Syria Military Brief: North-West Syria – 01 July 2022
The threat of an immediate Turkish-led military operation against territory held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) appears to have receded for the moment. Groups comprising the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) are stepping back from a state of operational preparedness, with many soldiers allowed to return to their homes and normal lives in recent weeks. However, invasion plans appear to be on hold rather than cancelled altogether––the pause should therefore not be read as a larger policy shift from Ankara, which remains committed to a future large-scale operation. The prime target for Turkish forces is Manbij, a major city of 400,000 that serves as the economic hub for oil sales from Syria’s eastern provinces and rivals Idlib city in terms of regional importance.
Attached Map: Military Situation in North-West Syria – 1st July 2022
- Anti-SDF attacks: A major ground incursion against Manbij now appears to be on hold, and Turkish-backed rebel units have decreased their state of battle preparedness for the time being. However, violence still continues to erupt along Syrian National Army (SNA) and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) frontlines in the form of Turkish artillery bombardments and the increasing use of drone strikes with Bayraktar aircraft. Turkish forces launched attacks against the towns of Aqiba, Sogunaka, Tal Rifat, Mara’anaz, al-Malikiyah, Shuragha and the Menagh Military Airport in the northern Aleppo countryside (1.6, 5.6, 6.6). The SNA also launched artillery strikes against the SDF in the towns of al-Jat, Menj and al-Halwanji, also in the northern Aleppo countryside (6.6, 11.6).
- Troop movements: A Turkish military convoy consisting of 15 vehicles entered the Nabe’ a-Salam area through the al-Yabsa crossing near Tal Abyad, north of Raqqa, while another convoy arrived to reinforce military bases east of al-Bab in the eastern Aleppo countryside (7.6, 27.6). The SNA also moved reinforcements of fighters, armored cars as well as heavy and medium weapons to the lines of contact with the SDF near Manbij and Tal Rifaat (2.6).
- Joint patrols: Turkish and Russian forces have continued to cooperate on joint patrols in north-west Syria.
- Artillery shelling: In response to Turkish attacks, the SDF unleashed an artillery barrage targeting a number of villages in the Turkish-occupied al-Bab region. Strikes were recorded against the villages of Barshaya, al-Shuwaiha, al-Sukaria al-Kabirah, al-Sukaria al-Saghira, al-Kreedeh, Jib al-Barazi and al-Ajam (3.6).
- Troop movements: The SDF continued to mobilize troops and fortify positions along the frontlines with Turkish-held territories, sending military reinforcements from the city of Raqqa to a number of points in the eastern Aleppo countryside (12.6). The SDF has also sought to project a common front with the Assad government as a bulwark against Turkish invasion, raising the regime flag above their positions in Tal Rifat in the northern Aleppo countryside (5.6).
Opposition & Extremist Movement
- Al-Bab conflict: An inter-factional battle erupted around the area of al-Bab, as Ahrar a-Sham announced its official departure from the Turkish-backed Shamia Front (Jabhat al-Shamia) umbrella (21.6). The ensuing conflict resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries, and provided a window for radical fighters from HTS to enter Afrin on the side of Ahrar a-Sham. HTS seized the towns of Basoufan, Favertin and Kabashin, which lie along the frontlines with SDF-held territory. Turkish officials quickly intervened in the conflict, and mediated an agreement.
- Radical clashes with regime: The radical Fateh al-Mabin operations room recorded several sniper attacks against regime forces during two attempted ground advances into opposition-held territory by the regime, one along the Maarat Mukhas axis in the southern Idlib countryside and another around the 46th Regiment front in the western Aleppo countryside (15.6, 21.6). Four regime troops were killed in these attacks. Fateh al-Mabin also struck regime positions with heavy artillery blasts along the a-Sarraf axis and Jabal Abu Ali-Nahshaba axis in Jabal Akrad, north of Latakia (2.6, 24.6).
- Opposition clashes with regime: Violent clashes erupted between the regime and Turkish-backed SNA forces around the town of Maarat Aliya, which is under opposition control, and the city of Saraqib, which is under regime control (16.6). The clashes lasted for several hours and included the use of heavy artillery, guided missiles as well as light and medium weapons. National Liberation Front (NLF) fighters also killed six regime troops in an operation along the Sahel al-Ghab axis in retaliation for regime shelling of Fleifel and al-Fatirah (18.6). The next week, SNA forces destroyed a fortified tank of the regime with a guided missile on the Sheikh Aqil axis in the western Aleppo countryside (25.6).
Regime & Russian Movement
- Regime violations: Although a period of relative quiet has prevailed in north-west Syria since Russia’s attention was diverted to the invasion of Ukraine in March, the regime has continued to target both military and civilian targets with artillery fire. In recent weeks, hits were recorded in around 20 villages, including the towns of Fleifel, Sufuhun, Benin, al-Fatirah, al-Bara, Ma’arat al-Na’asan, a-Sarmaniyah, Duwar al-Kurd, al-Ziyarah, al-Mashik, Kafr Taal, Kafr Nuran, Kansafra, Jabal al-Arba’een, Taqad, Sheikh Suleiman and Ajel. Regime forces also struck a civilian vehicle with a guided missile in al-Qahirah in the Sahel al-Ghab area, injuring one civilian (16.6).
- Troop movements: A military convoy of regime forces, consisting of several tanks and additional soldiers, entered the village of Harbel, north of Aleppo (7.6).
- Huras a-Din assassination: An International Coalition drone strike targeted a motorcycle carrying Abu Hamza al-Yamani, a radical Huras a-Din leader, killing him on the road between Idlib and Qaminas (28.6).