by: Genevieve Casagrande
The following three viewsheds provide unique perspectives into how the Syrian regime, the U.S. and Turkey, and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) perceive the battlefield. The regime viewpoint, shown from Damascus looking northward toward Turkey, shows the recent Russian military buildup in Syria. As the Syrian opposition encroaches further on the coastal heartland of Latakia and Tartous, this Russian buildup bolsters the regime’s remaining defensive line. In sharp contrast, Russian positions in northern Latakia are a cause for concern for Turkey, whose border is a mere 45 kilometers away from the Bassel al-Assad Airport. Russia’s increased involvement in Syria presents a new threat to Turkey’s southern border, which is currently adjacent to both ISIS and Kurdish-controlled areas. The U.S. largely shares Turkey’s viewpoint, as it uses Turkish bases and stages out of Gazientep, the perspective that is shown. Finally, ISIS’s main effort in the past has been in Iraq, and the viewshed illustrating the ISIS perspective looks east towards Iraq from its headquarters in Raqqa, Syria. ISW has forecasted that ISIS will most likely turn its offensive efforts toward Syria’s central corridor around Homs, Hama, and Idlib in the next quarter, while nevertheless maintaining pressure on cities in Iraq. However, the confirmation of a “coordination cell” between Russia, Syria, Iran and Iraq in Baghdad highlights the potential for future Russian military expansion into Iraq. ISW assesses that ISIS is most vulnerable if it is pressured at both Raqqa and Deir ez-Zour, and ISIS reinforced this latter location during the third week of September. The final graphic shows Russian military positions across Syria, juxtaposed with the terrain controlled by actors in the Syrian Civil War.