By Jodi Brignola
Key Takeaway: The Russian air campaign continued to target opposition-held terrain in an effort to solidify regime gains and increase negotiating leverage in the days immediately prior to the Geneva talks on January 29. Russian warplanes targeted over 40 separate locations in Aleppo, Idlib, Latakia, Hama, Homs, Damascus and Deir ez-Zour Provinces from January 26 – 28. Russia’s intervention has significantly changed the situation on the ground, enabling significant regime victories in Aleppo, Latakia, and Dera’a and placing the regime in a superior negotiating position after suffering a number of meaningful losses to both the armed opposition in Idlib and ISIS in Eastern Homs in early- and mid-2015. Russian warplanes continued to support the regime’s clearing operations in Northeastern Latakia and target locations in Western Idlib, likely to set conditions to seize the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour and secure regime control over the high ground in the Jebel al-Akrad and Jebel Turkmen mountain ranges. The Russian air campaign also continued to target opposition-held positions in Northwestern Aleppo and supported regime efforts to tighten the siege on the opposition-held pocket in Northern Homs. In the south, regime forces continued their offensive in Dera’a with the support of Russian air power after fully capturing opposition-held Sheikh Meskin on January 25. UK Envoy for Syria Gareth Bayley stated that Russian assistance in the Sheikh Meskin operation “reveals the hypocrisy of Russian targeting in Syria,” and that “this blatant targeting of opposition groups is deeply concerning, particularly as it comes just days before UN-led negotiations for a political settlement leading to transition in Syria.” The UK envoy also criticized Russia for the way Russian warplanes targeted the town, which has essentially left the city leveled. Russian warplanes continue to indiscriminately target civilian-populated areas, incurring high numbers of civilian casualties. The Russian air campaign targets ISIS-controlled territory in Northeastern Aleppo, ar-Raqqa, and Deir ez-Zour at the expense of civilian casualties. The activist organization Raqqa Slaughtered Silently reported that the majority of Russian strikes that target ISIS-held Raqqa City hit civilian-populated residential neighborhoods, while no more than 15 percent actually target ISIS’s strongholds in the city.
The following graphic depicts ISW’s assessment of Russian airstrike 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.