The boldness and frequency of ISIS attacks continues to accelerate across all regions of northeast Syria, with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and regime forces both facing a rising deluge of deadly attacks from emboldened extremists. ISIS leaders announced the start of a major offensive on the group’s official channel in early October, which they have named “Operation Badia Revenge,” while the regime simultaneously deployed its National Defense Forces militia into the Badia desert area east of Homs for its own anti-ISIS operation. The subsequent weeks have witnessed some of the bloodiest battles against the group since the International Coalition routed them from their self-declared caliphate in 2019, resulting in the death of dozens of regime troops due to ISIS attacks in the past month. The SDF has also suffered growing numbers of casualties, and ISIS increasingly shows an ability to exert new political and social influence across the region unlike anything seen in recent years. Using threats and extortion, the group has pressured local Self Administration officials to distribute UN-provided aid to specific families and villages across Deir Ezzor province. Civilians who fail to cooperate or pay off ISIS cells also find themselves facing retribution from the group, with at least half a dozen bombings and armed attacks directed against businesses and private individuals in October.
Attached Map: Military Situation in North-East Syria – 2nd November 2022
- ISIS operation announcement: Through its official channel, ISIS announced the beginning of a new military offensive that the group’s leadership is calling “Operation Revenge in the Badia” (2.10). Since then, the group has clashed dozens of times with the regime’s National Defense Forces (NDF) militia, resulting in a number of significant battles across the desert region between Palmyra and the Euphrates River.
- Anti-SDF attacks: The frequency of attacks against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has also continued to surge in recent weeks, even as ISIS cells have been diverted to nominally regime-controlled areas of the Badia desert east of Homs. At least 11 armed attacks and two IED blasts left nine SDF troops dead and a significant number injured across Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, Hasakah provinces (1.10-28.10). ISIS cells also demonstrated their ability to blackmail and exercise control over local officials and resources, as local SDF leaders across a number of towns in the Deir Ezzor countryside have been intimidated into directing UN-provided humanitarian aid to specific families and villages from a list approved by the jihadists.
- Attacks on civilians: ISIS has also continued its long campaign of violence and intimidation against civilians, primarily in villages across Deir Ezzor province. The group carried out more than a dozen attacks against individuals and groups, including bombings of several money exchange bureaus after owners refused to pay an Islamic “zakat” tax to ISIS in the Deir Ezzor towns of al-Zar and al-Ghurba (6.10, 26.10).
- Anti-ISIS raids: During a joint operation with the Asayish Internal Security Forces, the SDF seized a large and varied cache of weapons and explosives belonging to ISIS from a depot in the town of Tal Hamees in the Qamishli countryside (1.10).
- Defensive structures: The SDF has continued digging tunnels and trenches near civilian homes in villages east of Manbij (5.10).
- Clashes with civilians: Two civilians and seven SDF members died amidst clashes with villagers in Awn al-Dadat, north of Manbij, after the SDF attempted to impose a curfew in the village (10.10). The SDF subsequently detained dozens of young men from the village in two rounds of raids (11.10, 21.10).
- Arrests: The SDF carried out dozens of arrests across northeast Syria, detaining at least 30 people for membership in ISIS cells, 11 in connection to teachers’ protests, three on drug or drug smuggling charges, and four internal arrests of SDF officials (1.10-28.10). A security operation carried out by SDF forces in the western Raqqa countryside resulted in the arrest of 17 suspected ISIS members, while a large quantity of weapons, ammunition, passports and books belonging to the group were also seized in the villages of Khatounia and Mansoura in the Tabqa countryside (19.10)
Russian & Pro-Regime Activity
- Anti-ISIS campaign: Amidst a rising wave of ISIS attacks against pro-Assad forces, the regime’s National Defense Forces militia launched a largescale anti-ISIS campaign, covering from the al-Tabani area in the western Deir Ezzor countryside to al-Mayadin in the eastern Raqqa countryside. There were dozens of clashes with ISIS fighters in a series of bloody encounters that has featured extensive air support from Russian forces. Major clashes resulting in casualties were reported around As Sukhnah, east of Homs, al-Duwair and Wadi Al-Fakkah in the Deir Ezzor desert, and various locations in the al-Mayadin and Rusafa Desert (5.10, 10.10, 10, 14.10, 16.10, 17.10, 19.10). At least 14 NDF fighters have died in the fighting so far.
- Inter-militia clashes: Fighting erupted between the NDF and the Lions of the East, both pro-regime groups, on al-Wadi Street in the center of Deir Ezzor (23.10).
- Crossing reopened: Regime forces reopened the al-Tayha commercial crossing south of Manbij, which connects regime and SDF territories, after nearly six months of closure (10.13).
- Joint patrol: Turkish and Russian forces conducted several joint patrols, three in the vicinity of Ain al-Arab and another in the countryside of ad-Darbasiyah. Each patrol consisted of four military vehicles for each side and were accompanied by two Russian helicopters (6.10, 11.10, 17.10, 23.10).
- Food distribution: Russian forces distributed 300 food baskets to residents in the village of al-Hussainiya, the sixth batch of food aid distributed by Russia to civilians in the seven villages they control north of Deir Ezzor (22.10).
Political & Humanitarian Developments
- Deir Ezzor summit: Leadership of the Deir Ezzor Civil Council met tribal dignitaries and sheikhs from the eastern region between al-Shaitat and al-Baghouz, to discuss the restructuring of services provided by local councils in the area, tackling corruption, removing Deir Ezzor families from al-Hol camp and releasing civilians held in SDF prisons (20.10). The summit was held in al-Baghuz.
- Human smuggling law: The SDF has issued a new law stipulating a three-to-five-year prison sentence and 10 million SYP fine for human smuggling activities (20.9).
- PUK leaders targeted: Members of the PKK-linked Revolutionary Youth Movement in Hasakah targeted the homes of Mahmoud Auji and Fasla Yusef, leaders in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), with explosives (21.10). Both were unharmed and the damage only material.
- Cost of living protests: Civilian demonstrations against Self Administration corruption and deteriorating living standards erupted across a number of towns in the western Deir Ezzor countryside, spearheaded by members of the al-Bakara clan (9.10, 11.10, 19.10). Protesters also demonstrated in Mabij, while residents from the villages of Zain Al-Mabarij, Khirbet Tamr and Umm Madfa blocked the Hasakah-Raqqa road, demanding the Self Administration take steps to reduce food prices (25.10, 18.10).
- Water administration failure: As the Self Administration’s financial struggles continue to mount, the Water Directorate in Deir Ezzor province has suspended operations due to insufficient funding (8.9).
- School dress decree: In a decision issued by the Self Administration, wearing of the niqab will be banned within all school campuses in areas under SDF control (24.10). The decree prompted protests the next day by teachers and civilians in Abu Hamam, south of Deir Ezzor.
- Teachers protest: A number of teachers and students have continued to protest the imposition of new curricula by Self Administration officials. The PKK-linked Revolutionary Youth movement broke up a sit-in by force in the city of Qamishli and also beat a journalist while he was covering another demonstration in the city (1.10, 3.10).
- ISIS trials: The Self Administration’s Department of Foreign Relations announced that it would begin trying some ISIS members detained in its prisons (4.10).
- Landmines: A number of landmine explosions across several regions of Syria killed at least half a dozen individuals in recent weeks. A number of civilians were killed and injured after a landmine exploded near the M4 international road near Ras al-Ain city as they tried to cross into Turkish-occupied territory (19.10). Four other landmine incidents also killed pro-regime forces in the Badia desert region.
- Attack by smugglers: Armed groups from the families of smugglers arrested by the SDF attacked the Aoun al-Dadat crossing in the Manbij countryside (2.10). The groups kidnapped 26 guards, including the operational director.
- Euphrates bridge and attack: A new commercial water crossing was established, linking the two banks of the Euphrates River between SDF-controlled al-Shuhail and regime-held Buqrus, the latest sign of deepening cooperation between both sides (5.10). However, civilians in the area have protested the bridge, fearing infiltration by pro-regime elements. Capitalizing on local fears, suspected ISIS attacked and burned the customs house on the SDF side, causing material damage (19.10).
- Al-Hol developments: The camp administration has continued to construct a series of barrier fences separating different sectors of the camp, with work recently reaching the fifth section where refugees and ISIS families who hold Syrian citizenship are held (24.10). Two camp residents died in recent weeks due to poor medical care, while an SDF member was also killed in an ambush inside al-Hol. However, after a major security campaign by the SDF last month which lasted for weeks, the number of killings inside the camp have decreased significantly. The SDF also allowed money transfers to return to al-Hol camp, which many residents depend in order to purchase their basic needs (1.10).
- International ISIS returns: A number of countries have taken steps to repatriate their nationals from al-Hol and Roj camps in recent weeks. At least 942 Iraqi families departed al-Hol in two groups, with most relocated to their homes and towns by Iraqi authorities (2.10, 18.10). The Dutch government has agreed to repatriate 41 women and children from al-Hol and Roj camps, while Germany repatriated four women and seven children from Roj camp, in addition to a young man who was trafficked to Syria when he was 11 years old (3.10, 6.10). British authorities also repatriated a trafficked woman and her child from Roj camp, while France announced that a further 40 children and 15 women would be transferred back to the country (15.10, 20.10.). Toward the end of the month, the SDF handed 38 Russian children of ISIS families held in al-Hol to a delegation from Russia in the city of Qamishli, the fourth transfer of Russian nationals to Moscow this year (21.10). The Self Administration revealed that more than 5,000 children remain in the camps under its control, constituting citizens of around 60 countries (23.10).