Thursday, September 12, 2019

Syrian Civil War Map & Timeline - September 2019

(To see other maps in this series, view all Syria updates.)

Map of Syrian Civil War (Syria control map): Territorial control in Syria in September 2019 (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, including Khan Shaykhun, Kabani, Morek, and more. Colorblind accessible.
Base map by Koen Adams of onestopmap.com, with territorial control by Evan Centanni and Djordje Djukic.
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Timeline by Djordje Djukic

Government Captures Rebel Stronghold in Idlib

In what's been nearly a month since our previous Syria control map update, almost all major activities have been focused around the southern end of rebel-held Idlib province. For the first time, government forces have captured a major town on the rebel side of the of would-be buffer zone set up last year by Turkey and Russia. Meanwhile, possible changes loom in Syria's northeast, where Turkey is pushing the US to set up a "safe zone" to keep the Kurdish-majority YPG militia away from the border.

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 August 16, 2019. Sources are indicated by links within the text.

August 17-18, 2019
The army advanced to within one kilometer of HTS-held Khan Shaykhun from the west, after capturing the nearby farms and a hilltop village. The military was also three kilometers from the Damascus-Aleppo international highway. In the evening of August 18, government forces entered the northwestern outskirts of Khan Shaykhun for the first time since 2014.

August 19, 2019
Airstrikes hit positions near a Turkish military convoy which was stuck on the highway in northwest Syria after crossing the border into Idlib. One Turkish-backed rebel fighter accompanying the convoy was killed. Syria alleged that the convoy had entered Idlib to provide support to the rebels, while Turkey reported that the convoy was en route to two observation points, including one south of Khan Shaykhun. At this point, the Syrian army was 800 meters from reaching the highway running north of Khan Shaykhun.

Later that day, the Syrian military began attacking a strategic hill north of the city in an attempt to block the Turkish forces from reaching Khan Shaykhun. Several hours later, the hill was captured, leading to the cutting off of the highway. Concurrently, a sixth attempt by the army to advance from the east towards Khan Shaykhun was repelled.

August 20, 2019
Pro-opposition and pro-government sources both reported that the rebels had withdrawn or were withdrawing from Khan Shaykhun and the towns to the south in the northern countryside of Hama. However, HTS denied that its fighters had withdrawn from Khan Shaykhun and instead stated that they had only redeployed to the southern part of the town following the military’s northern advances the previous day. They were also still maintaining their positions in the towns to the south. The army confirmed that HTS was still in Khan Shaykhun. Later, the military entered the northern part of the city, which had been abandoned by HTS, while pro-opposition and pro-government sources were reporting that the rebels were retreating towards the Turkish military observation post at Morek.

August 21, 2019
After more than 15 failed assaults during a week of fighting, government forces captured a strategic hill east of Khan Shaykhun. Subsequently, the military also seized two nearby farm areas and a factory. Later that day, government forces linked up, encircling the rebels and Turkish troops in the northern countryside of Hama. Government troops also began entering Khan Shaykhun from all sides and were in control of the city by the afternoon. Elsewhere, several government attacks on the rebel-held town of Kabani in the mountains of Latakia were repelled.

August 22-23, 2019
On August 22, the military captured a village, its corresponding hill and several other nearby areas south of Khan Shaykhun. The next day, government forces started pushing into the encircled rebel pocket, and soon afterwards captured all of the remaining rebel-held towns and villages in the north of Hama, including Morek, without resistance. The rebels had withdrawn from the area on August 21, just before the army’s takeover of Khan Shaykhun. Meanwhile, the Turkish military observation post at Morek was surrounded by the Syrian military.

August 24, 2019
Turkey announced that a joint Turkish-US operation center had been established to create a Turkey-Syria border safe zone. The Turkish government considers the Kurdish YPG militia, which forms the core of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to be terrorists affiliated with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey, and had threatened to invade northeastern Syria to push them away from the border.

Meanwhile, it was reported that since April 26, 2018, assassinations, bombings, and kidnappings in rebel territory in Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama provinces had left 587 people dead, including 427 rebels and 160 civilians. Some 63 of the rebels were said to be foreign fighters. The killings went largely unclaimed, but most were attributed to either the former Al Qaeda affiliate HTS or the Turkish-backed NLF, both rebel groups, while some were said to have been the work of IS sleeper cells and Syrian government supporters.

August 24-25, 2019
Israeli airstrikes near Damascus left two Hezbollah members and an Iranian dead. Israel stated that the target of their strikes were Iranian forces who had been planning to launch “killer drones” at targets in Israel. The next day, a reportedly Israeli drone killed between one and six Iran-backed Iraqi militia fighters on the border between Iraq and Syria. Around the same time, two drones, reported to be Israeli, crashed in a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon.

August 25, 2019
A new army assault on Kabani was launched and then repelled.

August 26, 2019
It was reported that since the start of the government’s offensive along the buffer zone in Hama, Idlib, and Latakia on April 30, the military captured 60 towns and villages in the northern countryside of Hama and southern countryside of Idlib.

August 27, 2019
A total of 31 rebels and 29 pro-government fighters were killed during a rebel counterattack east of Khan Shaykun that was led by the Al Qaeda-linked Hurras al-Deen rebel group and the Ansar al-Deen faction. The assault was eventually repelled. During the fighting, the rebels managed to capture two villages and advance in a third, before they were forced to withdraw. Elsewhere, in the southeastern Idlib countryside, the rebels unsuccessfully attempted to infiltrate government lines near a military airport, with eight rebels being killed. The same day, the military made another attempt to advance on the Kabani front in Latakia province.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish YPG announced that it had withdrawn from border positions at Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn during the previous days and that it would pull back other forces and heavy weapons from a border strip between Turkey and Syria, which Turkey and the US had agreed to make into a YPG-free “safe zone”. YPG forces were thought to still be present in the town of Ras al-Ayn itself.

August 28, 2019
The YPG managed to capture several positions in a village west of Al-Bab, which was held by rebels of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA). However, the Turkish-backed rebels soon managed to push back the Kurdish fighters. Nine rebels were killed during the fighting. Meanwhile, attacks by the so-called "Islamic State" (IS; previously ISIS/ISIL) continued in the desert areas of central and eastern Syria. It was reported that since March 24, 265 pro-government and 89 IS fighters had been killed during the fighting. Government fatalities included two Russians and 22 Iranian-led fighters.

August 28-30, 2019
On August 28, the army captured a town east of Khan Shaykhun, as well as the farms surrounding another nearby town. Meanwhile, airstrikes hit near a Turkish military observation post on the provincial border of Hama and Idlib, while clashes were taking place 500 meters away between government and rebel forces. By the next day, the military had managed to seize a total of five towns and farm areas east of Khan Shaykhun as it continued its offensive. On August 30, the military captured two more hilltops, securing the northeastern approach to Khan Shaykhun.

August 29, 2019
It was reported that 355 people had been killed by IS sleeper cells in SDF-held areas of Syria since the end of August 2018. The dead included 254 SDF fighters, 97 civilians, and four members of the US-led international anti-IS coalition.

August 30, 2019
It was reported that lawlessness was increasing in the southern province of Daraa, with a rise in the number of bombings, gun attacks, and assassinations. Since June, 60 attacks had been conducted against government troops in the province.

Unlike in other areas retaken by government forces, the army had not deployed in large numbers in Daraa and instead, under the terms of the 2018 surrender deal with the rebels, rebel fighters that remained in the province were left in charge of security in many rural areas, as well as in the southern part of the provincial capital, while the military manned checkpoints on the outskirts of these areas. Some of the remaining rebels had started working with government institutions and joined a Russian-backed unit of the army. The rise in attacks had been attributed to the proliferation of weapons in the province, which still holds anti-Assad public sentiment.

September 1, 2019
A US missile strike targeted an Al Qaeda training camp in Idlib province, leaving 40 fighters dead.

September 4, 2019
An unnamed military source reported that three Russian soldiers were killed in a landmine explosion in the buffer zone in Idlib province - a claim denied by the Russian Ministry of Defense. However, Syrian sources named the three, who were reportedly members of the Russian special forces.

September 8, 2019
The US and Turkey conducted their first joint patrol at Tel Abyad in the planned Turkey-Syria border safe zone. SDF forces were believed to still be the major party in control of the area. Meanwhile, airstrikes reportedly carried out by Israel hit Iran-backed militias, including Iraqi Hezbollah, in the Abu Kamal area. The attacks left at least 18 fighters dead.

September 9, 2019
Iranian-led Shiite militias fired several rockets at Israel from an area near Damascus. According to Israel, the rockets failed to hit its territory. The same day, Hezbollah announced that it had shot down an Israeli drone over southern Lebanon, while Israel only confirmed that one of its drones “fell inside southern Lebanon during routine operations”.

September 10, 2019
Turkey accused the US of stalling in the creation of the Turkey-Syria border safe zone, and once again threatened to launch an operation against YPG forces east of the Euphrates in Syria.

Meanwhile, it was reported that since the start of the Syrian government’s offensive along the Turkey-Russia buffer zone in Hama, Idlib, and Latakia provinces on April 30, 4,128 people had been killed, including 1,671 rebels, 1,406 pro-government fighters and 1,051 civilians.


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