Early on March 20, images appearing to show Russian military vehicles in the SDF-controlled Efrîn enclave in northern Syria were shared on Twitter. We think we might have located them in Kafr Jana Baath Vanguard Camp.
Coordination between YPG and Russia in Efrîn canton. pic.twitter.com/9UQQnEoDsX
— Dr Partizan (@Dr_Partizan) March 20, 2017
— Berfo (@AraratKurd) March 20, 2017
A low quality video also appeared:
— Achilles الرقة (@kj_Rakka) March 20, 2017
Analysing the images
First, we looked for identifiable features in the photographs.
This first image (above) shows a Russian armoured vehicle flying a Russian flag. We believe this is a BTR –possibly a BTR-80 – an 8 wheeled amphibious armoured personnel carrier.
The road behind the vehicle has trees on one side and two buildings on the other – one is a large apparently corrugated-iron roofed structure open on all four sides, while the second structure, closer to the camera, is much smaller.
To the extreme left of the picture there is a circular structure that appears to be made out of bent branches.
There is a low, light-coloured wall to the right of the image and the road is edged with light-coloured kerbing.
The second image is of a Russian armoured vehicle followed by several military trucks.
There are common elements like the circular structure from the first image.
The road here is significantly wider.
On the right of the image there is a smaller road bounded by the same light coloured kerbing as in the first image.
Many of these elements are apparent in the image with HAT forces.
What was said online
Some Twitter accounts claimed that an SDF/YPG/Russia coordination centre was established, possibly in Qatmah, between FSA-controlled Azaz and Efrin town. Others claimed that the coordination centre was in nearby Kafr Jana.
Later in the day, Reuters reported that, according to YPG spokesperson Rêdûr Xelîl, a Russian military base was to establised in the Jandaris region. The Russian Defence Ministry said that there were “no plans to create new Russian military bases on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic,” Sputnik News reported, later confirmed by TASS.
According to Sputnik, the ministry said a branch of the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides will open near Afrin.
Searching satellite imagery
Given all we knew above, we started to look for existing military or enclosed areas in Kafr Jana and Qatmeh that could be suitable for a military camp.
There are a few, but one stood out – the Baath Vanguard Camp in Kafr Jana.
The satellite image of the camp above shows a long, red-roofed (corrugated iron?) building to the left-centre of the image.
There is a smaller building just to the right of it.
Across the road from the building there is a row of trees.
Following the line of the buildings, the road widens into what may be a vehicle parking area. There is a side road that appears to be bounded by light coloured kerbing.
Between the buildings and the side road there is a feature that could be circular, although this image is clearly old. Other imagery from April 2016 that we can’t publish here for copyright reasons shows that some of the trees or bushed around the vehicle parking area have been cut or removed.
Connecting the vehicle images to the satellite imagery
The red box in the image above outlines the large red roofed building.
The orange box denotes the smaller building.
The green circle shows the area in which the circular structure appears in the images.
The yellow circle shows the side road with light-coloured kerbing.
The blue circle highlights another light-coloured structure.
Other online shares
We found several references to the camp at Kafr Jana in Arabic tweets and Facebook posts.
— Dlshad Jawish (@dlo_jawish) March 20, 2017
The Facebook post linked in the above tweet uses the three images we’ve already looked at and says:
عفرين اليوم صباحا
دخول 6 مدرعات مصفحة من نوع (بي ام بي) مع حماية (هيزى هات) إلى قرية كفرجنة باتجاه “معسكر طلائع” سابقا ومن المرجح تسليم المعسكر إلى القوات الروسية .
#كوردستان #روجافا #روسيا
A rough translation of this is:
Efrin this morning:
6 armored armored vehicles (BMB) under the protection of the HAT [specialist anti-terror units of the Asayîş Rojava, the police force in the area] in the village of Kafr Jana towards the former “Vanguard Camp”. The camp is likely to be handed over to the Russian forces.
#Russia #Rogava # Russia
A later tweet:
— شبكة مراسل سوري (@Sy_Reporter) March 20, 2017
A rough translation of this tweet is:
Russian forces in coordination with Kurdish militias set up a base in the Camp at Kafr Jana near the town of Afrin in the north Aleppo countryside
Although these tweets aren’t conclusive, they give more information to make a judgement on.
We think it is highly likely that the images of Russian military vehicles shared on social media today were taken in the Baath Vanguard Camp in Kafr Jana, near Afrin in north Aleppo.
Update March 20, 18:20 ET A video just posted by ANNA News confirms the location.
UPDATE March 20, 19:30 ET The camp is used as a training base for the HXP, the Self-Defence forces of Rojava-Northern Syria.
As can be seen in these images the same building Russians have set up base, is used for the training of HXP pic.twitter.com/u0YqCgIofv
— Nomadly (@nomadly00) March 20, 2017
— A Dunon (@4rj1n) February 11, 2016