By Genevieve Casagrande and Jodi Brignola
Key Takeaway: Russia continues to use disinformation to present its air campaign as a constructive force in Syria ahead of the next wave of talks on the Syrian conflict. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed to provide air support to elements of the Free Syrian Army in an effort to “unite” the various efforts of regime and “other groups” in Syria on December 15. Alleged recipients of Russian air support include the “Desert Lions” and “the Democratic Forces,” likely a reference to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) currently operating in Aleppo and Hasaka Provinces. The Russian MoD claimed its first airstrikes in Hasaka Province on December 16. However, local reporting has not yet substantiated these claims and, thus, ISW does not assess them at even a level of Low Confidence at this time. Russian warplanes meanwhile continued to indiscriminately target rebel-held areas in northwestern Syria, which are home to both hardline and “moderate” FSA-affiliated rebel factions from December 13-17. The Russian air campaign continued its efforts to weaken the Syrian opposition as airstrikes concentrated along rebel front lines with the regime, ISIS, and Kurdish YPG forces in Damascus, Hama, Latakia, and Aleppo Provinces. Russian warplanes also continued to conduct a limited number of strikes against ISIS targets west of the Euphrates as regime forces continued to clear ISIS-held terrain near the Kuweires Airbase east of Aleppo City.
The following graphic depicts ISW’s assessment of Russian airstrike and cruise missile locations based on reports from local Syrian activist networks, Syrian state-run media, and statements by Russian and Western officials. This map represents locations targeted by Russia’s air campaign, rather than the number of individual strikes or sorties.
High-Confidence reporting. ISW places high confidence in reports corroborated both by official government statements reported through credible channels and documentation from rebel factions or activist networks on the ground in Syria deemed to be credible.
Low-Confidence reporting. ISW places low confidence in secondary sources that have not been confirmed or sources deemed likely to contain disinformation.