“IS Attack Kills 19 in Central Syria,” Naharnet, February 3, 2021, http://www dot naharnet.com/stories/en/279166-is-attack-kills-19-in-central-syria

“ISIS resurgence | Members launch new surprise attack, killing nearly 20 regime soldiers and loyal militiamen in eastern Hama”,  Syria Observatory for Human Rights, February 3, 2021, https://www dot syriahr.com/en/203535/

“19 killed in an ISIS attack in Hama,”  Shafaq, February 3, 2021, https://shafaq dot com/en/World/19-killed-in-an-ISIS-attack-in-Hama

“19 Assad forces dead in an ISIS attach,” PUK Media, February 3, 2021, http://pukmedia dot com/AR_Direje.aspx?Jimare=153980

Jalal Bakur, “10s killed and injured from the Syrian regime in ISIS attack in Hama,” al Araby, February 3, 2021, https://www.alaraby dot co.uk/politics/%D9%85%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84-%D9%88%D8%AC%D8%B1%D8%AD-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B4%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%85%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D9%84%D9%80%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%AD%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%A9

[22]  “Russian forces spread through Deir ez-Zour… what’s the reason?” Baladi News, September 15, 2020,

https://www.baladi-news dot com/ar/articles/65105/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%B4%D8%B1-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D9%88%D8%B1-..-%D9%85%D8%A7-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D8%A8%D8%A8%D8%9F

“[Under the name of ‘White Desert’… A military operation to follow ISIS in the desert,]” Euphrates Post, September 7, 2020

https://euphratespost dot net/%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%AD%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%B6%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%B9%D9%85%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%B9%D8%B3%D9%83%D8%B1%D9%8A/

[23]  Taym: Emad Karkas, “[Syrian: Dead among the Iranian militias in ISIS attacks in Deir ez-Zour,]” al Araby, December 10, 2020,

https://www.alaraby dot co.uk/politics/%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%84%D9%84%D9%85%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D9%84%D9%80%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D9%88%D8%B1

Halab Today TV, Twitter, September 10, 2020, https://twitter.com/i/web/status/1303943907953324040

Shoula: “[Russian Forces Spread in the Shoula area in southern Deir ez-Zour,]” Deir Ezzor 24, August 2020,

https://deirezzor24 dot net/%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%82%d9%88%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b1%d9%88%d8%b3%d9%8a%d8%a9-%d8%aa%d9%86%d8%aa%d8%b4%d8%b1-%d9%81%d9%8a-%d9%85%d9%86%d8%b7%d9%82%d8%a9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b4%d9%88%d9%84%d8%a7/

“[A look at Global Jihad,10-16 September 2020]” Meir Amit Center, September 21, 2020, https://www dot terrorism-info.org.il/ar/%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%8A-16-10-%D8%A3%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%88%D9%84-%D8%B3%D8%A8%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%A8%D8%B1/

Doubayat: Gregory Waters, Twitter, August 27, 2020, https://twitter.com/GregoryPWaters/status/1299025578419519489

“[The Doubayat field in the Syrian Desert… the scene of violent battles between ISIS, the regime, and Russia,” SY-24, September 8, 2020, https://www dot sy-24.com/news/D8ADD982D984-D8A7D984D8B6D8A8D98AD8A7D8AA-D8A8D8A7D984D8A8D8A7D8AFD98AD8A9-D8A7D984D8B3D988D8B1D98AD8A9-D985D8B3D8B1D8AD-D984D985/

[24]  Gregory Waters, Twitter, September 19, 2020,

https://twitter.com/GregoryPWaters/status/1307527149558132737

“5 killed from Assad’s forces in ISIS attacks on the Ithriya-Khanasir road,” Shaam News Network, April 21, 2020

http://www dot shaam.org/news/syria-news/%D8%AE%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A9-%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%85%D9%86-%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D8%B3%D8%AF-%D8%A8%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%84%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%B7%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%82-%D8%A5%D8%AB%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%AE%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B5%D8%B1.html

A similar attack followed regime clearing operations in Deir ez-Zour in December 2020:

Gregory Waters, Twitter, December 28, 2020, https://twitter.com/GregoryPWaters/status/1343638668452499457

Site Intel Group, “IS Claims Killing 40 Syrian Soldiers in Ambush on Bus” SITE, December 31, 2020,  https://ent.siteintelgroup.com/Statements/is-claims-killing-40-syrian-soldiers-in-ambush-on-bus.html

“[The leader of the 17th Division swears revenge over the deaths of Assad regime fighters in the southern Deir ez-Zour Desert,]” Deir ez-Zour 24, December 31, 2020, https://deirezzor24 dot net/%d9%82%d8%a7%d8%a6%d8%af-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%81%d8%b1%d9%82%d8%a9-17-%d9%8a%d8%aa%d9%88%d8%b9%d8%af-%d8%a8%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a7%d9%86%d8%aa%d9%82%d8%a7%d9%85-%d9%84%d9%82%d8%aa%d9%84%d9%89-%d9%82%d9%88%d8%a7/

“[Dead in the targeting of a convoy transporting regime forces to eastern Syria,]” Enab Baladi, December 12, 2020, https://www.enabbaladi dot net/archives/444578

“[Most of them died in an ambush in rural Deir ez-Zour… The deaths of tens of officers and forces for the regime in various areas,]” Shaam News Network, December 31, 2020, http://www.shaam dot org/news/syria-news/%D9%85%D8%B9%D8%B8%D9%85%D9%87%D9%85-%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%88%D8%A7-%D8%A8%D9%83%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%81-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D9%88%D8%B1-%D9%85%D8%B5%D8%B1%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B4%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%85%D9%86-%D8%B6%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B7-%D9%88%D8%B9%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B5%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A8%D9%85%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B7%D9%82-%D9%85%D8%AA%D9%81%D8%B1%D9%82%D8%A9.html

[25]  “New ambush | ISIS kills four regime soldiers on Damascus-Deir Ezzor highway,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 17, 2021, https://www dot syriahr.com/en/205392/

“[ISIS attack targets a convoy of Qaterji tankers in rural Homs,]” Qasiyoun, February 11, 2021, https://www dot qasioun-news.com/ar/articles/234227/%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D9%84%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D9%8A%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%81-%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%81%D9%84%D8%A9-%D8%B5%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%AC-%D9%84%D9%84%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B7%D8%B1%D8%AC%D9%8A-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AD%D9%85%D8%B5

”[Regime militias and those backed by Russia continue their military operations against ISIS in the Syrian Desert under Russian air cover,]” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 3, 2021, https://www dot syriahr.com/%d9%82%d9%88%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%86%d8%b8%d8%a7%d9%85-%d9%88%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d9%8a%d9%84%d9%8a%d8%b4%d9%8a%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d9%88%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%8a%d8%a9-%d9%84%d8%b1%d9%88/419552/

“Backed by Russian air support | Regime forces and Russian-backed militias continue military operations against ISIS in Syrian desert,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 3, 2021, https://www dot syriahr.com/en/203430/

“In the last 48 hours… More than 100 Russian air strikes in the Syrian Desert,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 2, 2021, https://www.syriahr dot com/%d8%ae%d9%84%d8%a7%d9%84-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%8048-%d8%b3%d8%a7%d8%b9%d8%a9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%81%d8%a7%d8%a6%d8%aa%d8%a9-%d8%a3%d9%83%d8%ab%d8%b1-%d9%85%d9%86-100-%d8%ba%d8%a7%d8%b1%d8%a9-%d8%ac%d9%88/419532/

[26]  “[Russia launches the ‘White Desert’ operation in the Syrian Desert],” Baladi News, AUgust 25, 2020, https://www.baladi-news dot com/ar/articles/64347/%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%AA%D8%B7%D9%84%D9%82-%D8%B9%D9%85%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A9-%22%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%AD%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%B6%D8%A7%D8%A1%22-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9

al Araby and SOHR estimate 22 ISIS deaths in the clashes; airstrikes may have caused low tens deaths but it’s unlikely that more deaths could be evidenced given that there was no immediate follow-on ground operation to clear and secure the hideouts.  Later, on 30 AUG, Amin al Aasi, “[The Syrian Desert: a Black Hole Swallowing Regime Force,]” al Araby, August 30, 2020,  https://www dot alaraby.co.uk/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AB%D9%82%D8%A8-%D8%A3%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%AF-%D9%8A%D8%A8%D8%AA%D9%84%D8%B9-%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85 

“Despite Russian air strikes… About 100 regime forces and militias dead or missing in ISIS operations in the Syrian Desert,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, August 29, 2020,

https://www.syriahr dot com/%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D8%BA%D9%85-%D9%85%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B6%D8%B1%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%85%D9%82/394153/

Russian Wagner units have come forwards about the challenging conditions they face in the Desert. Liliya Yapparova, “‘Guys, you’re destined for war’ Combatant from the Russian mercenary group tied to 'Putin's chef' grants Meduza the first interview of its kind,” Meduza, December 2, 2020

https://meduza dot io/en/feature/2020/12/03/guys-you-re-destined-for-war

[27]  [27]“[Assad forces reinforcements from the 5th Corps arrive in the Deir ez-Zour Desert,]” Deir ezzor 24, August 2020,

 https://deirezzor24 dot net/%d8%aa%d8%b9%d8%b2%d9%8a%d8%b2%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d9%84%d9%82%d9%88%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a3%d8%b3%d8%af-%d9%85%d8%aa%d9%85%d8%ab%d9%84%d8%a9-%d8%a8%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%81%d9%8a%d9%84%d9%82-%d8%a7%d9%84/

“[The most important daily news from Syria and the world - Tuesday 20/10/2020,]” STEP Agency SY, October 20, 2020,

https://stepagency-sy.net/2020/10/20/%d8%a3%d9%87%d9%85-%d8%a3%d8%ae%d8%a8%d8%a7%d8%b1-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%8a%d9%88%d9%85-%d9%81%d9%8a-%d8%b3%d9%88%d8%b1%d9%8a%d8%a7-%d9%88%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b9%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85-47/

[28]  “Fighters from Dera’a in the front lines in the Syrian Desert,” Enab Baladi, February 25, 2021,

 https://www.enabbaladi dot net/archives/461075

Michael Land and Diana Barany, “Russia and Aligned Former Opposition Fighters Leverage Growing anti-Assad Sentiment to Expand Control in Southern Syria,” Institute for the Study of War, July 23, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-and-aligned-former-opposition-fighters-leverage-growing-anti-assad-sentiment

[29]  For example, units moving to Ain Issa are forced to transit through Resafa, which is at risk. Al Badia 24, Facebook, December 20, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/ALBADIA24/posts/461736811890744?__cft__%5b0%5d=AZV9V1O_PW7t8m9g5aZMKAFvsdFnpHbpH38wOSJ4ocM3DQVpsy78V95K6YF2j4YjubT9LYQ75X7gsI5ILEKzg-7GlyXJ1cyVB4AbVO9p7qamudNRe7C4ZqAUvvdQ3aQlamfxKOMTwlui2-HOGWm2sZZt&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R

[30]  “Government-held areas of Syria raise fuel prices, blaming US sanctions,” al Arabiya, October 21, 2020, https://english dot alarabiya.net/News/middle-east/2020/10/21/Government-held-areas-of-Syria-raise-fuel-prices-blaming-US-sanctions

Dia Awda, “Agreements between ISIS and Hussam Qaterji, Assad’s man… Attacks escalate the oil crisis in Syria,” al Hurra, January 11, 2021,

https://www.alhurra dot com/syria/2021/01/11/%D8%AA%D9%81%D8%A7%D9%87%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D9%88%D8%AD%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B7%D8%B1%D8%AC%D9%8A-%D8%B1%D8%AC%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D8%B3%D8%AF-%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%AA%D9%81%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%85-%D8%A3%D8%B2%D9%85%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D9%81%D8%B7-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A7

[31] “Assad forces command pressures militia’ fighters to join Military Security branch in Deir Ezzor,” Deir Ezzor 24, February 2021,

https://deirezzor24 dot net/en/assad-forces-command-pressures-militia-fighters-to-join-military-security-branch-in-deir-ezzor/

“To counter Iran’s expansion and weaken SDF | Russian forces plan to recruit Arab tribesmen in al-Qamishli and al-Hasaka,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 18, 2021,https://www dot syriahr.com/en/205506/

 “Nearly 550 people recruited in five weeks: ‘Liiwa al Fatemiyoun’ continues recruiting young males and men in al Qamishli and al Hasakah,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 21, 2021, https://www dot syriahr.com/en/206040/

[32]  Badia 24, Facebook, October 22, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/ALBADIA24/posts/413665176697908?__cft__%5b0%5d=AZXnKP_YxuKRkFp_5qGPFKnqiXICaNcY8Soro115DcqHZM-3wMxaSjUOc3x8OIvtmqht1dEKdFSY-BmYaegsRIAQTwiw0eGOneWM86bFWWLKUQpNA9HmId10UVvky4226XDIbW58XItsE20UF6PdE9Cp&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R

Gregory Waters, “ISIS Redux: The Central Syria Insurgency in October 2020,” November 10, 2020, (GW)

“Regime forces and militias dead in clashes with ISIS in Hama,” Baladi News, December 16, 2020,  

https://www.baladi-news dot com/ar/articles/68757/%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%84%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B4%D8%AA%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%83%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%85%D8%B9-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D9%B0%D9%80%D8%B4-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%AD%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%A9

“[ISIS attacks on Syrian forces in rural eastern Hama,]” el Balad, February 8, 2021,

https://www.elbalad dot news/4648397

[32] “[Tribes in the Syrian Desert are the victim to terror from regime militias and ISIS,]” Syria TV, December 11, 2020, https://www dot syria.tv/%D8%B9%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%B6%D8%AD%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A5%D8%B1%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%A8-%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%88%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4

[33]  “[Tribes in the Syrian Desert are the victim to terror from regime militias and ISIS,]” Syria TV, December 11, 2020, https://www dot syria.tv/%D8%B9%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%B6%D8%AD%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A5%D8%B1%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%A8-%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%88%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4

[34]  Hamam Aissa al Sheikh, Facebook, October 27, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/humamlssa/posts/163087215457465

The Liberated of Mayadin, Facebook, October 24, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/Ahraralmayadeen/posts/1313598922309672

“[To fight the ISIS threat.. Assad forces and Iranian militias create a ‘Tribal Army’ in the Syrian Desert,]” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, October 25, 2020, https://www dot syriahr.com/%D9%84%D9%85%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AC%D9%87%D8%A9-%D8%AE%D8%B7%D8%B1-%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%B8%D9%8A%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%82/404133/

[35]  Claims from a survey of al Naba weekly magazines, collected on Telegram, Archive.org, and with the assistance of Aaron Zelin’s Jihadology.org.

[36]  Brandon Wallace, “ISIS Reasserts Global Reach for Ramadan 2019,” Institute for the Study of War, May 1, 2019, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/isis-reasserts-global-reach-ramadan-2019

[37]  These routes have reportedly been suppressed by Turkey with some success, per the “Operation Inherent Resolve: Lead Inspector General Report to the United States Congress, October 1 2020-December 31 2020,” Lead Inspector General for the Department of Defense, February 9, 2021

[38]  IbnalArabi15, Twitter, February 19, 2021, https://twitter.com/IbnAlarabi15/status/1362875394353995781

Ranosheh81, Twitter, February 20, 2021, https://twitter.com/ranosheh81/status/1363043948718141442

“[In one day… ISIS claims 6 attacks in Syria,]” Enab Baladi, February 22, 2021, https://www dot enabbaladi.net/archives/460246

“New attack | ISIS cells kill four Syrian militiamen in IRGC positions in Deir Ezzor countryside,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 20, 2021, https://www dot syriahr.com/en/205913/

Eva Kahan and Nicholas Heras, “E34: ISIS Escalates Violence in Turkish-held Parts of Northwest Syria,” Overwatch Podcast, August 14, 2020, https://www.stitcher.com/show/overwatch-2/episode/e34-isis-escalates-violence-in-turkish-held-parts-of-northwest-syria-76964317

[39]  Gregory Waters, Twitter, August 23, 2020, https://twitter.com/GregoryPWaters/status/1297756396256198656?s=20

“Syria says pipeline blast was terrorist attack, U.S. suspects IS,” Reuters, August 23, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-blast-electricity/explosion-on-syria-gas-pipeline-a-terrorist-attack-minister-idUSKBN25K062

Bethan McKernan, “Arab gas pipeline explosion caused Syria blackout – state media,” The Guardian, August 23, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/24/arab-gas-pipeline-explosion-leads-to-total-blackout-in-syria-state-media

Albert Aji “Blast hits pipeline in Syria, causing wide power outages,” ABC News, August 24, 2020, https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/electricity-cut-syria-explosion-hits-gas-pipeline-72563164

“[ISIS announces an ambush that kills tens of regime forces,]” Enab Baladi, June 22, 2018, https://www dot enabbaladi.net/archives/236705

“ISIS resurgence | Three National Defense members killed in attack by cells on their positions in Deir ez-Zor,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, June 21, 2020, https://www dot syriahr.com/en/171078/?doing_wp_cron=1592777982.3631470203399658203125

[40]  Michael Land and Diana Barany, “Russia and Aligned Former Opposition Fighters Leverage Growing anti-Assad Sentiment to Expand Control in Southern Syria,” Institute for the Study of War, July 23, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-and-aligned-former-opposition-fighters-leverage-growing-anti-assad-sentiment

[41]  Gregory Waters “Strengthening and Expanding: ISIS’ Central Syria Campaign,” Newlines Institute, August 19, 2020 https://newlinesinstitute.org/isis/strengthening-and-expanding-isis-central-syria-campaign/

Eva Kahan, “Anti-ISIS Coalition Begins Losing Tribal Support in Syria,” Institute for the Study of War, August 20, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/anti-isis-coalition-begins-losing-tribal-support-syria

[42]  ISIS has already begun to expand near Buqrus al Tahtani and Ashara, north and south of Mayadin respectively:

”Escalating security chaos | Beheaded NDF member found in Al-Mayadeen desert,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 24, 2021, https://www.syriahr.com/en/206414/

“[Members of the Fourth Division killed in an explosion in eastern Deir ez-Zour,]” Hal, February 25, 2021, https://7al dot net/2021/02/25/%d9%85%d9%82%d8%aa%d9%84-%d8%b9%d9%86%d8%a7%d8%b5%d8%b1-%d9%85%d9%86-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%81%d8%b1%d9%82%d8%a9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b1%d8%a7%d8%a8%d8%b9%d8%a9-%d8%a8%d8%aa%d9%81%d8%ac%d9%8a%d8%b1/?=razzaq-a&news

“[Dead from the ranks of the Republican Guard in ISIS attacks in Deir ez-Zour,” Halab Today TV, February 21, 2021,

https://halabtodaytv dot net/archives/179619?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=%25d9%2582%25d8%25aa%25d9%2584%25d9%2589-%25d8%25a8%25d8%25b5%25d9%2581%25d9%2588%25d9%2581-%25d8%25a7%25d9%2584%25d8%25ad%25d8%25b1%25d8%25b3-%25d8%25a7%25d9%2584%25d8%25ab%25d9%2588%25d8%25b1%25d9%258a-%25d8%25a8%25d9%2587%25d8%25ac%25d9%2588%25d9%2585-%25d9%2584%25d8%25aa%25d9%2586%25d8%25b8%25d9%258a%25d9%2585-%25d8%25a7

These villages are particularly vulnerable due to a pattern of ISIS attacks to assert social control. A few examples of the deteriorating security conditions in Busayra and the surrounding towns (Shuhail, Sabha, Takihi):

“Deir Ezzor | ISIS members threaten residents to kill their sons if not give up working for SDF,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 14, 2021,  https://www dot syriahr.com/en/205057/

“[Deir ez-Zour.. Discovering a severed head with ISIS’s signature in Shuheil,]” Syria TV, February 16, 2021,

http://syria dot tv/%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D9%88%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%AB%D9%88%D8%B1-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%B1%D8%A3%D8%B3-%D9%85%D9%82%D8%B7%D9%88%D8%B9-%D8%A8%D8%AA%D9%88%D9%82%D9%8A%D8%B9-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D8%AD%D9%8A%D9%84

 “[The assassination of the shared president for Kibr village in rural western Deir ez-Zour,]” Enab Baladi, December 22, 2020,  https://www dot enabbaladi.net/archives/442209

“IED attack | Assassination on head of local council in western Deir ez-Zor countryside,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, December 22, 2020, https://www dot syriahr.com/en/197083/

“[With ISIS cell activity in rural Deir ez-Zour… Execution of a civilian with bullets in his home.. and assassination of an SDF member who was in ISIS’s ranks,]” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, December 22, 2020, https://www dot syriahr.com/%d9%85%d8%b9-%d9%86%d8%b4%d8%a7%d8%b7-%d8%ae%d9%84%d8%a7%d9%8a%d8%a7-%d8%aa%d9%86%d8%b8%d9%8a%d9%85-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%af%d9%88%d9%84%d8%a9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a5%d8%b3%d9%84%d8%a7%d9%85%d9%8a%d8%a9/412024/ 

Caki, Twitter, December 12, 2020, https://twitter.com/Caki____/status/1338892920863252487?s=20

 “Discovering two bodies with severed heads in Busayra, eastern Deir ez-Zour,” Deir Ezzor 24, December 2020, https://deirezzor24 dot net/%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b9%d8%ab%d9%88%d8%b1-%d8%b9%d9%84%d9%89-%d8%ac%d8%ab%d8%aa%d9%8a%d9%86-%d9%85%d9%82%d8%b7%d9%88%d8%b9%d8%aa%d9%8a-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b1%d8%a3%d8%b3-%d9%81%d9%8a-%d9%85%d8%af%d9%8a%d9%86/

“[On it, a message from ISIS… discovering two bodies without heads in eastern Deir ez-Zour,” Shaam News Network, December 15, 2020, http://www dot shaam.org/news/syria-news/%D9%88%D8%B6%D8%B9-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%87%D9%85%D8%A7-%D8%B1%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A9-%D9%85%D9%86-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%AB%D9%88%D8%B1-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%AC%D8%AB%D8%AA%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%86-%D8%B1%D8%A3%D8%B3-%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%82%D9%8A-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D9%88%D8%B1.html

““This is a punishment for those who ask for money in the name of the Islamic State” | ISIS cells slaughter two men with knife in al-Busayrah, east of Deir ez-Zor,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, December 15, 2020, https://www dot syriahr.com/en/196057/

 

 

 

[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Syria]

[*] [+] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 8/10/21 6:30pm

By Isabel Ivanescu

Key Takeaway: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) is struggling to manage a deteriorating security situation in opposition-held Idlib Province as provocative attacks by more extreme al Qaeda affiliates threaten the March 5, 2020, Idlib ceasefire. HTS aligned itself more closely with Turkey in May 2020 in a bid to preserve the ceasefire, angering hardline Salafi-jihadist groups. Newly formed and reactivated fighter cells linked to Hurras al-Din and other al Qaeda affiliates are attacking Turkish and Russian forces. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has assassinated hardliners and arrested senior Hurras al-Din members in a likely attempt to forestall further attacks. These HTS ‘security operations’ could lead to direct conflict between HTS and Hurras al-Din or other al Qaeda-linked groups, as occurred in July 2020. Russian and regime forces demonstrated their displeasure at the mounting attacks by carrying out rare strikes on al Qaeda affiliates in Idlib Province. Attacks on Russian forces could create the pretext for a renewed regime offensive on Idlib, while an HTS failure to contain hardliners may push Turkey to negotiate away a portion of the province.

Click the image below to enlarge. Click here to download the PDF.


  

[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Syria]

[*] [+] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 8/10/21 5:45pm

February 19, 2021, 2:00 pm EDT

By George Barros

Key Takeaway: The Kremlin’s ongoing campaign to increase Russian control over Belarus poses a larger risk to self-declared Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko than the diminishing Belarusian protest movement in 2021. Lukashenko presented a new strategy to end the crisis in Belarus on February 11-12; he announced plans for a referendum on a new constitution in 2022 and promised economic incentives to placate protesters. Lukashenko seeks to both balance against Kremlin pressure to integrate Belarus into Russian-dominated structures and defuse protester sentiment over the next several years. Lukashenko will likely avoid police crackdowns and instead seek to deescalate protests through the promise of minor concessions without fundamentally relinquishing his dictatorship. The Kremlin will likely intensify pressure against Lukashenko in 2021 to formalize Belarus’ integration into the Union State before Lukashenko can defuse the protests with his promised concessions.

Self-declared Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko outlined his strategy to defuse protests and stabilize his rule in 2021 in a speech on February 11. Lukashenko delivered a keynote speech outlining his strategy for 2021 at the Sixth All-Belarusian National Assembly (BNA) on February 11-12. [1]  The Belarusian government holds the BNA every five years to coordinate Belarus’ strategic planning.

Lukashenko claimed NATO’s “blitzkrieg” color revolution against Belarus failed but acknowledged that the protest movement is not over yet. Lukashenko said 2021 is as decisive a moment for Belarus as was the Soviet Union’s fall. Lukashenko is framing the current situation as a deep generational turning point for the country. Lukashenko admitted opposition to his rule is more widespread than he previously recognized, claiming approximately 55 percent of Belarusians support his government. [2]  Lukashenko had previously framed opposition protesters as marginal, claiming 80 percent of Belarusians voted for him in August 2020. [3]  Lukashenko continued to frame his opposition as agents of a NATO-backed hybrid war.

Lukashenko pledged to hold a national referendum on a new constitution in 2022 and promised several economic and political incentives in a likely attempt to defuse protests. Lukashenko promised that a new constitution will be ready by the end of 2021. Lukashenko will likely include a promised referendum on the constitution in Belarus’ January 2022 local elections. He promised to strengthen self-governance, provide free COVID-19 vaccines, expand pensions, and offer other economic incentives.

These concessions are unlikely to meaningfully reduce Lukashenko’s centralized control of Belarus. Lukashenko did not provide details on how the constitution would change, other than stating Belarus should remain a presidential republic, rendering serious institutional reform unlikely. [4]  Lukashenko did not reiterate his previous promise to not seek reelection when his current term expires in 2025. [5]  Lukashenko rejected the opposition’s proposals to reform the security services. [6]  Lukashenko likely seeks to placate most protesters and degrade protest strength through the promise of minor political concessions and economic incentives. 

Lukashenko’s efforts to defuse the protests will likely overcome the opposition’s push to renew protests and force negotiations with Lukashenko in spring 2021. Lithuania-based Belarusian opposition leader Svitlana Tikhanouskaya seeks to renew protests in spring 2021 and regain momentum through an ambitious timeline to force negotiations with Lukashenko. Tikhanouskaya released a “new strategy” on February 9 that maintains the opposition’s existing objectives but defines new timelines for further action in spring 2021. [7]  Tikhanouskaya called on the opposition to resume street protests in March 2021 to force Lukashenko to negotiate with the opposition in May 2021.

Lukashenko’s strategy to defuse the protests will likely impair Tikhanouskaya’s efforts to force negotiations. Lukashenko does not need to pacify every protester, as Tikhanouskaya claims, to overcome the opposition. Lukashenko will likely ignore demands for negotiations in May 2021 and the opposition is unlikely to force him into negotiations before that date. Tikhanouskaya has previously set deadlines to force negotiations with Lukashenko, all of which failed. [8]  Protests will likely intensify slightly as the weather improves in spring 2021, but they will likely not achieve the same scale they did in fall 2020. Lukashenko likely assesses he can outlast the protests by eroding protester will through the promise of changes in early 2022, avoiding the need for a violent crackdown.

Lukashenko announced plans for a new national security concept, which he likely seeks to use to position himself as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s equal partner in defense of Russia and Belarus by explicitly orienting Belarus as the target of a Western hybrid war. Lukashenko said Belarus will update its national security concept to defend against potential NATO information operations and cyberattacks. [9]  He also drew parallels between protests in Belarus and recent anti-Putin protests in Russia. [10]  Lukashenko likely seeks to appeal to Putin to pursue their joint interests and halt Kremlin pressure on Belarus by linking the protests against both leaders under the rubric of Western hybrid wars. Lukashenko’s embrace of this false Kremlin framing will likely increase opportunities for Putin to pressure Lukashenko for integration concessions, however.

Lukashenko likely seeks to limit the Kremlin’s ability to pressure Belarus into Russian-dominated structures by framing Belarus and Russia as equal partners in the Union State. Lukashenko seeks to prevent Belarus’ further integration into the Union State—a Kremlin-dominated supranational organization between Russia and Belarus with the stated goal of federally integrating both states under a joint structure. [11]  The Kremlin has exploited Lukashenko’s vulnerability to expand Belarus’ integration with Russia and gained leverage over Belarus since protests began in August 2020.

Lukashenko stated that Union State integration “presupposes the full preservation of the sovereignty of both Russia and Belarus without the formation of any new supranational bodies.” [12]  Lukashenko additionally framed integration as already complete and stated that the Russian and Belarusian peoples would have to agree to pursue further measures. [13]  Lukashenko likely seeks to slow Kremlin pressure by framing additional integration as dependent on additional political consultations.

Lukashenko will likely increase his outreach to China to hedge against Russian integration pressure, although the prospects of success in this effort are unclear. Lukashenko expressed support to expand China’s economic presence in Belarus, claimed Beijing would provide Belarus with COVID-19 vaccines, and expressed support for coordinating Eurasian Economic Union activities in Central Asia with the Chinese Belt and Road initiative—a Chinese economic initiative that undermines Russian influence in Central Asia. [14]  Lukashenko has supported developing the Belt and Road initiative since at least 2016. [15]  Although China delivered 100,000 COVID-19 vaccines to Belarus on February 19, Beijing has not publicly reciprocated Lukashenko’s recent calls for intensified economic cooperation. [16]  Chinese investment in Belarus decreased by 77 percent in 2020 and China’s ambassador to Belarus reportedly did not attend the BNA. [17]  China’s ambassador to Belarus gave a speech at the fifth BNA in 2016. [18]  Lukashenko is unlikely to succeed in replacing Russian patronage with Chinese support; however, Lukashenko’s turn to China could give him additional leverage with Moscow—if Beijing reciprocates it.

The Kremlin will likely intensify pressure against Lukashenko to formalize Belarus’ integration in the Union State before Lukashenko can defuse the protests, which have granted Putin leverage over Lukashenko. Putin will likely pressure Lukashenko for more political and military integration concessions during their upcoming meeting on February 22, 2021—their first meeting since September 2020. [19]  Putin will likely pressure Lukashenko to expand Russia’s military basing in Belarus when they renew existing basing agreements this year. The 25-year basing agreement for Russia’s two existing radar/radio bases in Belarus expires on June 6, 2021, and Moscow and Minsk are negotiating an extension. [20]  The Kremlin will likely reject Lukashenko’s framing of Belarus and Russia as equal partners and frame even deeper integration as necessary for Lukashenko to overcome the crisis.

Belarus’ forced integration with Russia will remain Lukashenko’s greatest threat in 2021. Belarus’ protests are unlikely to escalate. Lukashenko will likely avoid police crackdowns and instead attempt a long-term approach to deescalate protests and reduce Russian leverage. However, the Kremlin’s interests are served by maintaining pressure against Lukashenko through a prolonged crisis. Kremlin pressure will likely lead to further protests if only by provoking renewed public opposition to Russian influence. The Kremlin’s previous involvement in the crisis briefly shifted the protests’ central focus away from Lukashenko and toward the Kremlin, for example. [21]  Putin may attempt to prolong the protests and prevent Lukashenko’s efforts to defuse the protests.

 


[1]  https://president.gov dot by/ru/events/shestoe-vsebelorusskoe-narodnoe-sobranie; https://president.gov dot by/ru/events/uchastie-vo-vtorom-dne-vi-vsebelorusskogo-narodnogo-sobraniya

[2]  https://president.gov dot by/ru/events/shestoe-vsebelorusskoe-narodnoe-sobranie

[3]  https://www.belta dot by/president/view/lukashenko-nikakogo-vranjja-na-vyborah-ne-bylo-nelzja-falsifitsirovat-80-407220-2020/

[4]  https://tass dot ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/10677735

[5]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-likely-disrupts-lukashenko%E2%80%99s-plan-defusing-protests; https://lenta dot ru/news/2020/10/20/lukashenko/

[6]  https://nashkraj dot by/news/obshchestvo/doklad-prezidenta-belarusi-na-vi-vsebelorusskom-narodnom-sobranii/

[7]  https://belarusvision dot org/

[8]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-promised-major-opposition-protest-march-fizzles; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-lukashenko-will-likely-outlast-ultimatum-protests; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-intensifies-russian-belarusian-military-integration

[9]  https://www.belta dot by/president/view/prezident-belarusi-schitaet-neobhodimym-obnovit-kontseptsiju-natsionalnoj-bezopasnosti-428177-2021

[10]  https://president.gov dot by/ru/events/shestoe-vsebelorusskoe-narodnoe-sobranie

[11]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-belarus-update-lukashenko-uses-oil-tariffs-delay-integration-russia

[12]  https://president.gov dot by/ru/events/shestoe-vsebelorusskoe-narodnoe-sobranie; https://www.gazeta dot ru/politics/2021/02/12_a_13476920.shtml; https://souzveche dot ru/articles/politics/56066/; https://primepress dot by/news/ekonomika/dalneyshaya_integratsiya_s_rossiey_predpolagaet_polnoe_sokhranenie_suvereniteta_obeikh_stran_lukashe-29587/; https://www.ng dot ru/news/702199.html.

[13]  https://president.gov dot by/ru/events/shestoe-vsebelorusskoe-narodnoe-sobranie; https://www.gazeta dot ru/politics/2021/02/12_a_13476920.shtml; https://souzveche dot ru/articles/politics/56066/

[14]  https://president.gov dot by/ru/events/shestoe-vsebelorusskoe-narodnoe-sobranie; https://lenta dot ru/news/2021/02/11/bel_luka_vac/

[15]  Lukashenko and Chinese president Xi Jinping have cooperated on the Belt and Road initiative since at least 2016. https://news.tut dot by/economics/514287.html; https://www.belta dot by/president/view/belarus-i-kitaj-zakljuchili-paket-soglashenij-i-memorandumov-o-sotrudnichestve-v-raznyh-sferah-212427-2016/;

[16]  https://www.belta dot by/society/view/proizvodstvo-kitajskoj-vaktsiny-protiv-koronavirusa-mogut-lokalizovat-v-belarusi-429509-2021/

[17]  https://www.belarus dot by/en/press-center/news/leaders-of-belarus-china-discuss-political-cooperation-trade-vaccine-in-phone-conversation_i_124556.html; https://eng.belta dot by/president/view/leaders-of-belarus-china-discuss-political-cooperation-trade-vaccine-in-phone-conversation-136904-2021/; http://www.gov dot cn/xinwen/2021-01/26/content_5582810.htm; https://nn dot by/?c=ar&i=268325; https://en.belapan dot by/archive/2021/02/15/en__16120215n;  https://www.economy.gov  dot by/ru/pezultat-ru/

[18]  https://www.belarus dot by/by/press-center/all-belarusian-peoples-congress/tsuj-tsymn-uns---vazhnaja-pljatsoka-dlja-dzelu-naroda--paltychnym-zhytsts-krany_i_0000125687.html

[19]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-lukashenko-softens-his-opposition-protests-seeking-leverage; https://eng.belta dot by/president/view/kremlin-lukashenko-putin-will-meet-on-22-february-137571-2021/

[20]  https://sputnik dot by/defense_safety/20210216/1046924978/Pravitelstvo-RF-khochet-prodlit-dogovory-o-voennykh-bazakh-v-Belarusi.html

[21]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-belarusian-opposition-begins-first-anti-kremlin-shift-after

  

[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Ukraine]

[*] [+] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 8/10/21 4:49pm

February 8, 2021, 5:00 EDT

By George Barros with Savannah Modesitt

The Kremlin is increasing its projection capabilities against both NATO and Belarus.

The Kremlin announced in December 2020 its decision to field a new motorized rifle division in Kaliningrad. Baltic Fleet commander Admiral Aleksandr Nosatov announced on December 7, 2020, that the Kremlin decided to reinforce the Baltic Fleet’s 11th Army Corps with a motorized rifle division in response to an alleged NATO military buildup near Kaliningrad. [1]  Nosatov said this new division includes one motorized rifle regiment, one artillery regiment, and one separate tank regiment.

This new division’s formation is likely still underway. The Russian Ministry of Defense is still renovating barracks for new elements of the 11th Army Corps as of January 2021. [2]

The Kremlin likely began plans to form a division under the 11th Army Corps before 2019. Each Russian ground forces division structurally has at least three combat units each at the brigade/regimental level. [3]  The 11th Army Corps had only two combat brigades before 2019. The Kremlin reinforced the 11th Army Corps with a tank regiment—increasing the Army Corps’ total combat units to three like other Russian ground unit divisions—in January 2019. [4]  The Kremlin likely intended the fielding of this tank regiment in 2019 to enable the creation of this division later.

The Kremlin’s military buildup in Kaliningrad poses a significant threat to NATO. The division’s formation in Kaliningrad compliments other ongoing Russian military efforts to project against NATO from Belarus. The Kremlin likely seeks to establish a continuous Russian military presence in Belarus and has intensified efforts to do so since August 2020. [5]  The division’s formation in conjunction with Russia’s total freedom of movement in Belarus would further enhance Russian forces’ ability to threaten the Suwalki Gap and geographically isolate NATO members Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia from the rest of the alliance.

The Belarusian Ministry of Defense (MoD) began Russian-Belarusian joint headquarters training for the Russian-Belarusian "Regional Grouping of Forces’" (RGV) Joint Command in Minsk on February 8, 2021.[6] Unspecified Belarusian and Russian defense personnel are participating in this staff training, which reportedly will run from February 8-12. [7]  The primary stated goal of this training is to coordinate Russian and Belarusian command staff in the RGV’s Joint Command to work out RGV operations to protect the Union State—a supranational organization between Belarus and Russia that the Kremlin seeks to use to subsume Belarus. The Russian Ministry of Defense has not commented on this training as of this writing.

The Kremlin will likely increasingly leverage the RGV in its efforts to integrate Belarus into Russia. The RGV’s further formalization with a common military doctrine in October 2020 was a major achievement in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s larger campaign to subordinate former Soviet states’ militaries to Russian-dominated structures. [8]  The RGV’s founding treaty from 1999 defines the RGV as a combined military structure—broadly encompassing both forces and control elements—of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus. [9]  The original RGV treaty states both Russian and Belarusian defense ministries determine the military units that constitute the RGV. The RGV’s operation jurisdiction is all Belarusian and Russian territory and airspace. Open sources do not discuss the full roster of Russian and Belarusian units that currently constitute the RGV. Former Belarusian Ministry of Defense Andrei Ravkov said the RGV included Russia’s 1st Tank Army of the Western Military District in March 2017. [10]

This training is a February 2021 iteration of the monthly joint Russo-Belarusian joint military activity intended to support Russian-Belarusian military integration at the upcoming Zapad 2021 exercises. The Belarusian MoD explicitly said this training is part of joint Belarusian-Russian activities to prepare for Russia’s capstone military exercise for 2021—Zapad 2021.

The Kremlin may leverage the RGV to exert military pressure against NATO. The Kremlin may use RGV forces to project against NATO given Russian and Belarusian units have already conducted joint exercises with explicitly anti-NATO objectives before Putin coerced self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko into further formalizing the RGV in October 2020. [11]

Belarusian forces continued combat readiness-exercises postured against NATO throughout Belarus on February 8. The Belarusian MoD mobilized an unspecified battalion of the Minsk-based 120th mechanized brigade to the Borisov training ground in Grodno for exercises and raised an unspecified battalion of the Vitebsk-based 103rd airborne brigade to its highest combat readiness level on February 8. [12]  There is no evidence these exercises were preplanned.

These exercises have no clear complimentary Russian counterpart as of this writing. Russian and Belarusian forces held likely joint (though nominally separate) large combat-readiness exercises in Kaliningrad, Belarus, and mainland western Russia on January 25. [13]

ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.


[1]  redstar dot ru/budem-i-dalshe-krepit-boegotovnost/; kaliningrad.rbc dot ru/kaliningrad/07/12/2020/5fcddc6e9a7947d1925c34fc; www.reuters.com/article/russia-military-kaliningrad-idUSKBN28H1B8

[2]  function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12341318@egNews

[3]  www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Ground%20Forces%20OOB_ISW%20CTP_0.pdf

[4]  www.kommersant dot ru/doc/3866301; www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Ground%20Forces%20OOB_ISW%20CTP_0.pdf; www.militarynews dot ru/story.asp?rid=1&nid=506496&lang=RU; www.kommersant dot ru/doc/3866301

[5]  www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-moscow-and-minsk-hold-simultaneous-combat-readiness-exercises; www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-upcoming-csto-exercise-could-support-russian-military-deployment; www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia-likely-began-preparing-logistics-supply-lines-belarus; www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-upcoming-csto-exercise-could-support-russian-military-deployment

[6]  www.mil dot by/ru/news/110232/

[7]  www.mil dot by/ru/news/110232/

[8]  www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-intensifies-russian-belarusian-military-integration

[9]  docs.cntd dot ru/document/901796828

[10]  embassybel dot ru/news/427f175892bb.html; www.militarynews dot ru/story.asp?rid=1&nid=540673&lang=RU

[11]  www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-intensifies-russian-belarusian-military-integration

[12]  rg dot ru/2021/02/08/pod-grodno-nachalis-ucheniia-tankistov-rezervistov-na-t-72b3.html; www.mil dot by/ru/news/110241/; www.mil dot by/ru/news/110240/;  www.mil dot by/ru/news/110218/

[13]  www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-moscow-and-minsk-hold-simultaneous-combat-readiness-exercises

 

[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Ukraine]

[*] [+] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 8/10/21 4:13pm

By: Katherine Lawlor and Nicholas Carl

Contributors: Sophia Nasrullah and Liam Karr

Key Takeaway Iran likely ordered its Iraqi proxies to sustain low-level, harassing attacks on US forces in Iraq until after the October 2021 parliamentary elections and to return to more lethal attacks toward the end of 2021. Iran is recalibrating its campaign to expel US forces from Iraq following the results of the US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue, during which the United States announced a mostly symbolic withdrawal of all its combat forces from Iraq. Proxies may continue larger-scale attacks on US forces in Syria before October and may also expand their attacks to target US aircraft, bases, and allies throughout the Middle East.

Context The United States announced that “there will be no US forces with a combat role” in Iraq by the end of 2021. The announcement came after the fourth and final round of the US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue in Washington, DC, on July 26.[1] That shift in the role of US forces will not constitute a large-scale withdrawal from the country. US forces largely ended their combat mission in Iraq in 2020 and will remain in training, advising, assisting, and intelligence-sharing roles. Iran’s Iraqi proxies have attacked US forces in Iraq and Syria in recent months to catalyze this withdrawal. Proxy attacks deescalated immediately before the Dialogue as Iran and its proxies debated how to respond to the outcome. Proxy militants have threatened further attacks if the United States does not completely withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2021.[2]

Iranian Proxy Response:

Iran and its Iraqi proxies have likely agreed to limit major attacks on US forces in Iraq until the end of 2021. IRGC Quds Force Commander Esmail Ghaani reportedly met with representatives of at least five Iraqi proxy militias in Najaf and Baghdad on July 27 and ordered them to temporarily deescalate.[3] He also told Iraqi officials on July 28 that Iran would take a “wait and see” approach but would order its proxies to attack US bases at Erbil and Harir if US forces did not withdraw by the end of 2021.[4] The United States has not indicated that such a withdrawal will occur.

The proxies will likely obey Ghaani’s orders. The Iraqi Resistance Coordination Commission declared that militias would remain ready to conduct attacks and would do so if the United States does not withdraw its forces from Iraq.[5] The Commission includes representatives of Iran’s key proxies in Iraq, including US-designated terrorist organizations Kata’ib Hezbollah, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba. Its statement accused the United States of deceptively re-labeling its forces in Iraq to “prolong the occupation,” setting conditions to escalate again in the future.

Iran and its proxies will likely sustain low-level harassing attacks on US forces for the remainder of 2021.  Ghaani met with senior Kata’ib Hezbollah official and Popular Mobilization Forces Chief of Staff Abu Fadak al-Mohammedawi in Baghdad on July 27.[6] Ghaani likely ordered Abu Fadak to re-up harassing attacks while limiting larger-scale attacks that could trigger an unintended escalation. Likely Kata’ib Hezbollah-affiliated militants claimed six IED attacks on Iraqi logistics convoys contracted by the US-led Coalition from July 29 to August 1, an increase in tempo compared to recent months.[7] Likely Iranian proxies also fired two rockets at the US Embassy in Baghdad on July 29.[8] Kata’ib Hezbollah denied responsibility and blamed the United States for the attack.[9]  These operations indicate that Ghaani greenlit continuing IED attacks that target Iraqi contractors and therefore do not risk US casualties, as well as small-scale harassing rocket attacks that are unlikely to cause substantial damage, to maintain pressure on US decision-makers. Iran’s proxies likely intend these harassing attacks to remind the United States that larger-scale attacks could resume if the United States does not withdraw.

Iran and its proxies are likely setting political conditions to resume major attacks against US forces in Iraq around the end of 2021. Ghaani reportedly ordered the proxies to form a parliamentary committee to pressure the Iraqi government politically to implement a US withdrawal. Ghaani met with Badr Organization Secretary General Hadi al-Ameri in Baghdad on July 27, likely to discuss coordinating the committee and the proxy approach to Iraq’s October 2021 elections.[10] Ameri leads Iraq’s second-largest parliamentary bloc, Conquest Alliance, which uncharacteristically praised Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s team after the Dialogue and described its outcome as a “national achievement.”[11]  Ameri will likely focus on that committee and legitimate political avenues to expel US forces. Ghaani may intend such a committee to provide a thin veneer of legitimacy to future larger-scale proxy attacks when the committee finds that US forces are not withdrawing en masse. The committee will likely announce its determination that US forces are not withdrawing between the October 10 elections and December 31 deadline that US and Iraqi negotiators set to end the US combat presence. That delay will allow for Iran-aligned Iraqi politicians to focus on elections preparations and maintaining domestic stability even as Iran prepares its Iraqi proxies for future escalation cycles.[12] The next Iraqi prime minister could also unilaterally order the complete expulsion of US forces from Iraq should Conquest Alliance secure an electoral outcome that would allow them to select the next premier.[13] That scenario remains unlikely but dangerous to US interests. Some proxy groups will continue their bellicose rhetoric and calls for attacks on US forces.[14] Some of that saber-rattling is likely an attempt to appease their base.[15] However, the groups most upset with the Dialogue’s outcome are more likely to conduct larger-scale attacks outside of Iraqi territory to follow Iran’s directives.

Iran and its proxies may continue attacks against US forces in Syria and begin to target US aircraft or US bases elsewhere in the region. Kata’ib Hezbollah has claimed previous attacks on US bases in Syria and threatened to conduct future attacks to oust the United States.[16] Iran’s proxies conducted at least three rocket and drone attacks on US facilities in Syria between June 28 and July 10, 2021, and likely falsely claimed several more.[17] Those attacks may continue even as proxy groups de-escalate in Iraq in the leadup to Iraqi elections; attacks in Syria are less likely to destabilize Iraq but fulfill the objective of harassing US decision-makers to catalyze a full withdrawal. Iran’s proxies may attempt to inflict US casualties in Syria to impose a political cost on the Biden Administration, as they tried to do with their June 28 attack.[18]

Proxy groups may be developing new surface-to-air capabilities to threaten US air operations. The Iraqi Resistance Coordination Commission emphasized that they may attack “any foreign aircraft in Iraqi airspace” if they determine that the United States is not withdrawing.[19] Iranian proxy rhetoric has increasingly threatened to shoot down US aircraft in 2021.[20]

Iran and its proxies may also target US bases outside of Iraq and Syria if tensions re-escalate in the coming months. A Kata’ib Hezbollah spokesperson emphasized on July 27 that the group could target “any base [in] … Arab or non-Arab countries which could be used by the Americans … to launch attacks inside Iraq.”[21]  Kata’ib Hezbollah has long-range drone capabilities that could reach Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia and is likely responsible for previous drone attacks targeting Syria, Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.[22] Iran’s ultimate objective is to curtail US military presence and influence not only in Iraq and Syria but across the region. Iranian and proxy rhetoric could portend a push to expel US forces, aircraft, and influence from Iraq, Syria, and the entire Middle East.

Alternatives : Iran and its proxies may resume larger-scale attacks in Iraq earlier than they have planned. Iran and its proxies are managing a regional conflict with Israel that could force Iran to reevaluate its preferred plan for managing violence in Iraq through the end of the year.[23] Iran is likely attempting to compartmentalize its escalations against Israel and the United States.[24] However, Iran views Iraqi Kurdistan as a hub for Israeli and US intelligence. Israeli airstrikes inside Iraq or covert Israeli attacks inside Iran could trigger Iranian attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan, reopening the Iraqi escalation cycle before the end of 2021. Any attacks that also target US forces or facilities could derail the planned de-escalation.

Iran may also reconsider its decision to limit attacks in Iraq through the end of the year if the Vienna nuclear talks become linked to Iran’s Iraqi escalations. That scenario remains unlikely. Iran’s new president, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, and its supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, could change Iran’s approach to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) talks and choose to reinvigorate violence against the United States if JCPOA negotiations fall through. That violence would aim to retaliate for the continuation of the maximum pressure campaign and to impose a military cost on the United States. In either of these scenarios, Iran could order its proxies to resume larger-scale attacks on US assets in Iraq and the region before the end of the year. 


[1] https://www.state.gov/joint-statement-on-the-u-s-iraq-strategic-dialogue-2/

[2] https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/iran-file/iranian-proxies-increase-attacks-on-us-forces-to-catalyze-a-us-withdrawal-from-iraq

[3] skynewsarabia dot com/middle-east/1453835-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%8A%D9%94%D9%84-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%B2%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%8A%D9%94%D8%AF-%D9%81%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D8%AF%D8%B3-%D9%84%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%9F

[4] https://twitter.com/nafisehkBBC/status/1420508568793518086?s=20

[5] Alaraby dot co dot uk/politics/%D9%81%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%84-%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%B3%D9%86%D8%A8%D9%82%D9%89-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%87%D8%B2%D9%8A%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%A7-%D8%AD%D8%AA%D9%89-%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B3%D8%AD%D8%A7%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%B1%D9%83%D9%8A%D8%A9

[6] skynewsarabia dot com/middle-east/1453835-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%8A%D9%94%D9%84-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%B2%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%8A%D9%94%D8%AF-%D9%81%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D8%AF%D8%B3-%D9%84%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%9F

https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/us-designation-kataib-hezbollahs-abu-fadak

[7] shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%80%D9%86/%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%81%D8%AC%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%AC%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%AF-%D9%8A%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%81-%D8%B1%D8%AA%D9%84-%D8%AF%D8%B9%D9%85-%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D9%8A-%D8%AC%D9%86%D9%88%D8%A8%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%BA%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AF

Shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%80%D9%86/%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%AB%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AB-%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D8%AE%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%84-24-%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%81%D8%AC%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D9%8A%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%81-%D8%B1%D8%AA%D9%84%D8%A7-%D9%84%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81-%D8%A8%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%A8%D9%84

Shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%80%D9%86/%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%81%D8%AC%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%AC%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%AF-%D9%8A%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%81-%D8%B1%D8%AA%D9%84-%D8%AF%D8%B9%D9%85-%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D9%8A-%D8%AC%D9%86%D9%88%D8%A8%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82

alalam dot ir/news/5728103/%D8%AA%D9%81%D8%AC%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%B2%D8%AF%D9%88%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%8A%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%81%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%B1%D8%AA%D9%84%D8%A7-%D9%84%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81-%D8%AC%D9%86%D9%88%D8%A8%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82

[8] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/rockets-hit-baghdad-green-zone-no-casualties-security-sources-2021-07-29/

[9] fa.alalam dot ir/news/5723993

[10] skynewsarabia dot com/middle-east/1453835-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%8A%D9%94%D9%84-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%B2%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%8A%D9%94%D8%AF-%D9%81%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D8%AF%D8%B3-%D9%84%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%9F

[11] nasnews dot com/view.php?cat=66005

[12] https://twitter.com/akeel1500420211/status/1420760940870389781?s=20

Basnews dot com/ar/babat/704250

[13] http://www.understandingwar.org/report/iraq-2021-2022-forecast

[14] alaraby dot co dot uk/politics/%D9%85%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AD%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%81%D8%A9-%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%AA%D8%A4%D9%83%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%B6%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%88%D8%AC%D9%88%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%B1%D9%83%D9%8A

[15] https://www.memri.org/tv/iraq-militia-leader-nasser-shammari-american-forces-continue-legitimate-targets

[16] https://twitter.com/HamdiAMalik/status/1420102199745597446?s=20

[17] https://twitter.com/OIRSpox/status/1409976895425417219?s=20

https://apnews.com/article/syria-iraq-middle-east-d28a8cf02234a8f6c2ff431118f27c51

https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/no-injuries-damage-attack-against-us-forces-syria-defense-official-2021-07-10/

https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/iraqs-muqawama-focuses-attack-claims-us-bases-syria

[18] https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/iran-file/iranian-proxies-increase-attacks-on-us-forces-to-catalyze-a-us-withdrawal-from-iraq

[19] Alaraby dot co dot uk/politics/%D9%81%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%84-%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%B3%D9%86%D8%A8%D9%82%D9%89-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%87%D8%B2%D9%8A%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%A7-%D8%AD%D8%AA%D9%89-%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B3%D8%AD%D8%A7%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%B1%D9%83%D9%8A%D8%A9

[20] t dot me/sabreenS1/25441

t dot me/sabreenS1/26872

[21] https://twitter.com/HamdiAMalik/status/1420102353538195468?s=20

[22] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/drones-kataib-hezbollahs-jazira-command

https://apnews.com/article/syria-iraq-middle-east-d28a8cf02234a8f6c2ff431118f27c51

https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/iran-file/iranian-proxies-increase-attacks-on-us-forces-to-catalyze-a-us-withdrawal-from-iraq

https://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2021/07/25/exp-gps-0725-king-abdullah-biden-middle-east.cnn

timesofisrael dot com/liveblog_entry/netanyahu-drone-shot-down-earlier-this-week-was-iranian-uav-armed-with-explosives/

https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iraqi-militant-attack-on-riyadh-could-signal-a-larger-shift-in-irans-regional-approach

[23] https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-israel-lebanon-78c742903569aeb81198ba7bd79052cb

https://apnews.com/article/ship-israeli-billionaire-oman-c43203ff0262ba2c4bfafb31cc42fa50

[24] Timesofisrael dot com/crew-of-tanker-off-uae-coast-said-to-thwart-iran-hijacking-by-sabotaging-engines/

 

[Author: Institute for the Study of War]

[*] [+] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 8/5/21 10:20am

By George Barros with Jennifer Cafarella

February 4, 2021

A Belarusian veterans group claims the Belarusian Armed Forces (BAF) are preparing to deploy two battalions of so-called “peacekeepers” to Syria in September 2021. BYPOL, an association of former Belarusian security service personnel and military veterans who sympathize with the protest movement against self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, claimed on January 30 that the BAF ordered Belarus’s two operational commands­—roughly equivalent to Russian military districts—to construct units for peacekeeping and patrolling operations in Syria.[1] BYPOL claims the first Belarusian deployment to Syria will consist of two approximately battalion-sized (300 personnel) units totaling around 600 personnel.[2] The Kremlin likely instigated this order and will facilitate the deployment of Belarusian troops, which would support Russia’s military forces in Syria.

Neither Belarusian nor Kremlin authorities have commented on this alleged deployment. Belarus’ Ministry of Defense spokesperson made a general statement that Belarus “continually seeks new directions” for peacekeeping activities on February 1.[3] ISW offers this low-confidence warning assessment despite the absence of confirmation of the report because of the importance such a deployment would entail for the Kremlin’s campaigns in both Syria and Belarus.

The Kremlin has sought to leverage partner forces in Syria for several years. The Kremlin unsuccessfully proposed that several Commonwealth of Independent State (CIS) and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) member states, including Belarus, send troops to Syria for joint peacekeeping operations in July 2017.[4] Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan declined that request.[5] CSTO member Armenia deployed a sapper company to Aleppo Province, Syria, in February 2019.[6]

The BAF will likely build a new capability for this deployment rather than deploy existing units. The BAF does not currently field two peacekeeping battalions. The Belarusian Army reportedly fields one peacekeeping company of approximately 100 contracted (rather than conscripted) personnel.[7] BYPOL claims Belarusian authorities are offering Belarusians approximately $2,000 per month to contract for this deployment, indicating a new recruitment effort.[8] Belarus’ military will likely increase its current quantity of peacekeeper contractors over the next six months to support a deployment of 600 personnel rather than deploy existing non-peacekeeper units.  

The deployment of battalion-sized units is consistent both with current Russian operations in Syria and with past Russian-Belarusian exercises. Russian military police battalions are the standard operational formation for deployments to Syria.[9] Previous Russian-Belarusian joint exercises have practiced joint operations at the battalion and sub-battalion levels. Russian forces conducted joint exercises “as a single combat formation” at the battalion level with Belarusian forces for the first time on September 20, 2020.[10]

A Belarusian deployment could help Russian units secure ground lines of communication in central Syria. Russia launched a renewed effort to protect valuable oil and gas infrastructure in central Syria in August 2020, including by expanding the footprint of Russia’s military police and Wagner private military forces.[11] Russian-backed forces in Syria, including the Syrian Arab Army 5th Corps, have been conducting counter-ISIS clearing operations along the Deir ez Zour-Palmyra highway since January 19 in response to escalating ISIS ambushes along that road.[12] A Belarusian deployment could bolster regime security operations in the Deir ez-Zour-Palmyra security zone.

A Belarusian deployment to Syria would advance three strategic Kremlin lines of effort in addition to supporting Russia’s Syrian operations.

  1. The Kremlin’s campaign to leverage partner forces in its war in Syria. The Kremlin likely intends to leverage a Belarusian deployment to lend additional legitimacy to Russia’s intervention in Syria by framing it as an international effort. The Kremlin seeks to cultivate partner forces and international coalitions to amplify its own force deployments.[13] ISW forecasted the Kremlin would likely leverage non-Russian forces in future expeditionary operations in January 2021.[14]
  2. The Kremlin’s effort to integrate Russian and Belarusian military units. The Kremlin likely seeks to integrate Belarusian military units under Russian command structures down to the battalion level.[15] Joint Russian-Belarusian operations in Syria would further this Kremlin effort by practicing battalion-level coordination.[16]
  3. The Kremlin’s efforts to increase Russian military influence in Belarus via the planned Zapad 2021 exercises in September 2021. A Belarusian deployment in September 2021 would coincide with Russia’s capstone military exercise for 2021 - Zapad 2021. The Kremlin will likely use the Zapad 2021 exercise to further Russian-Belarusian military integration. Conventional Russian forces likely will deploy to Belarus for Zapad 2021 on a significantly larger scale than they did for Zapad 2017.[17] The Kremlin will likely tie the deployment of Belarusian forces to Syria to this major exercise.

The Kremlin may remove Belarusian officers opposed to the Kremlin’s effort to gain control over the Belarusian military through a Belarusian deployment to Syria. Lukashenko resisted the Kremlin’s efforts to further Russian-Belarusian military integration during the Zapad 2017 exercises.[18] Belarusian officers may attempt to resist intensified Russian pressure for integration in Zapad 2021 as they did in 2017. The alleged deployment to Syria would likely take several of Belarus’ best officers out of Belarus, as the deployment would be Belarus’ first expeditionary deployment. Such a relocation of officers could decrease Belarusian resistance to Russian efforts to maximize Russian-Belarusian military integration during Zapad 2021.

The Kremlin may seek to set a precedent of Belarus acting as a Kremlin proxy. The Kremlin has attempted to use Belarus as a proxy “peacekeeping” force in eastern Ukraine.[19] The Kremlin is likely attempting to do so again in Syria since it likely expanded its leverage over Belarusian forces in late 2020.

The Kremlin may brand Belarusian peacekeepers as a CSTO mission. Russian President Vladimir Putin likely seeks to blur the lines between Russian and CSTO activities to obfuscate Russian actions. The Kremlin may cite a Belarusian “peacekeeping operation” in Syria in its 2021 bid to legitimize the CSTO as a United Nations (UN)-recognized peacekeeping force. The CSTO stated it plans to conduct negotiations with the UN in 2021 to hold CSTO peacekeeping operations under the UN’s auspices.[20] This stated effort aligns with the Kremlin’s assessed campaign to leverage the UN to justify Russia’s international military deployments—an important hybrid war capability the Kremlin is developing.[21]


[1] https://t dot me/By_Pol/161.

[2] https://t dot me/By_Pol/161; https://42.tut dot by/717175.

[3] https://regnum dot ru/news/3179162 https://sputnik dot by/defense_safety/20210201/1046791963/Belorusskie-voennye-planiruyut-rasshiryat-uchastie-v-mirotvorcheskikh-missiyakh.html; https://www.belta dot by/society/view/minoborony-rasskazalo-ob-uchastii-v-mirotvorcheskih-missijah-426609-2021; https://interfax dot by/news/policy/raznoe/1291052/

[4] https://ria dot ru/20170705/1497907227.html; https://naviny dot online/new/20170706/1499333719-mid-belarus-ne-poluchala-oficialnogo-predlozheniya-o-napravlenii-mirotvorcev.

[5] https://eurasianet dot org/csto-ready-but-not-yet-willing-to-send-troops-to-syria; https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-mideast-crisis-syria-kazakhstan/kazakhstan-denies-its-in-talks-to-send-troops-to-syria-idUKKBN19E0I8; https://thediplomat.com/2017/06/russia-proposes-deploying-kazakhs-and-kyrgyz-to-syria/; https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-ovozi-csto-kazakhstan-russia-nazarbaev/28661553.html.

[6] https://www.rferl.org/a/armenia-sends-another-group-of-sappers-medics-to-syria/29983442.html; https://eurasianet dot org/armenia-sends-military-deminers-and-medics-to-support-russian-mission-in-syria; https://ria dot ru/20200730/1575158378.html; https://eadaily dot com/ru/news/2019/02/19/armyanskie-sapery-pristupili-k-razminirovaniyu-rayona-bliz-siriyskogo-aleppo.

[7] https://42.tut dot by/717175.

[8] https://t dot me/By_Pol/161.

[9]http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/The%20Russian%20Military%E2%80%99s%20Lessons%20Learned%20in%20Syria_0.pdf.

[10] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-nexta-actively-encourages-belarusian-security-service-defections.

[11] https://www.syriahr dotcom/en/181464/.

[12] https://www.enabbaladi dot net/archives/443693.

[13] https://www.syriahr dot com/%D9%85%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%AA%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%81-%D9%85%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B7%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%B8-2/416760/.

[14]http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/The%20Russian%20Military%E2%80%99s%20Lessons%20Learned%20in%20Syria_0.pdf.

[15] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-will-increase-pressure-lukashenko-integrate-belarus-2021.

[16] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-nexta-actively-encourages-belarusian-security-service-defections.

[17] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-will-increase-pressure-lukashenko-integrate-belarus-2021.

[18] https://www.vedomosti dot ru/politics/news/2017/03/20/681893-lukashenko; https://sputnik dot by/defense_safety/20170320/1027926111/lukashenko-utverdil-zamysel-uchenij-zapad-2017.html; https://sputnik dot by/politics/20170203/1027281478/lukashenko-oproverg-informaciyu-chto-rossiya-vvodit-v-belarus-vojska.html; https://rus.postimees dot ee/4250219/lukashenko-nablyudal-za-ucheniyami-zapad-2017-otdelno-ot-putina-oni-rassorilis-podozrevayut-smi; https://www.belarus dot by/ru/press-center/speeches-and-interviews/lukashenko-uchenie-zapad-2017-v-belarusi-neobxodimo-provesti-maksimalno-prozrachno_i_54468.html; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-setting-conditions-long-term-continuous-russian-militar.y

[19] https://www.unian dot info/politics/10699125-lukashenko-says-belarus-ready-to-deploy-peacekeepers-in-donbas.html; https://www.unian dot info/politics/10020203-poroshenko-rejects-belarus-involvement-in-donbas-peacekeeping-mission-media.html.

[20] https://sputnik dot by/defense_safety/20201016/1045917923/ODKB-provedet-peregovory-s-OON-ob-uchastii-v-mirotvorcheskikh-operatsiyakh.html; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiuyVyRIEVg.

[21]http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Putin%27s%20Offset%20The%20Kremlin%27s%20Geopolitical%20Adaptations%20Since%202014.pdf; http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Hybrid%20Warfare%20ISW%20Report%202020.pdf.


 

[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Ukraine]

[*] [+] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 8/5/21 9:49am

 April 1, 2021

By Mason Clark

Ongoing reports of increased Russian troop movements on Ukraine’s borders and violations of the July 2020 ceasefire have drawn widespread attention and alarm but do not likely presage imminent Russian military action against Ukraine.

What we know so far:

  • The New York Times reported on March 31 that the US military’s European Command (EUCOM) raised its watch level to the highest level in the last week of March 2021. [1]  A Pentagon spokesperson stated EUCOM is “monitoring the situation.” [2]
  • Russia’s proxies in eastern Ukraine escalated attacks on Ukrainian positions throughout March 2021. Neither Russia nor Ukraine has formally revoked the standing July 2020 ceasefire in Donbas, and ceasefire monitors remain in place, but Russia declined a Ukrainian offer to issue a joint reaffirmation of the ceasefire on March 31. [3]
  • US and Ukrainian statements about the scale of Russian force deployments vary considerably. A US official told the New York Times that Russia recently deployed 4,000 additional troops to the Ukrainian border. [4]  Ukrainian Chief of Staff Ruslan Komchak claimed on March 30 that Russia is deploying 25 additional Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs), which would consist of considerably more than 4,000 troops, to Ukraine’s borders beyond the 28 currently deployed BTGs, but did not specify a timeframe for these projected deployments. [5]
  • Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley called his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts on March 31 to discuss the Russian deployments. [6]
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart on April 1. [7]
  • Ukraine invited NATO to organize joint military exercises and air patrols to “stabilize the situation” on April 1. NATO has not yet responded. [8]

Several independent sources reported video of Russian units deploying toward Ukraine from March 30 to April 1, including:

  • The 56th Air Assault Brigade deployed to Crimea on March 30 following an announcement by Russian Defense Minister Shoigu on March 25 that the brigade would permanently redeploy to Crimea by the end of 2021. [9]
  • An unidentified Russian engineering unit was observed 25 kilometers east of Luhansk, Ukraine, on March 30. [10]
  • An unidentified artillery unit, which could be part of the 56th Air Assault Brigade, deployed to Crimea by rail on March 31. [11]
  • A Russian logistical convoy moved from Rostov to eastern Ukraine on March 31. [12]
  • Russian trucks were seen driving through occupied Luhansk, Ukraine, on April 1. [13]

The Kremlin claims all ongoing military deployments are part of a preplanned readiness check.  Russia’s Southern Military District (SMD) is conducting an annual readiness check from March 29 to the end of April, including over 50 component exercises across southern Russia and occupied Crimea. [14]  The Russian Ministry of Defense is not individually announcing the component exercises, which are predominantly at the company and battalion level. [15]  The SMD borders eastern Ukraine and is responsible for the command and control of Russia’s proxy forces in Donbas. Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitri Peskov, and SMD spokesperson Vadim Astafiev claimed all current Russian movements are components of the ongoing readiness check on April 1. [16]  The SMD holds annual readiness checks every April. However, it is unclear from available information what Russian deployments are and are not part of prescheduled exercises. The deployment of the 56 th  Air Assault Brigade is not likely part of a normal readiness check given the MoD’s announcement that it is permanently moving to Crimea.

The purpose of these attention-grabbing Russian deployments is unclear.  Most Western reporting and analysis of the Russian deployments do not identify a likely Russian course of action they would support. Many frame the Russian activities as a test of the Biden administration. [17]  The Kremlin’s movements may be intended to support one of several possible courses of action.  

The most likely objective of these activities is to coerce Ukrainian President Zelensky to make concessions in the ongoing peace process.  The Kremlin routinely escalates its aggression in eastern Ukraine to pressure Ukraine during negotiations. [18]  Russian deployments may be intended to complement Putin’s discussion with French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel on March 30, which the Kremlin exploited to suggest Russia may continue the Ukrainian peace process without Ukrainian participation. [19]  President Zelensky’s government continues to focus on negotiations despite ongoing Russian aggression. Zelensky issued a statement on April 1 decrying Russian threats, calling for further negotiations on a ceasefire, and reaffirming his commitment to “negotiate a truce as the fastest tactical step.” [20]  The Kremlin likely seeks to intimidate Zelensky into unfavorable negotiations that exploit his stated desire to reach a settlement and extract concessions such as direct recognition of Russian proxies or the resumption of water supplies to occupied Crimea. 

The Kremlin may intend to create a pretext to deploy “peacekeepers” in Donbas by creating the impression of a Ukrainian provocation.  The Kremlin falsely frames itself as a neutral party in the Donbas conflict and has previously proposed creating a supposedly neutral peacekeeping force, potentially including Belarusian forces. [21]  ISW previously assessed that the Kremlin has conducted a disinformation campaign claiming Ukraine will launch an offensive against Russia’s proxies in eastern Ukraine since early March. [22]  Russian deployments may be intended to provoke Ukrainian forces into an attack on Russian proxies in violation of ceasefire agreements or to set conditions in which a false-flag attack by proxies on themselves could be more readily blamed on Kyiv. The Kremlin could then exploit Ukrainian “aggression” to call for the deployment of a peacekeeping force involving Russian or Belarusian troops.  A Kremlin-backed peacekeeping force in Donbas would legitimize the Kremlin’s desired framing of Russia as a neutral arbiter in a Ukrainian civil conflict and grant Russia a permanent lever of influence against Ukraine.

Russian force movements may be intended to distract from another Kremlin line of effort, such as ongoing military pressure in Belarus. The Kremlin’s force deployments in Crimea and on Ukraine’s eastern borders—and Western reactions to them—have drawn widespread attention in the US government, mainstream media, and analytical community. Russian exercises around Ukraine may be intended to draw US attention, or political capital for a response, away from other Kremlin lines of effort. The Kremlin is rapidly advancing its ongoing campaign to integrate the Belarusian military into Kremlin-dominated structures, including establishing a new joint training center and deploying additional Russian forces to the Kaliningrad exclave to threaten NATO’s eastern flank. [23]  The Kremlin could additionally seek to distract from escalating repressive measures inside Russia or another international effort. Analysts should keep a watchful eye on other aspects of the Kremlin’s malign global campaigns during these attention-grabbing actions near Ukraine.

Russia is unlikely to be preparing for either a major or localized offensive against Ukraine at this time. Large-scale Russian force deployments, a logistical buildup, and a likely NATO response would be indicators of looming large-scale offensive operations against Ukraine. Russia’s frontline conventional units have not deployed at the brigade level or above during ongoing readiness checks in the SMD. Russia’s Western Military District (WMD) has likewise not mobilized key regiments and divisions that would likely be necessary to support an offensive against Ukraine. ISW has not observed or captured reports of the buildup of logistical supplies—including fuel, ammunition, and medical supplies—which would be necessary to support a major offensive. The United States, Ukraine, and NATO would almost certainly observe the preparations for a major offensive and issue far more strident statements than they have so far made.

Russian deployments do not indicate preparations for an imminent, more-localized conventional escalation either. If Putin intended to conduct a sudden operation—such as a surprise air assault to secure the Crimean canal, or a mechanized offensive using forces permanently stationed on the Ukrainian border—the Russian military would not have openly telegraphed ongoing deployments. The Kremlin has additionally not set conditions in the information space for major operations. Russia’s campaign to regain dominant influence over Ukraine is concentrated on the information space, and the Kremlin has not taken rhetorical steps to justify a major offensive. The Kremlin’s ongoing disinformation campaign claiming Ukraine will attack occupied Donbas would not likely support an overt Russian conventional attack into Ukraine on any scale without further conditions-setting. The Kremlin is therefore unlikely to be preparing for offensive action at this time.

The Kremlin is unlikely to be redeploying forces and making provocative statements solely to test the Biden administration. Many current reports argue the Kremlin is deploying troops near Ukraine to test the Biden administration. It is unclear what Putin could intend such a “test” to demonstrate.  

The United States could respond to Russian posturing with statements, sanctions, additional aid to Ukraine, or troop deployments of its own to either Ukraine or Ukraine’s NATO neighbors. Putin has shown little interest historically in US rhetoric and is unlikely to have ordered this movement of military assets simply to prompt a response from the White House. The United States is unlikely to impose further sanctions in response to Russian military deployments occurring exclusively within Russia’s borders and illegally occupied Crimea. The United States could conceivably increase its military aid to Ukraine. Finally, the United States is highly unlikely to deploy conventional forces to Ukraine in response to Russian deployments of this variety. 

Both an increase in military aid to Ukraine and the deployment of American or NATO troops further east would be major setbacks for Putin’s campaign to regain dominance over Ukraine. He is therefore highly unlikely to have taken actions that he thought might provoke such responses. Furthermore, the US response to these recent Russian military movements is unlikely to provide Putin with any useful indication of how the United States might respond to a more dramatic Russian escalation in the future. The Kremlin thus is far more likely to be posturing in support of a Ukraine-focused outcome than orienting on Washington’s response to its actions.

Russian deployments around Ukraine must be assessed in the context of Putin’s broader objectives against Ukraine.  The Kremlin’s primary objective against Ukraine is to regain dominant influence over the government in Kyiv and prevent Ukraine from joining NATO or the EU. Putin’s campaign against Ukraine is centered on an information campaign to normalize truncated Ukrainian sovereignty. Russia’s proxy forces in eastern Ukraine are a means to the end of securing leverage over Ukraine, not an end themselves. Putin has successfully ensured Ukraine is unlikely to join NATO or the EU by occupying Ukrainian territory. The Kremlin continues to prioritize shaping peace talks with Zelensky to achieve a Kremlin-favorable outcome. Putin is highly unlikely to resort to major offensive operations—which would almost certainly result in further painful sanctions if not a US or NATO military response—unless he assesses direct conquest is the only way to regain dominance over Ukraine. Ukraine, the United States, and its allies must therefore assess Russian actions in the context of Russian objectives and potential courses of action; these actions currently point to an escalation of the ongoing Russian pressure campaign against Ukrainian President Zelensky, not an imminent offensive.


[1]  Andrew E. Kramer, “Fighting Escalates in Eastern Ukraine, Signaling the End to Another Cease-Fire,” New York Times, March 30, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/30/world/europe/ukraine-russia-fighting.html.

[2]  Max Seddon and Roman Olearchyk, “Tensions Flare Between Russia and Ukraine,” Financial Times, March 31, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/6a3d49e4-ffc8-4fd2-90c8-8516c2c89c8f.

[3]  “TCG Talks: Russia Turns Down Offer to Secure Truce in Donbas from April 1,” UNIAN, March 31, 2021, https://www.unian dot info/war/donbas-russia-turns-down-ukraine-s-offer-to-secure-truce-in-donbas-from-april-1-11373031.html; Ukrainian Delegation to the Trilateral Contact Group, Facebook March 31, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/UkrdelegationTCG/posts/239600531283698.

[4]  Andrew E. Kramer, “Fighting Escalates in Eastern Ukraine, Signaling the End to Another Cease-Fire,” New York Times, March 30, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/30/world/europe/ukraine-russia-fighting.html.

[5]  Battalion Tactical Groups are motorized rifle or tank battalions with attached ATGM, artillery, reconnaissance, engineer, and rear support units, intended to be self-sufficient ground combat units. BTGs range in size from 700-900 personnel, and each Russian brigade or regiment fields two BTGs. [“The Quantity of Battalion Groups Consisting of Contract Soldiers in the Russian Army Will Reach 125 in Two Years - Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,”] Interfax, September 14, 2016, https://www.militarynews dot ru/story.asp?rid=1&nid=425709&lang=RU; “Contractees in BTGs,” Russian Defense Policy, September 17, 2016, https://russiandefpolicy.com/2016/09/17/contractees-in-btgs/; [“Russia Draws Troops to the Border with Ukraine, the Armed Forces of Ukraine Are Preparing to Replenish Forces With Reservists If Necessary - Ruslan Khomchak,”] Radio Svoboda, March 30, 2021, https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/zsu-heneral-khomchak-pro-diyi-rosiyi/31178741.html.

[6]  [“Head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Valery Gerasimov Had a Telephone Conversation With the Chairman of the Committee of Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces Mark Milley,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 31, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12351887@egNews; “Readout of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Milley’s Phone Call with Russian Chief of the General Staff Gen. Gerasimov,” Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Public Affairs, March 31, 2021, https://www.jcs.mil/Media/News/News-Display/Article/2557092/readout-of-chairman-of-the-joint-chiefs-of-staff-gen-milleys-phone-call-with-ru/; “Russian and U.S. military Chiefs of Staff Hold Phone Call,” Reuters, March 31, 2021, https://news.trust.org/item/20210331170618-yrxzk/.

[7]  US Secretary of Defense, Twitter, April 1, 2021, https://twitter.com/SecDef/status/1377693917689344001?s=20.

[8]  “Deputy Head of the Office of the President Roman Mashovets and Head of the NATO Representation to Ukraine Alexander Vinnikov Discussed the Security Situation in Donbas and Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration,” Office of the President of Ukraine, April 1, 2021, https://www.president.gov dot ua/en/news/zastupnik-kerivnika-ofisu-prezidenta-roman-mashovec-obgovori-67749.

[9]  [“Shoigu Announced the Formation of a New Airborne Regiment in Crimea,”] Izvestia, March 25, 2021, https://iz dot ru/1142141/2021-03-25/shoigu-soobshchil-o-sozdanii-novogo-polka-vdv-v-krymu; Igor Girkin, Twitter, March 30, https://twitter.com/GirkinGirkin/status/1376953240915476489?s=20; Igor Girkin, Twitter, March 31, https://twitter.com/GirkinGirkin/status/1377266153207250944?s=20.

[10]  Petri Makela, Twitter, March 31, 2021, https://twitter.com/pmakela1/status/1377332457209393152?s=20.

[11]  Herooftheday10, Twitter, March 31, 2021, https://twitter.com/herooftheday10/status/1377164096987000832?s=20.

[12]  Herooftheday10, Twitter, March 31, 2021, https://twitter.com/herooftheday10/status/1377280560406597634?s=20.

[13]  Marqs, Twitter, April 1, 2021, https://twitter.com/MarQs__/status/1377620873457373185?s=20.

[14]  [“Formations and Units of the Southern Military District Began to Pass the Control Check for the Winter Training Period,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 29, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12351446@egNews; [“The Control Check of the Southern Military District Troops will Take Place in the Format of Bilateral Tactical Exercises,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 31, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12351798@egNews.

[15]  The Russian Ministry of Defense issued announcements of broad components of the readiness check, including the participation of engineering troops in all exercises and tank exercises in Chechnya, but has not issued readouts of the participating units and locations of individual exercises. [“Engineering Units Will Provide Ferries for Motorized Riflemen of the Southern Military District During Exercises During a Control Check,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, March 31, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12351801@egNews; [“In Chechnya, the Tankers of the Southern Military District Began to Pass the Control Check During the Winter Training Period,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, April 1, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12351994@egNews; [“Servicemen of the Southern Military District in the North Caucasus and Transcaucasia Began to Pass the Check During the Winter Training Period,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, April 1, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12352006@egNews.

[16]  [“Military Equipment is Move to Crimea as Part of Planned Training Activities,”] TASS, April 1, 2021, https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/11049629; [“Peskov Said that the Movement of Russian Troops Across the Russian Federation Should Not Bother Other Countries,”] TASS, April 1, 2021, https://tass dot ru/politika/11048035.

[17]  Thomas Grove and Alan Cullison, “Russian Troop Movements on Ukraine Border Test Biden Administration,” Wall Street Journal, March 31, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russian-troop-movements-on-ukraine-border-test-biden-administration-11617230084; Andrew E. Kramer, “Fighting Escalates in Eastern Ukraine, Signaling the End to Another Cease-Fire,” New York Times, March 30, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/30/world/europe/ukraine-russia-fighting.html; David MArtin and Eleanor Watson, “U.S. Watching ‘Escalation of Armed Confrontation’ Near Ukraine’s Border with Russia,” CBS News, March 31, 2021, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/russia-troops-ukraine-border-concerning-united-states/.

[18]  George Barros and Nataliya Bugayova with Mason Clark, “Russia in Review: Kremlin Escalates in Ukraine while Playing Peacemaker,” Institute for the Study of War, June 1, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-kremlin-escalates-ukraine-while-playing-peacemaker.

[19]  “Macron, Merkel Call on Russia to Stabilize Ceasefire in Donbas,” Unian, March 30, 2021, https://www.unian dot info/politics/donbas-macron-merkel-call-on-russia-to-stabilize-ceasefire-11371897.html; Gleb Ivanov, [“Dmitri Peskov: Russia has Many More Friends than Enemies,”] Arguments and Facts, March 31, 2021, https://aif dot ru/politics/russia/dmitriy_peskov_druzey_u_rossii_gorazdo_bolshe_chem_nedrugov.

[20]  Volodomyr Zelensky, Facebook, April 1, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/zelenskiy95/posts/2784857348431290.

[21]  Mason Clark, “Russia in Review: Russian Offensive in Ukraine Unlikely, but Russian Disinformation Campaign Pressures Ukraine to Make Concessions,” Institute for the Study of War, March 18, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-russian-offensive-ukraine-unlikely-russian-disinformation-operation.

[22]  Mason Clark, “Russia in Review: Russian Offensive in Ukraine Unlikely, but Russian Disinformation Campaign Pressures Ukraine to Make Concessions,” Institute for the Study of War, March 18, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-russian-offensive-ukraine-unlikely-russian-disinformation-operation.

[23]  ISW will publish an assessment of March 2021 joint Russian/Belarusian military exercises in early April.

 

[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Ukraine]

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[l] at 8/5/21 8:42am
Russian and Belarusian Forces Begin International Deployments and Final Preparations for Major Military Exercise Zapad-2021
By: Mason Clark
Russian and Belarusian forces began final preparations in late July for Zapad-2021, Russia’s capstone annual military exercise and an important indicator of Russian military capabilities. The Russian military holds an annual capstone military exercise every September, rotating between Russia’s four military districts – East, Center, South, and West. Russia’s 2021 capstone exercise, “Zapad,” will occur in the Western Military District and Belarus from September 10-16. Russia and Belarus are framing Zapad-2021 as a joint exercise.[1] Russia’s annual capstone exercises routinely involve foreign military forces but have not been framed as joint exercises prior to 2021. The units Russia and Belarus deploy in Zapad-2021 and the types of actions they practice will provide essential insight on evolving Russian and Belarusian military capabilities. ISW will monitor and provide updates on Russian and Belarusian movements before, during, and after the official period of Zapad-2021 from September 10-16.

Russian and Belarusian forces began deploying internationally in late July, nearly two months before the beginning of Zapad-2021 and far earlier than Russian forces have deployed for previous capstone exercises. Russian forces first arrived in Belarus via train on July 21 to begin final preparations for Zapad-2021.[2] As of August 3, open sources have confirmed company-sized elements of two Russian units based near Moscow, the 2nd Motor Rifle Division and 4th Tank Division, have deployed to Belarus with accompanying combat support elements.[3] The Belarusian military announced on July 30 that elements of the Belarusian 19th Mechanized Brigade will deploy to Russia as part of Zapad-2021, but the unit has not departed its home base as of August 3.[4] Russian forces only deployed to Belarus a week in advance during the previous iteration of Zapad in 2017 – compared to nearly two months in 2021.[5] Russian forces are likely deploying far in advance to set conditions for the later deployment of larger elements, and to practice establishing the joint battalion-level units Russian and Belarusian forces have constructed in several exercises since September 2020.[6]

Russian forces are additionally conducting final readiness checks in preparation for Zapad-2021. Russian forces have routinely conducted exercises in preparation for Zapad-2021 since March 2021. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the beginning of the “active phase” of preparation for Zapad-2021 on June 1, and retroactively claimed Russia’s buildup of forces around Ukraine in March and April was a readiness check for Zapad-2021.[7] Individual Russian units have carried out small-scale exercises throughout the summer. Several branches of the Russian military conducted large-scale final exercises in July, however. Over 8,000 Russian military engineers conducted preparatory exercises in the Western Military District from July 27-30.[8] Over 5,000 Russian Military Police began readiness checks on July 30 in the Western, Southern, and Central Military Districts.[9] Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov conducted a check of ongoing “special exercises” in the Western Military District on July 30.[10] Belarus additionally invited Kazakhstan to participate in Zapad-2021 during a visit by the Chief of the Kazakh General to Belarus on August 2.[11] Kazakhstan has not confirmed its participation in Zapad-2021 but previously participated in Center-2019.[12] Additional Russian units will likely conduct final readiness checks and deploy to their training grounds for Zapad-2021 throughout August.

ISW will continue monitoring Russian and Belarusian preparations for Zapad-2021. The Kremlin will likely leverage Zapad-2021 to further integrate the Belarusian military into Russian-dominated command structures. The Kremlin may take advantage of Zapad-2021 to permanently deploy Russian forces in Belarus by claiming they are in Belarus for exercises and not withdrawing them. Self-proclaimed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed on July 30 he has not discussed Russian bases in Belarus with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that Russian troops will only deploy to Belarus if Belarusian forces could not handle a task.[13] The Kremlin has nonetheless deployed forces to Belarus on a rotating basis since September 2020 and will likely pressure Lukashenko to accept further Russian deployments.[14]


1. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov met with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in the first US-Russia “Strategic Stability” dialogue in Geneva on July 28, 2021. Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden agreed to begin these bilateral Strategic Stability talks during their summit in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 16. Both sides praised the tone of the talks but did not announce any formal agreements. The US State Department stated the talks, which focused on arms control and normalizing US-Russia relations, were “professional and substantive” and announced the next Strategic Stability meeting will occur in late September.[15] The Russian Foreign Ministry characterized the talks as constructive and stated Washington fulfilled unspecified obligations from the Geneva summit in June.[16] Ryabkov later caveated his praise of the talks and called for a new treaty to eliminate the deployment of short and intermediate-range missiles in Europe to replace the defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, claiming US deployments “weaken European security.” The Strategic Stability dialogue may support the Biden administration’s objective of establishing regular high-level contacts with Russia. The Kremlin is unlikely to enter renewed arms control talks in good faith, however.

2. The United States dropped its opposition to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline in a joint statement with Germany on July 21, 2021, in exchange for several joint measures unlikely to deter the Kremlin’s use of the pipeline as a political weapon.[17] Ukraine and Poland denounced the agreement in a joint statement on July 21.[18] The nonbinding US-Germany agreement will not inhibit the Kremlin’s ability to use Nord Stream 2 as a weapon against Ukraine and Germany. Germany agreed to facilitate an extension to Ukraine’s current gas transit agreement with Russia and pledged to pursue national and EU sanctions in response to future Russian aggression against Ukraine as conditions of US acceptance of the pipeline. Germany will be unlikely to help secure an extension to the Ukrainian transit agreement without making further concessions to Russia, and it is unclear what additional “Russian aggression” would prompt Germany to pursue further sanctions. Nord Stream 2 will diversify Russia’s gas supply routes to Europe and allow the Kremlin to leverage those routes for political gain – both by increasing Germany’s reliance on Russian gas and by depriving Ukraine of gas transit fees.

3. The Kremlin successfully leveraged its 2021 International Air and Space Salon (MAKS 2021) to promote the Russian civilian and military aviation industry for foreign customers.
MAKS 2021 occurred from July 20-25 near Moscow, in partnership with the government of Kazakhstan. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated Russia is taking its “rightful place” in the global aviation industry in his opening speech.[19] The director of Russia’s military import-export company Rosoboronexport, Alexander Mikheev, stated Rosoboronexport signed 13 export contracts worth more than a billion euros during the conference.[20] The Kremlin notably sold 21 MIG-29 light fighters to India, likely facilitating deeper military ties between India and Russia.[21] Mikheev announced that Turkey is in discussions to purchase an additional batch of S-400 missile systems from Russia.[22] Russian manufacturer Sukhoi additionally announced the new Su-75 “Checkmate” tactical fighter, likely intended as an export model.[23] The Kremlin’s international arms sales mitigate the effect of Western sanctions and advance the Kremlin’s efforts to create a network of potential military partners.


4. The Kremlin is increasing its outreach to potential international partners in response to growing instability in Afghanistan. The Kremlin initiated several Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meetings in Tajikistan to consider approaches to the Afghanistan crisis throughout late July.[24] Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Russian President Putin engaged in at least five phone calls with their Central Asian counterparts in July in addition to these multilateral meetings.[25] Russian forces additionally continue to support military exercises by states bordering Afghanistan. Tajikistan mobilized its entire military - 100,000 servicemen and 130,000 reservists - on July 22 for the largest military exercise in Tajik history, but continues to rely on support from Russia’s 201st Military Base in Tajikistan.[26] Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are holding further joint military exercises from August 5-10.[27] The Kremlin continues to call for direct negotiations with the Taliban through its Moscow Format peace negotiations.[28] The Kremlin’s increasing use of international organizations to support its Afghanistan policy is a shift from early July, the period covered by ISW’s previous Russia in Review.[29] The Kremlin likely seeks to leverage international organizations to support Russia’s military posture and diplomatic efforts in Central Asia and mitigate the possibility of other regional actors, including China, conducting unilateral responses to growing instability in Afghanistan which could challenge Russian efforts.


5. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky replaced several senior generals and advanced key military reform items in late July, likely in preparation for a planned visit to Washington, DC, on August 30. Zelensky dismissed the head of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Ruslan Khomchak on July 27, citing tensions between the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defense.[30] Ukrainian Defense Minister Andreii Taran claims Khomchak refused to follow orders, while Khomchak claims Zelensky’s administration advanced legislation that impeded the military’s duties.[31] Zelensky subsequently fired Ukraine’s Joint Forces Operation (JFO) Commander, Chief of the General Staff, and Commander of the Air Assault Forces on July 28.[32] Zelensky announced on July 28 that the US and Ukraine agreed on three bilateral documents related to defense that will be signed during Zelensky’s trip to Washington on August 30.[33] Zelensky additionally signed laws to establish a national resistance force and increase the size of the Ukrainian military on July 29.[34] The national resistance law will develop territorial defense and resistance units and introduce a training system for Ukrainian citizens to conduct resistance operations in the event of a Russian invasion.[35] Zelensky likely seeks to increase Ukrainian military capabilities following Russia’s large-scale deployments on the Ukrainian border in April 2021 and consolidate his direction of Ukrainian military reforms ahead of his trip to Washington.

6. The Kremlin seeks to maintain its position as the main powerbroker in the Caucasus as tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan escalate. Armenia and Azerbaijan have exchanged low-level fire and mutually accused each other of border violations since late May, when Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused Azerbaijani forces of violating the Armenian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized the importance of a peace settlement and cooperation in a meeting with Azerbaijani President Aliyev Ilham on July 20.[36] Putin held a phone call with Pashinyan to discuss unblocking transport and economic channels in the Nagorno-Karabakh region on July 22.[37] Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh conducted exercises on preventing ceasefire violations on July 27.[38] Pashinyan called for a deployment of Collective Security Treaty Organization observers or Russian peacekeepers along the border on July 29.[39] The Kremlin did not publicly respond to Pashinyan’s request for additional deployments, but stated it is concerned about the escalation and will provide all necessary assistance to normalize the situation.[40] The Kremlin seeks to maintain good ties with both Armenia and Azerbaijan to prevent a breakdown in the Kremlin-mediated end of the November 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war and prevent further Turkish influence in the region. The Kremlin retains the option to deploy additional forces or leverage the CSTO in the Caucasus but will likely prioritize potential deployments on Afghanistan’s borders.

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[1] Andrey Arkadiev, [“Exercises "Zapad-2021" and Updating the Arsenal of Space Forces: What Shoigu talked about at the Board of the Ministry of Defense,”] TV Zvezda, June 1, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/202161189-yZ75l.html.

[2] “Russian Troops Coming to Belarus Ahead of Zapad 2021 Army Exercise,” Belta, July 21, 2021, https://eng.belta dot by/society/view/russian-troops-coming-to-belarus-ahead-of-zapad-2021-army-exercise-141830-2021/.

[3] “Zapad-2021 Strategic-Operational exercise – Part 3,” Rochan Consulting, July 26, 2021, https://rochan-consulting.com/zapad-2021-strategic-operational-exercise-part-3/.

[4] [“Preparation Continues,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, July 30, 2021, https://vayar.mil dot by/news/137158/.

[5] [“Russian Troops Will Start Arriving in Belarus on August 15,”] Radio Svoboda, August 14, 2017, https://www.svaboda.org/a/28675767.html.

[6] George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Russia Expands Unit Integration with Belarusian and Serbian Militaries in June Slavic Brotherhood Exercises,” Institute for the Study of War, June 25, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia-expands-unit-integration-belarusian-and-serbian; George Barros, “Russia in Review: Russia Opens Permanent Training Center in Belarus and Sets Conditions For Permanent Military Basing,” Institute for the Study of War, April 8, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-russia-opens-permanent-training-center-belarus-and-sets-conditions; George Barros with Savannah Modesitt, “Belarus Warning Update: Russia Fields New Motor Rifle Division in Kaliningrad and Conducts Joint Command Training with Belarus,” Institute for the Study of War, February 8, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia-fields-new-motor-rifle-division-kaliningrad-and-conducts.

[7] Andrey Arkadiev, [“Exercises ‘Zapad-2021’ and Updating the Arsenal of Space Forces: What Shoigu talked about at the Board of the Ministry of Defense,”] TV Zvezda, June 1, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/202161189-yZ75l.html.

[8] [“In the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Special Exercises of the Engineering Troops Started,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, July 27, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12374063@egNews.

[9] Timur Sherzad, [“The Military Police of the Western Military District are Preparing for the Upcoming Strategic Exercises ‘Zapad-2021,’”] TV Zvezda, July 30, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/20217301422-GHzNG.html.

[10] [“Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces Inspected Special Exercises in the Western Military District,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, July 30, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12374694@egNews.

[11] [“Official Visit of the First Deputy Minister of Defense of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, August 2, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/137180/; [“Belarus Invited Kazakhstan to Participate in ‘Zapad-2021’ Exercises,”] RT, August 3, 2021, https://russian.rt dot com/ussr/news/892134-belorussiya-kazahstan-ucheniya.

[12] [“Military Contingent of Seven States to Participate in Russia’s Center-2019 Drills,”] TASS, August 19, 2019, https://tass dot com/defense/1074149.

[13] “Lukashenko: Deployment of Russian Bases in Belarus has Never Been Discussed at the President Level,” Belta, July 30, 2021, https://eng.belta dot by/president/view/lukashenko-deployment-of-russian-bases-in-belarus-has-never-been-discussed-at-the-president-level-142093-2021/.

[14] George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Putin Will Increase Pressure on Lukashenko to Integrate Belarus in 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, December 18, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-will-increase-pressure-lukashenko-integrate-belarus-2021; George Barros, “Russia in Review: Russia Opens Permanent Training Center in Belarus and Sets Conditions For Permanent Military Basing,” Institute for the Study of War, April 8, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-russia-opens-permanent-training-center-belarus-and-sets-conditions.

[15] “Deputy Secretary Sherman’s Participation in Strategic Stability Dialogue with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov,” US Department of State, July 28, 2021, https://www.state.gov/deputy-secretary-shermans-participation-in-strategic-stability-dialogue-with-russian-deputy-foreign-minister-sergey-ryabkov/.

[16] [“The Russian Foreign Ministry Urged the United States to Agree on the Non-Deployment of the INF Treaty,”] Izvestia, July 29, 2021, https://iz dot ru/1199804/2021-07-29/v-mid-rossii-prizvali-ssha-dogovoritsia-o-nerazmeshchenii-rsmd; [“Comments of the Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry A.M. Bikantov in Connection with the Situation on the Azerbaijani-Armenian Border,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, July 30, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4832844.

[17] “Joint Statement of the United States and Germany on Support for Ukraine, European Energy Security, and our Climate Goals,” US Department of State, July 21, 2021, https://www.state.gov/joint-statement-of-the-united-states-and-germany-on-support-for-ukraine-european-energy-security-and-our-climate-goals/.

[18] “Joint Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland Zbigniew Rau on Nord Stream 2,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, July 21, 2021, https://mfa.gov dot ua/en/news/spilna-zayava-ministra-zakordonnih-sprav-ukrayini-dmitra-kulebi-ta-ministra-zakordonnih-sprav-polshchi-zbignyeva-rau-shchodo-pivnichnogo-potoku-2.

[19] [“Visit to the International Aviation and Space Salon MAKS-2021,”] Kremlin, July 20, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66224.

[20] Timur Sherzad, [“Foreign military Contracts Worth a Billion Euros Were Signed at MAKS-2021,”] TV Zvezda, July 22, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/20217221014-1NYi3.html.

[21] “Russia Hands Over Commercial Offer to India for Delivery of 21 MiG-29 Fighters,” TASS, July 21, 2021, https://tass dot com/defense/1316177.

[22] Andrey Arkadiev, [“Rosoboronexport Will Prepare a Project to Supply Turkey with an Additional Batch of S-400,”] TV Zvezda, July 20, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/20217201114-rwvZN.html.

[23] Alexander Bratersky, “See Russia’s New Checkmate Fighter Jet Unveiled at Defense Expo,” Defense News, July 27, 2021, https://www.defensenews.com/industry/techwatch/2021/07/27/see-russias-new-checkmate-fighter-jet-unveiled-at-defense-expo/.

[24] [“The Head of the Russian Military Department Took Part in the Meeting of the Defense Ministers of the SCO Member States,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, July 28, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12374406@egNews; [“Results of the Meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the SCO Member States,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, July 14, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4813312; [“Khasan Sultonov, Permanent and Plenipotentiary Representative of the Republic of Tajikistan to the CSTO, Informed the Members of the Organization's Permanent Council about the Situation on the Tajik-Afghan Border,”] Collestive Security Treaty Organization, July 7, 2021, https://en.odkb-csto dot org/news/news_odkb/postoyannyy-i-polnomochnyy-predstavitel-respubliki-tadzhikistan-pri-odkb-khasan-sultonov-proinformir/.

[25] [“Telephone Conversation Between Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan A.Kh. Kamilov,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, July 9, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/telefonnye-razgovory-ministra/-/asset_publisher/KLX3tiYzsCLY/content/id/4811505; [“Telephone Conversation between Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan Sergey Mukhriddin,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, July 20, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/telefonnye-razgovory-ministra/-/asset_publisher/KLX3tiYzsCLY/content/id/4824947; [“Telephone Conversation with President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev,”] Kremlin, July 24, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66248/print; “Telephone Conversation with President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev,” Kremlin, July 24, 2021, http://en.kremlin dot ru/catalog/persons/593/events/66252/print; [“Telephone Conversation with President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon,”] Kremlin, July 22, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66240.

[26] “Tajikistan Holds Massive Combat-Readiness Check Amid Rising Instability In Neighboring Afghanistan,” Radio fre Europe / Radio Liberty, July 22, 2021, https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-readiness-drill-afghanistan/31371522.html; Vladislav Gordeev, [“Moscow to Strengthen Base in Tajikistan with New Infantry Fighting Vehicles Amid Afghan Crisis,”] RBK, July 21, 2021 https://www.rbc dot ru/politics/21/07/2021/60f7c3199a79474b15b181b2.

[27] [“Troops from Russia and Uzbekistan will Conduct Exercises on the Border with Afghanistan,”] Izvestia, July 20, 2021, https://iz dot ru/1195471/2021-07-20/voennye-iz-rf-i-uzbekistana-provedut-ucheniia-na-granitce-s-afganistanom.

[28] Egor Levin, [“Lavrov Called the Moscow Format the Most Effective for Discussing the Situation in Afghanistan,”] TV Zvezda, July 23, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/20217231151-Vdw9t.html.

[29] Mason Clark and Rachel Kenny, “Russia In Review: July 7 – July 20, 2021,” Institute For the Study of War, July 22, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-july-7-%E2%80%93-july-20-2021.

[30] “Ukrainian President Fires Head of the Armed Forces, Citing Disputes,” Reuters, July 27, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukrainian-president-fires-head-armed-forces-citing-disputes-2021-07-27/.

[31] Mark Raczkiewycz, “Citing Need for Systemic ‘Transformation,’ Zelenskyy Conducts Major Shakeup of Ukraine’s Security Service,” The Ukrainian Weekly, July 30, 2021, https://www.ukrweekly.com/uwwp/citing-need-for-systemic-transformation-zelenskyy-conducts-major-shakeup-of-ukraines-security-service/.

[32] Egor Levin, [“Lavrov Called the Moscow Format the Most Effective for Discussing the Situation in Afghanistan,”] TV Zvezda, July 23, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/20217231151-Vdw9t.html.

[33] Anastasia Horbacheva, [“Ukraine and the United States Agreed to Sign Three Documents: What They Are Talking About,”] Unian, July 29, 2021, https://www.unian dot ua/politics/ukrajina-i-ssha-domovilisya-pidpisati-tri-dokumenti-pro-shcho-yde-mova-novini-ukrajina-11496778.html.

[34] Oleksii Chaharnyi, “Zelensky Increases Number of Armed Forces, Signs Laws on National Resistance,” Kyiv Post, July 29, 2021, https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/zelensky-increases-the-number-of-the-armed-forces-signs-laws-on-national-resistance.html.

[35] Oleksii Chaharnyi, “Zelensky Increases Number of Armed Forces, Signs Laws on National Resistance,” Kyiv Post, July 29, 2021, https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/zelensky-increases-the-number-of-the-armed-forces-signs-laws-on-national-resistance.html.

[36] “Meeting with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev,” Kremlin, July 20, 2021, http://en dot kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66228.

[37] [“Telephone Conversation with Acting Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan,”] Kremlin, July 22, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66241.

[38] [“Russian Peacekeepers Conducted Training on the Defense of the Observation Post in Nagorno-Karabakh Using a New Method,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, July 27, 2021, https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12374035@egNews.

[39] [“Pashinyan Called to Place Russian Military on the Border with Azerbaijan,”] RIA Novosti, July 29, 2021, https://ria dot ru/20210729/pogranichniki-1743391970.html.

[40] “Russia Contributing Towards Restoring Ceasefire Between Armenia, Azerbaijan — Kremlin,” TASS, July 29, 2021, https://tass dot com/world/1320707; [“Comments of the Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry A.M. Bikantov in Connection with the Situation on the Azerbaijani-Armenian Border,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, July 30, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4832844.

[Author: Institute for the Study of War]

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[l] at 7/20/21 4:09pm

By Isabel Ivanescu

Key Takeaway: Fighting between pro-Assad regime forces and local opposition elements in Dera’a Province is at its most intense since Russia brokered reconciliation agreements between the two factions in 2018. Iranian-backed regime units have surrounded the town of Tafas after suffering several casualties while trying to storm the town. Russia-backed forces have pursued their standard approach, pushing for a negotiated solution while other factions in the pro-regime bloc prepare to use force. There has been an inflection in Russian behavior, however; Russia did not intervene to stop the first assault on the town by Iranian-backed forces and threatened to itself carry out airstrikes in the vicinity if locals refused to turn over individuals wanted by the regime. This may represent a Russian belief that Tafas, a hub of anti-Assad activity, will be less likely to capitulate than other towns in which similar events have previously transpired.

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[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Syria]

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[l] at 7/20/21 3:37pm

By George Barros

January 28, 2021, 5:00 pm EDT

Russian Western Military District (WMD) and Belarusian forces began simultaneous, large combat-readiness exercises in Kaliningrad, Belarus, and mainland western Russia on January 25, 2021. The Russian and Belarusian exercises are nominally separate and do not mention any joint activity; however, the exercises’ similarities in timing, geographic proximity, scale, and type of activity in resemblance to previous joint exercises indicate they are likely connected and complimentary.

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Russia’s Western Military District (WMD) began a brigade-sized readiness exercise in Kaliningrad on January 25. Brigade-sized elements (approximately 3,000 personnel) of the Russian Baltic Fleet began comprehensive combat readiness exercises with ground, naval, naval infantry, naval aviation, and air defense units in Kaliningrad on January 25. [1]  The Russian Ministry of Defense claims these exercises are preplanned and did not specify their end date. Baltic Fleet exercises have continued through January 28 as of this writing. [2]

The WMD also conducted command and control (C2) and signals exercises across five regions (oblasts) in the WMD on January 25. Roughly reinforced-battalion-sized (approximately 800 personnel) signals elements of the Moscow-based First Tank Army conducted communications and C2 exercises across five unspecified oblasts in the WMD on January 25. [3]  Belarus borders three oblasts in the WMD.

Belarus began a snap countrywide readiness exercise on January 25. Unspecified elements of Belarus’ Minsk-based 120th, Slonim-based 11th, and Liepiel-based 19th mechanized brigades; the Vitebsk-based 103rd airborne brigade; and other unspecified Belarusian military units are participating. [4]  These ongoing exercises include air, air defense, engineer, signals, and other support units. This snap exercise is likely a large-scale strategic readiness exercise given its size, scope, and that the four of Belarus’ six brigades are participating. [5]  The Belarusian Ministry of Defense has not specified where else in Belarus the exercises are occurring, or an end date. 

The WMD began another brigade-sized exercise on January 28. Approximately 3,500 personnel of the Russian 6th Combined Arms Army began exercises in Voronezh, Belgorod, Bryansk, Smolensk, Kursk, and Moscow on January 28. [6]  This exercise includes C2, signals, electronic warfare, reconnaissance, and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense (CBRN) activity. The Russian Ministry of Defense claims this exercise was also preplanned and has not specified when it will end. This exercise is occurring in tandem with the ongoing “preplanned” exercises in Kaliningrad and snap readiness exercises in Belarus. Smolensk and Bryansk border eastern Belarus.

These exercises are likely the January 2021 iteration of the monthly joint Russo-Belarusian exercises and are intended to support Russian-Belarusian military integration at the upcoming Zapad 2021 exercises.[7]

Russian and Belarusian forces have conducted joint military exercises on an almost monthly basis since August 2020.[8] Russian President Vladimir Putin and self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko agreed in September 2020 to hold “almost monthly” joint military exercises in both Belarus and Russia starting in 2021. [9]  Western Military District Commander Alexander Zhuravlev said preparations for the Zapad 2021 exercises had already begun in December 2020. [10]  A large joint Russian-Belarusian exercise in January 2021 would thus be consistent with the pattern of frequent joint Russian-Belarusian exercises that ISW has observed since August 2020.

The activities from the simultaneous ongoing exercises in Russia and Belarus are consistent with activities from previous observed joint Russian-Belarusian exercises since August 2020.

Russian and Belarusian exercises in January 2021 have similar air defense elements. A battalion-sized air defense element (200 personnel), likely of the Russian Baltic Fleet’s 22nd Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment, began conducting air defense exercises in Kaliningrad on January 24. [11]  This exercise was likely connected to the larger brigade-sized exercise that began on January 25, given their close timing. Unspecified elements of the Belarusian Brest-based 115th Anti-Aircraft Rocket Regiment began air defense exercises as in Brest on January 26 as part of Belarus’ larger snap exercise. [12]

Russian and Belarusian military-technical cooperation since August 2020 has emphasized joint air defense. [13]  The Kremlin likely seeks to integrate Belarus’ currently independent air defense systems into Russia’s own national air defense system by leveraging the Zapad 2021 exercises. [14]  Nominally independent but effectively joint air defense exercises in Kaliningrad and Brest could help prepare for this assessed effort.

Both Russian and Belarusian exercises in January 2021 have similar C2 and signals elements. The pattern of C2 and signals activities in Belarus and the WMD in these late January exercises is consistent with Belarusian and WMD exercises that also emphasized C2 and signals activity throughout fall 2020. [15]

The Kremlin is likely intensifying its operational security to obfuscate its efforts to integrate Belarus’ military into Russia’s. A Kremlin information operation is likely framing these complementary and simultaneous Russian-Belarusian exercises as “independent.” The Kremlin deliberately misrepresented its snap exercises with Belarus in fall 2020 by branding them as “preplanned exercises” to create a false sense of normality. [16]

Minsk’s assertion that Belarusian exercises are “snap” against the Russian claims that WMD exercises are “preplanned” may indicate a Belarusian effort to resist a Kremlin information operation or a lack of information operation coordination. It is also possible that the exercises are unconnected, though that is unlikely given the exercises’ strong correlations and consistency with previously observed patterns of activity.

Forecast: The Zapad 2021 exercises will likely support Putin’s efforts to establish a continuous Russian military presence in Belarus. Zapad 2021 will emphasize the logistical activities necessary to establish supply lines that could support a sustained Russian presence in Belarus. Kremlin-linked newspaper Izvestia reported that Zapad 2021 participants—likely Russian WMD logistics units—will establish a special logistics base to supply troops participating in Zapad 2021 with fuel, lubricants, food, and other materials. [17]  This revelation is the latest in a series of indicators of Russia setting conditions to create supply lines to Belarus to support a permanent or near-permanent deployment. [18]  The Russian Ministry of Defense announced exercises to transport ammunition and fuel closer to Belarus in early October 2020, for example. [19]

ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.

 


[1]  https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12341121@egNews; https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12341121@egNews; https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12340594@egNews; https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12340792@egNews; https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12341172@egNews

[2]  https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12341121@egNews

[3]  https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12340507@egNews

[4]  https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/109800/; https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/109816/; https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/109859/; https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/109916/; https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/109867/; https://1reg dot by/2021/01/26/puskovyie-ustanovki-pod-brestom-pereveli-v-boevoe-polozhenie/

[5]  Belarus’ likely principle maneuver units are the 6th, 11th, 19th, 120th, 103rd, and 38th brigades. 

[6]  https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12341119@egNews

[7]  https://actualnews dot org/exclusive/379417-the-national-interest-rossija-gotovitsja-k-voennomu-triumfu-v-baltijskom-regione.html

[8]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-lukashenko-softens-his-opposition-protests-seeking-leverage; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-multiple-russian-military-exercises-occurring-western-military; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-kremlin-will-likely-use-october-military-exercises-advance-its; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia%E2%80%99s-unprecedentedly-expansive-military-exercises-fall-2020-seek-recreate-soviet; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-upcoming-csto-exercise-could-support-russian-military-deployment

[9]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-lukashenko-softens-his-opposition-protests-seeking-leverage; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-multiple-russian-military-exercises-occurring-western-military; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-kremlin-will-likely-use-october-military-exercises-advance-its; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia%E2%80%99s-unprecedentedly-expansive-military-exercises-fall-2020-seek-recreate-soviet; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-upcoming-csto-exercise-could-support-russian-military-deployment

[10]  https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12332338@egNews

[11]  https://radiosputnik.ria dot ru/20210124/kaliningrad-1594373776.html; https://eadaily dot com/ru/news/2021/01/24/v-kaliningrade-gotovyatsya-otrazit-uslovnyy-raketnyy-udar-protivnika; https://klops dot ru/news/2021-01-25/227035-sistemy-s-400-triumf-i-kompleksy-pantsir-s-1-v-kaliningradskoy-oblasti-prohodyat-ucheniya-baltflota

[12]  https://1reg dot by/2021/01/26/puskovyie-ustanovki-pod-brestom-pereveli-v-boevoe-polozhenie/

[13]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-belarus-confirms-plans-purchase-advanced-air-defense-systems

[14]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-lukashenko-and-kremlin-vie-control-over-future-russian-weapons; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-intensifies-russian-belarusian-military-integration; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-belarus-confirms-plans-purchase-advanced-air-defense-systems

[15]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-upcoming-csto-exercise-could-support-russian-military-deployment; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia-likely-began-preparing-logistics-supply-lines-belarus; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-setting-conditions-long-term-continuous-russian-military; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-police-detain-demonstrators-protests-escalate; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia%E2%80%99s-western-military-district-prepares-october-exercises; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-kremlin-may-have-used-kavkaz-2020-exercises-part-prepare; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/warning-kremlin-deploys-brigade-sized-force-belarus-near-polish-border

[16]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-multiple-russian-military-exercises-occurring-western-military; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-upcoming-csto-exercise-could-support-russian-military-deployment; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-kremlin-will-likely-use-october-military-exercises-advance-its; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia-deploys-third-battalion-tactical-group-belarus; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/warning-kremlin-deploys-brigade-sized-force-belarus-near-polish-border

[17]  https://iz dot ru/1115704/roman-kretcul-aleksei-ramm/armeiskaia-druzhba-rossiia-i-belorussiia-provedut-rekordnoe-chislo-uchenii

[18]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-upcoming-csto-exercise-could-support-russian-military-deployment; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia-likely-began-preparing-logistics-supply-lines-belarus

[19]  http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-upcoming-csto-exercise-could-support-russian-military-deployment

 

 

[Author: Institute for the Study of War] [Category: Ukraine]

[*] [+] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 7/20/21 2:58pm

 By Ezgi Yazici

Key Takeaway: There are increasing reports of Turkey’s plans to recruit Syrian fighters for deployment to Afghanistan as Ankara finalizes a deal to secure the Kabul International Airport. Turkish officials may be in talks with at least six Turkish-backed Syrian factions to prepare an initial round of 2,000 Syrians as private contractors for deployment to Afghanistan. Reporting is still limited as of July 20. Ankara’s deployment of Syrian proxies to expand the Turkish footprint and offset casualty risks for the Turkish Armed Forces in Afghanistan would be consistent with recent Turkish military behavior in Libya and Azerbaijan. A long-term Turkish presence in Afghanistan with the risk of Taliban attacks may not serve Ankara’s strategic interests at home or abroad in the long term, however.

Turkey may be preparing to deploy Syrian proxies to Afghanistan in September 2021. Local Syrian sources report that Turkey is recruiting Syrian mercenaries to deploy to protect the Kabul airport, government institutions, and international forces for a relatively large monthly salary of 3,000 USD.[1]  Turkish intelligence officials reportedly asked at least five Turkish-backed Syrian National Army factions to prepare an initial batch of 2,000 troops by September during an alleged meeting in northern Syria in late June. [2]  Turkish private military company SADAT will likely lead the recruitment and transfer of Syrian mercenaries to Afghanistan in line with its past responsibilities in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.[3]  SADAT is a Turkish private security company founded by close Erdogan ally and retired Brigadier General Adnan Tanriverdi. SADAT has drawn domestic and international criticism for its reported role in training Islamist militias in Syria.[4]

Turkey and Russia may seek to move extremist groups out of Idlib to Afghanistan, according to low-confidence reporting from Russian news sources.  Russian news outlet ANNA News claimed that Turkey and Russia may be negotiating for Turkey to fulfill its promise to clear the extremist presence from Idlib in Syria by moving fighters to Afghanistan or the borders of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.[5] ANNA News has previously reported accurate information on Russian deployments in Syria, but the source of this report remains unverified. This reporting follows Hayat Tahrir al-Sham's (HTS) campaign to provide international legitimacy to its quasi-security institutions by offering rival and independent groups the option to either “join HTS or leave Idlib.[6] The HTS campaign could push groups with organic connections to Afghanistan to move operations and recruits to Afghanistan.[7] Both Turkish and Russian interests would benefit from an exodus of foreign fighters from the Idlib area. However, a Turkish role or Russian support in facilitating such a movement of fighters is unclear.

Turkey’s Play in Afghanistan

A successful bid in helping stabilize Afghanistan or backing the right internal leaders could demonstrate that Turkey is a necessary player in the region and an important security partner to its allies in and outside NATO. Ankara could improve US-Turkish relations and build Turkish leverage over the United States by stepping up for a key NATO-encouraged mission in Afghanistan. A Turkish military-diplomatic foothold in Afghanistan could provide additional gains for Turkey like economic access, improvements to its global security posture, and greater power projection in Central Asia.

Turkey likely seeks to leverage the NATO departure and the Taliban’s advance as an inflection point to maximize its impact in Afghanistan. Turkish officials timed Turkey’s involvement in Libya and its support for Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh around similar inflection points where limited Turkish involvement had an outsized impact in shaping the military conflicts to favor Turkish interests. Both military campaigns led to mixed post-conflict diplomatic and strategic results, however. In Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia outmaneuvered Turkey in delivering the diplomatic victory in Azerbaijan. In Libya, Turkey’s long-term influence is in question despite its significant role on the battlefield. President Erdogan will likely attempt to position Turkey as a unique actor that could leverage its Muslim outreach for a unique stabilizer role between Afghanistan’s different stakeholders. Erdogan already stated on July 19 that Turkey is planning direct talks with the Taliban despite two statements calling for Turkish troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.[8] The details of future Turkey-Taliban talks are unknown as of July 20.

Expanding the Turkish presence with Syrian proxy support could better secure Turkish troops and maximize Turkey’s powerbroker role.  Turkey may seek to spread its political and military presence beyond the airport to add operational depth to its Afghanistan missions. Turkey also seeks to send “domestic security advisors” to the Afghan government, according to anonymous Turkish government sources. Turkey will likely support pro-Turkey and Turkey-amenable actors inside the former Northern Alliance against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Turkish officials seek to minimize their risk of casualties and financial cost by discussing security arrangements with the United States, Iran, Afghanistan, and Afghanistan’s bordering countries. However, securing the Kabul airport will remain a high-risk mission for the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) amid public Taliban threats. Acquiring backroom assurances and security understandings from regional partners like Pakistan or from the Taliban will likely be a requirement for Turkey to maintain troops after the NATO withdrawal.

Turkey’s Need for Proxies

Syrian mercenaries can deliver Turkey additional power projection capabilities without further Turkish deployments. Turkey is more casualty-averse and less experienced than the other states with active interests in Central Asia. Turkey has used Syrian forces in combination with its air support and military advising abilities to achieve a military impact that rivaled states like Russia on the ground. Turkey could leverage Syrian recruits to achieve its initial operational objective of securing the Kabul Airport and key locations in Kabul at a lower cost than if it relied solely on TSK forces. Turkey’s ability to fund, command, and control proxy forces will become even more critical if Ankara seeks to support Afghan political leaders related to the former Northern Alliance more actively.

The Turkish government will likely use Syrian recruits to mitigate domestic skepticism of the mission in Afghanistan. The Turkish military role in Afghanistan lacks public support. Most Turks view Afghanistan as too far afield and not a Turkish responsibility—unlike perceived counterterrorism operations against Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq. Employing Syrian mercenaries could allow Turkey to pursue high-risk missions without suffering the domestic political cost of a major casualty attack that might damage President Erdogan’s credibility. Ankara will likely seek to avoid creating a large Turkish troop presence in Afghanistan. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar stated that Turkey is not planning to deploy more Turkish troops to Afghanistan beyond the existing 600. However, Turkish-backed proxies remain plagued by in-fighting, limited operational security, and weak command structures. It is also unclear how well Syrian mercenaries will interact with Turkish troops on the ground.

Implications and Risks

A Turkish deployment of Syrian mercenaries could challenge Turkish-US security negotiations in Afghanistan. NATO allies will likely seek to keep Syrian mercenaries out of another NATO ally’s mission in Afghanistan—particularly after the US condemnation of Turkey for a Turkish-backed Syrian faction’s use of child soldiers on July 1, 2021.[9] SADAT may offer official contracts to the mercenaries for the first time to “legalize” their presence, according to Syrian opposition sources.[10]  Contracting Syrian fighters could make the Turkish government's often opaque and arbitrary arrangements with Syrian recruits more binding while still posing challenges to Turkish-US cooperation in Afghanistan.

Turkey risks facing Taliban or other Salafi-Jihadi attacks in Afghanistan without the NATO safety net. Erdogan stated that Turkey will negotiate with the Taliban [CM1] A further deterioration Ankara-Taliban relations could lead to a high-casualty Taliban attack in Afghanistan or a greater Salafi-Jihadi targeting of Turkish assets across the Middle East and put significant public pressure on Turkish officials. Moreover, the potential influx of radical Islamist groups into Afghanistan could deteriorate the security environment further and increase Turkey’s dependency on outsourcing fighters from Syria.

Turkey will likely struggle to translate its military presence in Afghanistan to its strategic advantage. Turkey’s most ambitious military presence abroad poses both opportunities and risks. Turkey has struggled to translate similar military opportunities in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh into long-term strategic advantages, likely due to relative inexperience with such deployments. Ankara may be unable to stabilize Afghanistan rapidly or without higher casualty and financial costs even with the proxy presence or allies’ support.

 

 


[1] https://efrinnews24.com/?p=3329 https://www.syriahr.com/en/219053/ The London-based Syrian Observatory has often reported accurate information on Turkish-backed Syrian National Army factions due to its network of well-placed activists in northern Syria.

ISW assesses with medium-high confidence that Turkish officials are indeed describing the position as such to recruit enough Syrian fighters. Turkish officials could expand the mission description arbitrarily or in exchange for extra pay.

[2]https://www.facebook.com/furat.netkuord/posts/769312043755157

[3] https://twitter.com/UNWatch/status/1315012242866397186

https://twitter.com/Hasan__Jan/status/1317200148578111489

https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/tu-sadat.htm

[4] https://www.duvarenglish.com/turkish-mafia-leader-claims-erdogans-parallel-army-sent-weapons-to-al-nusra-in-syria-news-57667

[5] https://t.me/anna_news/14120

[6] https://twitter.com/IdlibEn/status/1413108286170206213

https://twitter.com/borwjj/status/1410976382012727300?s=20

 

[7] https://twitter.com/OAjjoub/status/1415681961633345542?s=20

https://www.syria.tv/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%81%D9%83%D9%83-%D8%A3%D9%88-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B6%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B5%D9%84-%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D8%AC%D9%86%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%A9

 

[8] https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-warn-consequences-if-turkey-runs-kabul-airport-2021-07-13/

https://twitter.com/abdbozkurt/status/1417130796033495041?s=12

[9] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/us-adds-turkey-list-countries-implicated-use-child-soldiers-2021-07-01/

[10] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/afghanistan-turkey-us-near-deal-kabul-airport-mission

https://www.syriahr.com/en/219053/


 [CM1]Is this the end of a sentence?

 

 

 

[Author: Institute for the Study of War]

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