Thursday, February 15, 2018

Syrian Civil War Map & Timeline - February 2018

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Who controls what in Syria? Rebel and ISIS control map of the Syrian Civil War. Shows territorial control as of February 2018 (Free Syrian Army rebels, Kurdish YPG, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Jabhat Fateh al-Sham / Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Al-Nusra Front), Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), and others). Includes Russia-Turkey-Iran agreed de-escalation zones and US deconfliction zone, plus recent locations of conflict and territorial control changes, such as Abu al-Duhur, Bulbul, Saraqeb, and more. Colorblind accessible.
Base map by Koen Adams of, with territorial control by Evan Centanni and Djordje Djukic.
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Timeline by Djordje Djukic

Situation Summary

The past few weeks since our previous Syria map update have been dominated by news from two main arenas of battle, both in the country's northwest. In the most politically significant development, the Turkish military has entered the Kurdish-administrated Afrin region (also spelled "Efrin") as part of a mission, alongside allied rebel fighters, to drive Kurdish militias out of the western border region. Meanwhile, forces loyal to Syria's Assad government have made major advances in areas south of Aleppo, eliminating an enclave of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS; formerly ISIS/ISIL) and cutting into rebel control around the edges of Idlib province.

The main boundary-related milestones in this update involve the former side-by-side rebel and IS exclaves at the corner of Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama provinces, which were together already encircled by pro-government troops as of our January report. Since that was published, IS forces managed to take over the rebel-held parts of the pocket, simultaneously eliminating the rebel exclave, erasing one of only two IS borders with Syrian rebel territory, and making the IS territory into a proper enclave, fully surrounded by government forces. Not long afterwards, the IS enclave was itself eliminated by government forces, though a smaller, short-lived pocket of IS control briefly sprung up farther to the west.

Turkey's incursion into the Afrin region has also created three or four new exclaves of rebel control wedged between the Kurdish-administered area and the Turkish border. However, because of the heavy involvement of Turkish troops, some observers might consider these mere extensions of Turkish territory. If the Turkish-led forces are able to continue their advance, we may also soon see the elimination of Kurdish Afrin's border with Turkey.

See Also: Iraq Control Map for February 2018

Flag of Syria under the current government Country Name:  
• Syria (English)
• Sūriyya/Sūryā (Arabic)
Official Name:  
• Syrian Arab Republic (English)
• al-Jumhūriyyah al-‘Arabīyah  as-Sūriyyah (Arabic)
Capital: Damascus
Note: Red triangles on the map represent towns where rebel group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) - formerly known as Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (a.k.a. the Nusra Front), and later Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) - is thought to be in a dominant position among rebel forces, even if it doesn't exercise exclusive control. This organization has at least some presence in most rebel-held areas of Syria.

Timeline of Events
The following is a timeline of changes to territorial control and other key events in Syria since our previous map update of January 20, 2018. Sources are provided as in-line links.

January 21, 2018
Turkey-supported Free Syrian Army (TFSA) rebels pushed into the Kurdish-administered Afrin region and captured four to nine villages. Later, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) recaptured two villages. Turkish military forces were fighting alongside the rebels, on a mission to establish a buffer zone between the border and the territory of the SDF, whose dominant Kurdish YPG militia Turkey considers to be terrorists because of links to rebels inside Turkey. (The Turkish government hopes to eventually create a Turkey-friendly buffer zone along Syria's entire northern border.)

Meanwhile, the Syrian military continued its clean-up operations around the Abu al-Duhur airbase, while also attempting to capture the town of Abu al-Duhur itself, and was also advancing against a besieged rebel-controlled pocket at the intersection of Idlib, Hama and Aleppo provinces. In addition, the army captured two villages from IS in the group's adjacent enclave. Later, the Syrian Ministry of Defense reported that the airbase had been secured.

January 22, 2018
Government forces seized Abu al-Duhur, and the number of villages captured by the military over the previous 12 hours in the Idlib-Hama-Aleppo pocket reached 30. Meanwhile, the TFSA captured a strategic mountain in the northeast of the Afrin region, as well as a hill to the north. However, the SDF later recaptured the mountain.

January 22-23, 2018
A two-day rebel attack on government positions in Latakia province was repelled, but 16 soldiers were killed during the attack.

January 23, 2018
The TFSA launched a new assault on a strategic mountain in the Afrin region, before Kurdish forces pushed it back. The mountain overlooks the eastern approach to Afrin city. Meanwhile, government forces captured a village west of Abu al-Duhur.

January 24, 2018
IS captured the remaining 17 villages in the government-besieged Idlib-Hama-Aleppo pocket from HTS rebels. Government forces also seized several villages in the enclave from HTS.

January 25, 2018
IS forces launched an assault across the Euphrates River, attacking the government-held western bank. The attack was eventually repelled. Between 18 and 25 IS fighters, as well as between a dozen and 26 pro-government fighters, were killed during the attack along a 32 kilometer front.

January 26, 2018
The town of Abu al-Duhur was reported to once again be contested between government and HTS forces. Meanwhile, the SDF recaptured a village in the Afrin region from pro-Turkish forces.

January 28, 2018
Pro-Turkish forces captured the strategic mountain in the Afrin region that they had been targeting for the past several days.

January 29, 2018
The army captured Abu al-Duhur, thus securing the western flank of the nearby airbase. Three other nearby villages were also captured. Meanwhile, the SDF captured an IS stronghold on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, about 15 km northwest of Hajin, for the fourth time following five weeks of back-and-forth fighting.

January 30, 2018
A civilian was killed when a Turkish military convoy was attacked by a car bomb in the Idlib countryside. A soldier and another civilian were wounded. The Turkish military stated that the convoy had been traveling as part of its mission to enforce a "de-escalation" zone in the province. According to pro-government sources, the convoy was attempting to block further Syrian Army advances in the Aleppo countryside, but that after the attack it had quickly returned to the border.

January 31-February 1, 2018
Government forces seized 100 square kilometers of territory, including 20 villages, in the eastern countryside of Idlib and the southern countryside of Aleppo, coming within 14 kilometers of Saraqeb, a major town at the junction of two key highways.

February 1, 2018
It was reported that since the start of the offensive against Afrin, pro-Turkish forces had advanced only seven kilometers and seized between 15 and 20 villages, about 4 percent of the total number in the region. Meanwhile, Syrian government troops launched an assault against the IS enclave in the northeastern countryside of Hama, capturing three villages and a hill.

February 1-3, 2018
On February 1, the TFSA reached Bulbul, 30 kilometers north of Afrin, and soon afterwards Turkish media claimed the pro-Turkish forces had captured the town. However, pro-opposition and Kurdish sources said the town was still contested. Two days later, the TFSA capture of Bulbul was confirmed.

February 2-3, 2018
Government forces advanced farther toward Saraqeb after capturing four more villages. The next day, the army reportedly seized one more village on the provincial border of of Idlib and Aleppo, as well as one in the southwestern countryside of Aleppo.

February 3, 2018
HTS rebel fighters shot down a Russian Sukhoi 25SM fighter jet over Idlib province with a shoulder-launched anti-aircraft MANPAD missile. It was the first case of a Russian jet being brought down by the rebels since the start of the Russian intervention in the civil war in 2015. The pilot ejected and was immediately fired upon by HTS fighters. He managed to land on the ground and returned fire, shooting two rebels, before he killed himself by detonating a grenade to avoid capture.

February 3-7, 2018
The army continued with an armored assault from multiple directions against the IS pocket in northeastern Hama province, taking control of up to 30 villages, reportedly representing 80 percent of the pocket.

February 5-7, 2018
The rebels launched a counterattack against government forces in the eastern countryside of Idlib, recapturing one village and advancing into a second. Two days later, two more villages were recaptured by the rebels, though it was later reported that one of them had once again come under army control.

February 8, 2018
The US reported that a force of about 500 pro-Syrian government soldiers, supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems, and mortars, attacked the SDF and American military advisors east of the Euphrates River in Deir ez-Zor province. Coalition airstrikes were then launched against the pro-government forces, with the US claiming more than 100 pro-government fighters were killed, while only one SDF combatant was wounded during the fighting. In contrast, pro-opposition activists reported that 45 pro-government fighters were killed in the airstrikes, while Syrian military sources stated that 45 Syrian soldiers were killed.

Days later, reports emerged that Russian private military contractors (PMCs) supporting the pro-government forces had also died in coalition counterattack, with between 5 and 10 PMC deaths confirmed.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army renewed its attack against the encircled IS pocket in the northeast of Hama, reducing it to about a dozen towns and villages, while the majority of IS forces withdrew to just one town.

February 9, 2018
After one week of fighting, government forces cleared the whole IS enclave in the northeastern countryside of Hama, taking control of 80 villages and fully securing a key highway linking Hama and Aleppo. Opposition activists said that a corridor was opened by the government for the remaining 200 IS fighters to retreat towards rebel-held territory in Idlib province, with IS subsequently capturing three villages from the rebels. According to pro-government sources, the IS forces had instead conducted a surprise break-out towards rebel territory, advancing through over a dozen government-held villages before reaching it.

Meanwhile, the strip of territory that Turkey-backed forces had seized from the SDF along the border was estimated to have reached 15 kilometers in width.

February 10, 2018
An Israeli F-16 fighter jet crashed after coming under fire from Syrian anti-aircraft missiles during a raid against Iranian facilities in eastern Homs province that had earlier launched a drone into Israel. The drone had been intercepted and shot down by Israel. The F-16 crashed in northern Israel, with both pilots ejecting and then being evacuated to a hospital. Subsequently, Israel conducted a second raid against 12 Syrian and Iranian military targets southwest of Damascus. Later in the day, Israel also conducted a third raid near Damascus. Overall, six pro-government fighters, including non-Syrians, were reported killed in the airstrikes.

Meanwhile, a Turkish military attack helicopter was shot down by Kurdish forces in the Afrin region, with both crew members killed. During the day’s fighting in Afrin, the TFSA managed to make advances, linking up with rebel forces in Idlib province.

February 11, 2018
The TFSA advanced to within three kilometers of a strategic town in the Afrin region.

February 12, 2018
IS captured two villages from rebels in the southeastern Idlib countryside and was fighting for control of a third village. Elsewhere, the SDF captured one village from IS on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, after which IS launched a counterattack in an attempt to retake it. Meanwhile, the TFSA managed to establish a buffer zone around its recent gains in the southern part of Afrin, while in the northern part a new TFSA attack was repelled by the YPG.

February 13, 2018
Four hundred IS fighters and their family members surrendered to rebels in the area they had captured the previous day in Idlib province. The IS fighters also gave up all of their positions in the area. Meanwhile, more advances by the TFSA brought a total of 8 percent of the Afrin region under its control. Overall, since the start of the Turkish-led operation in the area, between 453 and 456 people had been confirmed killed, including 177 TFSA and 163 SDF fighters, 75 civilians in Syria, 7 civilians in Turkey, and 31-34 Turkish soldiers.

Graphic of the Syrian flag is in the public domain (source).