Russia in Syria Monitor, Oct. 10-17, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Syrian government troops and their allies, Iran and Russia, made gains Oct. 17 after storming remaining Islamic State-held districts of Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Islamic State militants still controlled nearly five of the city’s neighborhoods. (New York Times, 10.17.17, Reuters, 10.17.17)
  • Supported by heavy Russian air strikes, Syrian government and allied forces have taken the eastern Syrian town of al-Mayadeen from Islamic State. (Reuters, 10.14.17)
  • About 92% of Syria's territory has been freed of Islamic State militants, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. The Russian air force performed about 517 combat sorties and destroyed over 1,260 facilities controlled by international terrorist groups from Oct. 6-13. (TASS, 10.13.17)
  • “The operation [in Syria] is close to the end. There are several problems which require urgent solution and the prospects of further development of the situation in Syria require discussion,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Oct. 16 at a meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman. (Reuters, 10.16.17)
  • The Russian private military company known as Wagner lost at least nine men from August to September in Syria, according to an investigation by Russian investigative bloggers from the Conflict Intelligence Team. (BBC Monitoring, 10.17.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Oct. 17 that he will not tolerate an Iranian military presence in neighboring Syria. Netanyahu’s Oct. 17 meeting with visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu focused mostly on Iran's efforts to establish a presence in neighboring Syria. (New York Times, 10.17.17)

Risk of accidental or intentional confrontation between Western and Russian forces in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • Islamic State is already preparing for a new phase, morphing back into the underground insurgency it started as, and likely to revert to more traditional terrorist activity. Another major concern, now that Islamic State-held territory is reduced, is what to do with the foreigners who had joined the fight and might return home to plan attacks there. (New York Times, 10.17.17, Bloomberg, 10.17.17)

Other important news:

  • U.S.-backed militias in Syria have taken full control of Islamic State’s de facto capital Raqqa on Oct. 17 after a four month campaign. The U.S. military said that it could only confirm that about 90% of Raqqa had been retaken from IS. Remaining IS fighters in the city had either been killed or had surrendered to a tribal council. Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said pockets of Islamic State militants remain in Raqqa. Throughout the campaign, American-led airstrikes on the city have killed more than 1,000 civilians, according to tallies by local activists and international monitors. On Oct. 14, preparations were underway to evacuate civilians from Raqqa. Some, but not all, foreign IS fighters left the city Oct. 15 as part of a withdrawal deal with U.S.-backed militias. U.S. President Donald Trump on Oct. 17 took credit for making changes to the U.S. military that allowed U.S.-backed forces to retake Raqqa. Trump did not mention Russia’s intervention in Syria in 2015, prior to which the Syrian government had been losing territory to IS, separate terrorist groups and U.S.-backed rebels. (Reuters, 10.17.17, Bloomberg, 10.17.17 New York Times, 10.17.17, RFE/RL, 10.17.17, The Washington Post, 10.14.17, Reuters, 10.15.17, Bloomberg, 10.17.17)
  • On Oct. 16, Israel destroyed a Russian-made, anti-aircraft missile launcher in Syria after it had opened fire on Israeli jets flying over Lebanon. Russian forces in Syria were notified in real time. Israel and Russia have established a special mechanism to prevent friction between their air forces in Syria, officials said. (AP, 10.16.17)
  • Syria demanded on Oct. 14 that Turkish troops who had entered northwestern Syria leave immediately, saying their presence constituted a “flagrant aggression.” Turkey says it is operating alongside Syrian rebel groups to implement a deal reached last month with Russia and Iran to reduce fighting between insurgents. Turkish troops began establishing observation points in Syria’s Idlib on Oct. 12. (Reuters, 10.14.17, Reuters, 10.13.17)
  • Russia on Oct. 13 questioned the work and future of an inquiry into who is to blame for toxic gas attacks in Syria and said it would decide whether to support extending the mandate after investigators submit their next report to the U.N. Security Council. At talks with his Syrian counterpart, Walid Muallem, in Sochi on Oct. 11, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia will fight attempts to blame the Syrian government for recent use of chemical weapons in the country. (Reuters, 10.13.17, TASS, 10.11.17)
  • Egypt has been invited to join the talks on Syria in Astana as an observer. The next round of negotiations is scheduled for late October. (TASS, 10.17.17)