In one month, International Coalition limits its control to oil fields, and Russia becomes a new player in northern and northeastern Syria • The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights
The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

In one month, International Coalition limits its control to oil fields, and Russia becomes a new player in northern and northeastern Syria

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,

October 2019

Last month, the international coalition against ISIS completed its five-year intervention in Syria, and the occasion did not go unnoticed, as Syria was on a new date of volatility that led to the international coalition backing away from its commitments to northern Syria, by the decision of the US president Donald Trump after a phone call with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 6, 2019, resulting in successive developments that led to the end of the international coalition’s control over most of northern Syrian territory, leaving the door open to Russia to seize what the coalition left Intentionally.

On October 6, the US president announced the full withdrawal of US troops from military bases deployed in northeastern Syria, which was considered a green light for the Turkish military operation called Operation “Peace Spring”, which led to Turkey’s control over an area of ​​more than 3412 kilometers, from Ras al-Ain to Tal Abyad at a depth of 32 kilometers, according to the Russian-Turkish agreement that resulted from the meeting of Russian Presidents Vladimir Putin and Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdogan two days ago in Sochi.

Since the international coalition’s engagement with ISIS began on September 23, 2014, the coalition’s operations have focused on supporting certain parties, searching for influential allies that can be expanded and used to support the coalition’s goals. These efforts culminated in alliances with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which later became the core of the SDF, which includes Arab and Kurdish factions and other Syrian components, and which succeeded in achieving a military victory over ISIS, in March 2019 by declaring the group’s final defeat and eliminating its last stronghold in Eastern Syria is in “Bagouz”, however the last month brought with it several developments that prompted the SDF to cooperate with Russia and the Syrian regime after years of hesitation and intermittent negotiations from time to time without reaching an agreement.

Over the past few days, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has continued its work in documenting and monitoring the participation of the international coalition against the Islamic State 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, until finally reached the withdrawal of coalition forces from northern Syria.

Syrian Democratic Forces, the International Coalition abandoned its greatest achievement, dismantled its bases and confined its control to Deir Ezzor

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 Syrian Democratic Forces. Until the 30th of 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 except for several areas controlled by regime forces and their allies in the east of the Euphrates off Deir Ezzor, but the situation changed after the Turkish military intervention, where coalition forces withdrew in favor of Russian forces in accordance with the initial agreement between the regime forces and the SDF under the auspices of Russia, which allows regime forces and the Russian military police to deploy in the areas of northern Syria. According to information obtained by the SOHR, 26.7% of Syria (49504 km 2) is now under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces, in addition to 3283 km2 (1.8% of the land area) under the control of the Islamic State, while regime forces and armed loyalists control 113929,8 km 2, equivalent to  61.5% of the total area of ​​Syria, while the Islamic factions and combatants, “Tahrir al-Sham front”, the Euphrates Shield, olive branch and the Peace Spring and the US-backed factions, control 18463.2 km 2 (10% of the total territory of Syria). According to the recent changes, the “Peace Spring” forces control 3,412 km2 of the area previously held by the SDF, equivalent to 6.4% of the territory previously controlled by the SDF.

From October 6 to the present, the Syrian Observatory monitored the withdrawal of the international coalition from its military bases in different areas of northern Syria, where it withdrew from two military bases in Ain al-Arab (Kobani), including the base of “Kharab Ashk”, and the base of Al-Qulaib, which included a runway for military transport aircraft. They also withdrew from two military bases in Raqqa, three in Manbij, one in Ain Issa, one in Qamishli countryside and one in Tabqa. US forces destroyed a number of bases that they withdrew through air strikes.

Although some of the areas that the international coalition controlled were suffering from difficult conditions under the regime, these areas contain most of Syria’s oil and gas wealth, about 70% of the total oil and gas wealth in Syria, according to information obtained by the SOHR. 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. In light of the changes of alliances that have taken place in the past period, and with Russia’s demanding the sovereignty of Damascus to control oil fields at a time when the US president asserts that the international coalition forces will remain in control of oil fields to ensure that they do not fall into the hands of the Syrian regime or Iran, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights calls on the various parties in the Syrian conflict to provide all guarantees to ensure that the wealth owned by the Syrian people is not stolen.

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 direct ground engagement by engaging coalition forces on the frontlines, while the third was 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. During the past month, the International Coalition withdrew from Manbij and Ain al-Arab (Kobani) bases and several others. Now the International coalition is now controlling only Deir Ezzor area, and has only 10 military bases (Al-Omar field, Koniko field, Al-Bahra), in addition to two bases in Al-Tanf, Al-Wazir Rest base, Al-Shadadi base and Al-Houl base, as well as two military bases in Rumeilan, all of which have oil wells inside, according to Syrian Observatory sources.

Prior to the US withdrawal, 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.

Withdrawal, Turkish military attack and changes in alliances, International Alliance turns its back to the region

Since mid-December 2018, the map of alliances has taken on a new shape following the first announcement by US President Donald Trump to withdraw from Syria, before he partially reversed his decision and announced the change of the objectives of the international coalition in Syria from the elimination of the Islamic State to the judiciary. On October 6, the telephone call between him and his Turkish counterpart reversed the table by withdrawing US troops from the border with Turkey, allowing Turkish forces and factions to intervene militarily in northern Syria through Operation “Peace Spring”, which has succeeded so far to control over an area approaching 6.4% of the total areas under the control of Syria’s democratic forces, which are confined to the border area between Ras al-Ain (Sri Kanye) and Tal Abyad.

Following the expiry of the ceasefire in accordance with the US-Turkish agreement, Turkey announced the cessation of its military operation in northern Syria in accordance with the Russian-Turkish agreement, which provides for the withdrawal of Syrian Democratic Forces from the border area and the deployment of regime forces there, with the evacuation of the area between Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad to 32km, and joint Russian-Turkish military patrols.

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.

Although seven months have elapsed since the official announcement of ISIS defeat, and despite developments over the past month, the coalition and the SDF remain silent on the issue of ISIS abductees, providing no answer to the fate of thousands of abductees and the results of the investigation with thousands of members of the organization who were detained by SDF and the coalition east of the Euphrates, where fears persist for the lives and fate of the abductees, including Father Paolo Dululio, Archbishops John Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, Abdullah Khalil, SkyNews Journalist, a British journalist, and two other Journalists. In addition, hundreds of abductees were from Ain al-Arab (Kobani) and Afrin, in addition to children from Deir Ezzor.

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. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also stresses that the scourge of Turkish military intervention on civilians could have been avoided had the US President pressed his Turkish counterpart to refrain from causing a new humanitarian crisis, displacing thousands and killing and injuring hundreds.