Friday, December 28, 2018

Syrian Civil War Map & Timeline: IS Loses Western Enclave - December 2018

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Map of Syrian Civil War (Syria control map): Territorial control in Syria in December 2018, just before the US troop withdrawal (Free Syrian Army rebels, Kurdish YPG, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS / Al-Nusra Front), Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), and others). Includes US deconfliction zone and Turkey-Russia demilitarized buffer zone, plus recent locations of conflict and territorial control changes, such as Hajin, Al Safa, Baghuz, 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

Syria: Where Things Stand Now

In the month and a half since our previous Syria control map report, the main territorial changes have been losses by the so-called "Islamic State" (IS; formerly ISIS/ISIL). The Assad government has eliminated the last pocket of IS control in western Syria, in the south's Al Safa area, and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have recaptured the town of Hajin in the east, while also driving IS once again off of the Syria-Iraq border.

See Also: 2018 Iraq Control Map

Meanwhile, northern Syria is bracing for a possible resurgence in fighting, as a sudden US troop withdrawal leaves Kurdish forces vulnerable to the Turkish military and allied rebel groups, who consider SDF member militia the YPG to be a terrorist ally of Kurdish PKK rebels in Turkey. Likewise, the rebel stronghold around Tanf in the southern desert is expected to collapse once the US military forces defending it withdraw.

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 November 9, 2018. Sources are indicated by links within the text.

November 8, 2018
Following a Syrian military operation in the al-Hamima area of Homs, which also included Russian special forces, 17 hostages kidnapped from Suwayda province by IS in late July were rescued. Two other hostages, both children, were killed during the operation.

November 10-17, 2018
Government forces renewed their offensive against IS in the Al Safa volcanic region of Syria's southwest. Two days later, after an attack from the north and northwest, the military reportedly managed to capture two kilometers of territory. The advances were said to have continued the following day, with the army reportedly approaching Al Safa mountain by November 14. However, on November 15, IS recaptured territory to the northwest under the cover of poor weather. Still, on November 16, the army made a new advance, seizing 1.5 kilometers of territory. Finally, on November 17, the military captured the Al Safa volcano after hundreds of IS fighters withdrew from the area towards the eastern desert. It was reported that during the government offensive against this IS pocket on the provincial border of Suwayda and Rif Dimashq (rural Damascus), 428 IS and 245 pro-government fighters had been killed.

November 15-17, 2018
IS forces attacked the Kurdish-led SDF in the east of Deir ez-Zor province in an attempt to expand their enclave east of the Euphrates River. Their attack was eventually repelled following airstrikes by the US-led coalition. The next day, the SDF resumed its offensive against IS’s Hajin pocket.

November 17, 2018
Rebel shelling in the coastal province of Latakia left 18 soldiers dead.

November 17-19, 2018
Infighting in the Afrin region between pro-Turkish rebels on one side and rebels deemed an “outlaw gang” on the other left 32 fighters dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based pro-rebel media organization. The anti-Turkish rebel group reported the overall death toll to be 38. During the clashes, pro-Turkish fighters were supported by shelling from Turkey's military.

November 23-25, 2018
IS forces launched an attack against the SDF near Hajin, capturing three positions. Fighting continued the following day and by November 25, the SDF had managed to recapture the lost  territory.

December 2-4, 2018
The SDF launched an attack on Hajin, reaching its outskirts and advancing into the northwestern part of the town. By the following day, the SDF had also entered Hajin from the northeast, taking control of the town’s Hawama district, market, and hospital. But on the evening of December 4, IS forces managed to recapture several positions during a counterattack.

December 4, 2018
The HTS rebel group, formerly affiliated with Al Qaeda, attacked positions held by the Turkish-backed National Liberation Front inside the Idlib buffer zone, capturing three towns. HTS also seized most of one small plain in the region and ended its joint control of two towns with other rebels, taking full control.

December 5, 2018
Clashes near the Tanf region , near the borders with Jordan and Iraq, left 15 IS and 6 pro-government fighters dead.

December 6-11, 2018
Fighting for Hajin intensified as the SDF seized more than half of the town. The next day, SDF control of Hajin increased further to more than 70 percent, with only the southern districts remaining under IS control. However, exploiting bad weather, IS launched a counterattack and managed to recapture most of the town on December 9. Meanwhile, the SDF advanced at Al-Baghuz on the Iraqi border. On December 10, the SDF once again advanced in Hajin, seizing its hospital, and was back in control of half of the town the next day. The southern half remained under IS control. Concurrently, the SDF captured another town on the Iraqi border near Al-Baghuz.

December 12, 2018
The Turkish president announced that Turkey would launch a military operation against the Kurdish YPG in northern Syria in the coming days.

December 12-14, 2018
Fighting erupted between rebels and government forces near the US-declared Tanf “deconfliction zone”, after the rebels reportedly attacked government troops at a nearby crossroad. The clashes left between three and six rebels dead, while two pro-government fighters were captured.

December 13, 2018
According to news outlets supportive of the Syrian government, a Turkish soldier was killed in the Afrin region after a retaliatory attack by the Syrian army and Kurdish YPG following Turkish shelling of Tell Rifaat. According to Turkey, the soldier was killed by YPG harassment fire from Tell Rifaat, after which the military opened “heavy fire” on YPG targets.

December 13-14, 2018
The SDF pushed into the center of Hajin as their forces continued to conduct operations along three axes. In the evening, the SDF fully captured Hajin, with IS forces withdrawing to the town’s eastern outskirts. On December 14, the SDF advanced south of Hajin, pushing into two more towns.

December 17, 2018
IS launched a counteroffensive and managed to reenter the eastern districts of Hajin. The IS assault was eventually repelled. Meanwhile, the SDF attacked IS positions at two villages in the pocket, whose capture would clear the way for its push into another nearby IS stronghold.

December 19, 2018
US officials announced that President Trump had ordered a rapid withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops from Syria within 30 days, after declaring the American-led war against IS as largely won. Meanwhile, the SOHR reported that IS had executed 700 out of 1,350 prisoners it was still holding in its pocket on the eastern bank of the Euphrates over the previous two months. Between 350 and 400 others were transferred to the western side of the river, while the rest were released.

December 21, 2018
The Turkish president announced that Turkey would temporarily delay its offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria following the US’s decision to withdraw from the country.

December 21-23, 2018
A rebel commander at the US military training base at Tanf, near the border with Jordan and Iraq, stated that US forces would be withdrawing from the Tanf region as well. Two days later, SOHR reported that, in anticipation of the US withdrawal, preparations were being made to transfer thousands of rebel fighters and civilians who were rejecting reconciliation with the Syrian government from the Tanf region to rebel-held areas in the north of the country.

December 21-26, 2018
The SDF advanced into a new village in the IS pocket in eastern Syria. The next day, an IS counterattack on the eastern flank of Hajin was repelled by the SDF. On December 24, the SDF made more advances and captured two villages by the following day. It was reported that since the start of the Kurdish-led SDF offensive against the IS pocket in the Hajin area on September 10, 1,032 IS and 554 SDF fighters had been killed, as well as 363 civilians.

December 23, 2018
The SOHR reported that an SDF delegation had arrived in Moscow to discuss the fate of SDF-held territories east of the Euphrates, with the SDF preliminarily accepting a Russian offer for Syrian government border guards to set up positions along the border with Turkey between Turkish forces and the SDF.

December 25, 2018
In anticipation of the Turkish-led offensive in northern Syria, the SDF handed over a town southwest of Manbij to the Syrian army. Russian forces were also said to had entered the town alongside the Syrian military. Pro-government troops based themselves at the town’s fuel station and the Russian military was conducting patrols. An SDF spokesman confirmed that government forces backed by Russian troops were reinforcing the frontlines toward Manbij in coordination with the US-backed militia. Meanwhile, following fighting between the YPG and Turkish-backed rebels southwest of Azaz, Syrian government forces reportedly entered a town in the area of the clashes.

Elsewhere, Israel resumed its airstrikes in Syria after a three-month hiatus, hitting three Hezbollah arms depots south of Damascus and wounding three Syrian soldiers. Israel had originally halted the airstrikes after the accidental downing of a Russian military plane in September. Following the new round of strikes, which were said to had come from Lebanese territory, Russia accused Israel of a "gross violation of sovereignty" and argued that they it endangered two non-Russian passenger planes that were preparing to land in Beirut and Damascus.

December 26, 2018
It was also reported that 153 people had been killed during skirmishes along the established Russian-Turkish buffer zone in northwest Syria since September 17, the date when the zone came into effect. The dead included 67 pro-government fighters and 51 rebels.

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