Ankara’s plans for a ground incursion into Manbij remain on hold for the time being, with no signs of serious battle preparations or concerted troop mobilizations from Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) groups. However, the situation in northwest Syria has grown more tense in recent weeks and cross border violence between Turkish forces and the Assad regime, which Ankara increasingly sees as an ally of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), is clearly on the rise. Following the regime’s shelling of the Karakemish border region last month, a series of Turkish air raids retaliated against joint positions of the regime and SDF around Kobani, killing and wounding at least 15 regime troops. The directness of the attack and high body count marked a departure from earlier tit-for-tat clashes that have been common along the demarcation line, exposing the risks of closer cooperation between the regime and SDF. Another important development is the escalating bombardment of southern Idlib by Russian warplanes, which have carried out dozens of strikes in recent weeks against a range of military and civilian targets. In a single day last month (22.8), a total of 22 air raids pummelled the city of Idlib, which had experienced an extended period of relief from Russian attacks following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February. It appears that the window of relative calm may be closing for Idlib, as Russia regroups and turns its attention back to rebel-held northwest Syria.
Attached Map: Military Situation in North-West Syria – 8th September 2022
- Anti-SDF attacks: Despite signs that Ankara has placed its operation against SDF-held areas on hold, Turkish drones and its allied militias have continued to bombard the group’s positions. Turkish forces and SNA factions stationed in the vicinity of al-Bab targeted nine villages in the SDF-controlled northern Aleppo countryside with heavy artillery and rocket launchers, striking the villages of Samouqa, Tal Madiq, Wardia, Dam al-Shahba, Kharbsha and Tal (20.8).
- Anti-regime attacks: As the Assad government and SDF have tightened defensive cooperation in anticipation of a possible incursion by Turkish forces, Ankara has increasingly trained its fire on regime positions across northwest Syria. Following the regime’s shelling of the Karakemish border region, a series of Turkish air raids retaliated against joint positions of the regime and SDF around Kobani, killing and wounding at least 15 regime troops (16.8).
Regime & Russian Strikes Resume
- Regime violations: Regime forces and affiliated militias have continued to ramp up bombardment of the southern Idlib and western Hama countrysides with intense weekly shelling, striking a range of both military and civilian targets. Artillery strikes were recorded in more than a dozen towns in recent weeks, including Kansafra, Benin, al-Fatirah, San Maa’rat al-Na’asan, Sufuhun, al-Bara, Deir Sunbul, al-Malajah, al-Mozara, Jadraya, Badriya, Anab, and al-Ruwayhah in the southern Idlib countryside, in addition to al-Ziyarah, Khirbet al-Naqoos, Muklabis, Blanta, Kafr Come, and Kafr Amma, in the western Aleppo countryside (8, 3.8, 10.8, 19.8, 22.8, 29.8, 3.9). The death toll from these attacks was the highest that Idlib has witnessed in months, with at least 15 killed and 45 injured.
- Russian violations: After several months of relative quiet following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has again accelerated its airstrikes against civilian targets in Idlib in recent weeks. Warplanes conducted dozens of raids against the city of Idlib and its environs since late August, including strikes in the vicinity of Sarjah and the al-Ghafir refugee camp (22.8, 31.8, 8.9). At least seven civilians were killed in these attacks and number of others injured.
- Russian plane crash: A Russian-made Orlan 10 reconnaissance plane crashed in the vicinity of Kafr Shalaya near the city of Ariha, in the southern Idlib countryside (11.8). it appears that the plane crashed due to a technical malfunction rather than a hit from opposition factions that control the area.
Russian & Pro-Regime Activity
- Violations by radicals: Radical groups affiliated with the Fateh al-Mabin operations room have continued to regularly shell regime positions in retaliation for airstrikes targeting the region. The group recorded artillery strikes against regime positions in al-Hakura, al-Fatatra, Jorin, al-Bahsa, Tanjara and al-Mashare in the western Hama countryside, as well as Saraqib, Jobas Kafruma in the Idlib countryside (8.8, 23.8, 28.3, 30.3). At least one regime soldier was killed and a number of others wounded in these attacks. Fateh al-Mabin also announced the killing of an additional soldier during ground clashes as the regime attempted to infiltrate an advanced point on the Kansafra axis, south of Idlib (3.8).