5 years of international coalition involvement in Syria: one-third of the country and 70% of oil and gas are under its control, while thousands of victims and violations awaiting investigation
On September 23, 2019, the International Coalition against ISIS has entered its sixth consecutive year since it launched its operations in the Syrian territories on September 23, 2014. Since the outset, the International Coalition’s involvement in Syria focused on supporting specific parties, and on looking for influential allies which can be expanded and used to support the objectives of the coalition. Thus, the coalition had its alliance the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which later became the core of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which includes Arab and Kurdish factions and other Syrian components, which succeeded in achieving a military victory over the “Islamic state” in March 2019, when the SDF declared the final defeat of ISIS and the elimination of its last stronghold in eastern Syria in “al-Baghouz”.
Over the past five years, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented and monitored the participation of the international coalition against ISIS in Syria, from bombing sites and elements of ISIS to strikes against HTS (formerly: Jabhat al-Nusra), targeting regime forces, their allies, and Iranian forces. In addition to the field and logistical operations, which consisted of building military bases or expanding its control and providing support in various aspects.
Syrian Democratic Forces, the greatest achievement of the “international coalition” after the control of one-third of Syria
From the moment the international coalition against ISIS announced its involvement in the Syrian war, the United States has been searching for reliable allies that could be supported to form a ground force that the coalition would provide cover and air support for, until it ended in alliance with the YPG, which forms the core of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Until the end of late September, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in cooperation with the International Coalition, controlled 28.8% of the total area of Syria with a total area of 53,396 square kilometers from the north and east of Syria, including the entire area of Manbij and its countryside. West of the Euphrates River, and the entire east of the Euphrates region except for several areas controlled by the regime forces and its allies in the east of the Euphrates on the other side of Deir al-Zour city. In addition, the US and western-backed Syrian factions in the west are controlling about 1.9% of Syria, with a total area of 3543 square kilometers. According to the Syrian Observatory, all forces supported by the International Coalition controlled only 6.8% of Syria’s area – 12624 square kilometers -in the period prior to 23 September 2014 when the International Coalition’s launched its operations in Syria. Those areas, then, were within the province of Hasakah, which extended into the triangle of borders of Iraq and Turkey and the city of Hasaka and the outskirts of the city of Raqqa, as well as the city of Ain al-Arab (Kobani), which was experiencing the most violent attack by the Islamic State, then. Since then, these factions have been extending their areas of control through the support of the international coalition against the Islamic State.
22 Military bases, 70% of oil and gas fields and One-third of Syria are dominated by the international coalition
Five years after the international coalition intervened to confront the Islamic State in Syria and its support of the YPG and then the Syrian Democratic Forces, the forces supported by the international coalition now control an area of about one third of Syria, 28.8% of the total Syrian territory. Although some of the areas currently controlled by the International Coalition were suffering from difficult conditions under regime rule, these areas contain most of Syria’s oil and gas wealth, about 70% of the total oil and gas wealth in Syria, according to the estimates of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. According to reliable sources, the forces supported by the international coalition in northern and eastern Syria control al-Omar oil field and its stations, al-Tank oil field, Konico gas field and al-Jafra oil field, which are the most important oil and gas fields in northern and eastern Syria. In addition, the International coalition-backed factions are now controlling a number of stations and less productive fields, such as Dero, Kashma and Rumailan fields, al-Jebsa field and al-Jebsa gas plant, in addition to another oil and gas stations that the Chinese and others nationalities have been awarded the right to develop them.
Since the most resources and capabilities of the Syrian people are now under the control of forces supported by the international coalition, the SOHR calls on the international coalition to provide all guarantees to ensure that the wealth belonging to the Syrian people is not stolen, in addition to imposing restrictions on its smuggling into the regime’s areas, in accordance with the US sanctions against the Assad regime and its officials.
According to information obtained by the SOHR, the military progress achieved by the international coalition came in three direct ways, the first of which was the intensive air support provided by the international coalition through intensive strikes based on intelligence operations that killed dozens of senior ISIS leaders, in addition to the strikes accompanying military operations that killed thousands. The second was the direct ground engagement by engaging coalition forces on the frontlines, while the third was the military and logistical support and participation in the preparation of military plans for allied forces.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the US-led international coalition has strengthened its presence in Syria since the second half of 2018, as aid, logistics and military convoys have increased through the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. Reliable sources assured the SOHR that the coalition has reinforced its military bases, as it has established 22 bases in areas east of the Euphrates and Manbij in the north-eastern sector of the countryside of Aleppo, including 6 major bases. Those bases are distributed on the areas of Ain al-Arab (Kobani), Kharab Ashk, Manbij in Aleppo Governorate, Tel Arqam, Konico Field Base, Raqqa, Al-Tabqa, Raqqa governorate, Shadadi, al-Houl, Tel Tamr, Tel Baidar, Rumailan in Hasakeh, al-Omar oil field and al-Bahra base in the countryside of Deir Ezzor, in addition to a previous base that has now been evacuated and no longer exists in Ain Issa.
Major bases of the coalition include airfields for landing and take-off of airplanes, some of which have been set up as small bases. Reliable sources told the SOHR that the bases are continuously protected, through aerial surveillance of military aircraft flying over the area of the base’s presence, and through cars wandering around the bases, in addition to stationary checkpoints scattered around bases and airports to protect them from any individual or mass attacks by ISIS or any other cells seeking to target the area. Also, the International Coalition forces, through their committees on the ground in the east of the Euphrates, carry out rounds of meetings from time to time to develop the institutions in Eastern Euphrates, where these committees provide logistical and material support and provide equipment for the committees that apply for specific assistance. They also oversee the operation of many service and administrative bodies, and makes their contributions to the development of service management and organization of institutions overseeing the areas east of the Euphrates.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also monitored the entry of thousands of trucks carrying logistic and military equipment, armored vehicles and vehicles since the start of the international coalition’s participation in the military operations inside Syrian territory. Informed sources had previously told the SOHR that the International coalition managed to rescue some of its operatives who have been working within ISIS-controlled areas, and smuggled by helicopter then transported them to the coalition headquarters east of the Euphrates.
Militants are not the only victim, thousands of dead, wounded and missing civilians
Although the International Coalition against the Islamic State launched its operations in Syria under the pretext of rescuing civilians and countering terrorism, civilians were the first victims of coalition air strikes in various Syrian regions. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented the death of 14020 people between 23 September 2014 and the end of the same month of this year. The number of dead is distributed as follows: 3833 Syrian citizens including 2150 men, 711 female citizens and 972 children, in addition to the death of 488 members of the families of the Islamic State, including: 355 men and 61 female citizens and 72 children. In addition, the SOHR documented the death of 9,158 members of ISIS and its leaders, 12 militants affiliated with “Jaish Khaled bin al-Walid”, who pledged allegiance to ISIS, 11 from the Islamic factions and fighters, 349 from HTS (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and jihadist groups, and 169 of regime forces. According to the documentation of the SOHR, thousands have been injured of varying severity, while others have suffered permanent disabilities and amputations, not to mention the destruction of public and private buildings and property. In addition, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights received documented information that 215 Russian mercenaries were killed in February 2018 as they attempted to advance towards al-Omar oil field in eastern Syria. The Observatory was unable to document the deaths of these 215 foreign nationals, due to the severe blackout imposed by the Russian authorities on the issue.
According to estimates by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the real number of casualties among ISIS and other Islamic factions is greater than what the Observatory has been able to document so far, given the intense secrecy of the targeted parties for their human losses. Also, tracing operations and exhumations are still going on by the forces controlling the areas that have been hit by missiles and aerial bombardment of the international coalition during the past five years.
Safe zone, training and security, International coalition continues its operations after the declaration of the defeat of the “Islamic State”
Despite defining the objectives of the international coalition against IS, and despite US President Donald Trump’s pledges to withdraw completely from Syria once the group is defeated, the international coalition continues to operate in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has learned over the past period that the coalition is continuing to reinforce its bases, in addition to establishing a training center for women’s protection units (YPJ) in al-Omar oil field in Deir Ezzor countryside on the east bank of the Euphrates River, in order to train the units on how to use drones.
At the same time, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights received credible information confirming that a delegation from the international coalition and the spokesperson of the joint operations force – Operation inherent resolve of the US-led International Coalition visited the headquarters of Tel Abyad military council, the autonomous-administration and the leadership of the Internal Security Forces in the city of “Tel Abyad” northern of Hasakah on September 15, 2019. According to information obtained by the SOHR, the delegation discussed the second phase of the coordination mechanism regarding the safe zone in northeast Syria.
On September 4, 2019, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented the start of the first joint patrols of the US forces and the military council in Ras al-Ain (Sri Kaneh), which are part of the border security agreement and the withdrawal of the YPG, YPJ and SDF forces from the Turkey-Syria border, according to the agreement between the United States and Turkey to establish a safe zone east of the Euphrates.
According to reliable sources, no casualties caused by coalition forces during the 59th month, last August, of the international coalition’s engagement against ISIS. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also documented the continuation of coalition and SDF operations to seize the sleeper cells of the Islamic State in the east of the Euphrates region. The coalition and SDF managed to arrest a number of cell leaders and killed others. Meanwhile, the International Coalition continues its operations in northern and eastern Syria, where a coalition helicopter targeted a motorcycle carrying two of Huras al-Din militants in a camp between Kefraya and Idlib on the Canal Road in the village of “Al-Zar” near the city of Al-Basira, east of Deir Ezzor, on 19 September.
Although five months have elapsed since the group’s defeat as a dominant force east of the Euphrates River, the international coalition remains silent on the issue of ISIS abductees, without providing any answer to the fate of thousands, and the results of the investigation with thousands of detained members of ISIS.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which provides adequate monitoring of Coalition operations over the past five years, stresses that it would have been possible to avoid the heavy loss of Syrian civilian life if the international coalition had not deafened the SOHR’s calls to neutralize civilians from its operations. We here reassure that the presence of an Islamic State militant or other jihadist groups in a civilian area does not in any way justify the bombing of the area and the loss of civilian life there. The Syrian Observatory also calls on the leaders of the international coalition and the SDF to announce the results of investigations with ISIS detainees and to disclose the fate of thousands of abductees.
The Syrian Observatory had previously called on the international community to investigate information about the killing of 200 ISIS operatives and their families, women and children, in a massacre committed by the coalition’s warplanes by bombing al-Baghouz camp on March 21, 2019. According to information obtained by the SOHR at the time, the 200 bodies were buried at dawn that day, without information as to whether the international coalition was aware of the presence of children and women from ISIS families inside the camp.