Syria Military Brief: North-East Syria – 28 February

While attacks attributed to ISIS have continued across the region, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has emerged as a major target for these operations in the past two weeks. Iranian patrols recorded at least eight deaths from suspected ISIS attacks, which took the form of both armed ambushes and IED traps. Tensions have also emerged between the IRGC and militia groups backed by the Syrian regime, as witnessed by armed clashes that broke out between the Iranian-backed Fatemiyoun Brigade and the National Defense Forces (NDF) militia last week on the banks of the Euphrates in Madan, with the clashes following a Russian strike that killed several Fatemiyoun members at a nearby location.

ISIS Activity

    • Anti-SDF attacks: Suspected ISIS cells launched 16 armed attacks against SDF forces across Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Hasakah provinces, resulting in the deaths of at least 25 troops and the injury of others. In addition to those hit-and-run attacks, 5 IEDs struck SDF vehicles, killing four (1.2-23.2).
    • Anti-regime attacks: Regime forces suffered four armed attacks by unknown gunmen and an IED explosion targeting a military vehicle across Raqqa and Deir Ezzor provinces, resulting in nine deaths. (10.2-23.2) Two members of the pro-regime National Defense Forces (NDF) militia were also killed by landmines in the Madan desert east of Raqqa, and near Rusafa, southwest of Raqqa (13.2, 17.2). Additionally, two members of the Al-Quds Brigade were killed after stepping on landmines in the Al-Mayadin desert, east of Deir Ezzor (23.2).
    • Kurdish official shot: A local Self-Administration official was targeted in a drive-by motorcycle assassination by unknown gunmen in the city of Al Busayrah, east of Deir Ezzor (1.2).
    • Civilians injured: Four children were injured by a landmine explosion in the vicinity of the city of Al Ashara, east of Deir Ezzor (17.2)

Russian & Regime Activity

    • Russian patrol: Russian police conducted two military patrols near Abu Rasin, east of Ras al-Ayn, and another around Tall Tamr, north of Hasakah (3.2, 5.2, 8.2). The Russian army also conducted a joint military patrol with Turkish police from the village of Deir Ghosn in the city of Al-Malikiyah, northeast of Hasakah (4.2). Russian police later conducted a joint military patrol with the Turkish army in the vicinity of Darbasiyah, north of Hasakah (11.2), and a final Russian patrol took place the next week in the village of Ain Diwar, north of Al-Malikiyah (17.2).

SDF Activity

    • SDF prisoner release: The SDF released a number of captive regime personnel in the city of Qamishli, coinciding with the withdrawal of regime troops from the vicinity of the security square zone (2.2).
    • Forced recruitment: The SDF arrested a number of young men for forced recruitment into their ranks in the town of Al-Karamah, east of Raqqa, and in Mansoura, west of Raqqa. (12.2, 16.2). The SDF also abducted three teachers for military recruitment in the town of Al-Shaddadi, south of Hasakah (22.2).
    • SDF-Regime clashes: Fighting broke out between members of the SDF and Syrian regime forces near the Darnaj river crossing, southeast of Deir Ezzor (14.2). Two days later, all river crossings were closed between regime and SDF-controlled areas in the eastern Deir Ezzor countryside (16.2).
    • ISIS prisoner transfer: The SDF transferred about 100 detained ISIS operatives into the hands of Iraqi forces through the Rabia border crossing, east of Qamishli (10.2).
    • Wheat shipment: The SDF transported nearly 400 tons of wheat from the Al-Shirkrak silos in the vicinity of Ain Issa, in the northern countryside of Raqqa, via trucks escorted by a Russian military patrol (19.2).
    • Political arrests: The Self Administration’s Asayish Forces arrested Muhammad al-Sheikh, a member of the executive body of the Kurdish opposition Future Movement, from his home in Qamishli (11.2). The next day, authorities released media activist Fanar Mahmoud who had been detained for nearly 20 days (12.2).
    • Mill takeover: The SDF took over a number of mills that had been operated by the regime in Al-Jazirah, Qamishli, and Hasakah, offering employees a choice to stay on the job and receive wages from the Self Administration, or to leave (14.2).

Political & Humanitarian Developments

    • US patrol: American forces conducted a military patrol in the vicinity of the city of Al-Malikiyah, northeast of Hasakah (22.2).
    • Building demolitions: The regime-backed Deir Ezzor City Council, with the support of state security services, is continuing a campaign to demolish buildings deemed to be in violation of city ordinances (10.2).
    • Protests: A demonstration took place in the city of Amouda to demand the release of teachers arrested by the SDF (10.2). Authorities subsequently released a total of fourteen teachers over two rounds later in the week (13.2, 15.2). However, Asayish Forces subsequently arrested 10 other teachers in Hasakah on charges of teaching students a pro-regime’s curriculum (15.2).
    • Border closure: The Self-Administration closed the Faysh Khabur border crossing with northern Iraq, declaring it would remain closed until further notice (4.2).
    • NGO activities suspended: Following a dispute between Irish humanitarian organization Concern Worldwide and SDF intelligence, the NGO has been ordered by the Raqqa Municipal Council to halt all activities in the vicinity of Raqqa city and the surrounding countryside (2.2).
    • Coronavirus: The Self Administration recorded 1,391 new cases of the coronavirus across northeast Syria and counted 17 new deaths (1.2-23.2).
    • Al-Hol developments: The al-Hol camp continues to be a major security concern in north-east Syria, with repeated attacks by ISIS-linked camp residents on guards leading to the death of at least four SDF guards and another camp resident in February. In light of the violence, the SDF moved to launch an arrest campaign inside the camp, capturing two Moroccan women as they attempted to escape (16.2). The SDF continues to shuffle residents, transferring several foreign-born ISIS women to the Roj camp near Al-Malikiyah (1.2) as local authorities grapple with foreign ISIS members trapped in legal limbo. Despite security concerns, approximately 500 camp residents were granted permission to leave the camp towards the Aleppo countryside, with approximately 100 families returning to their areas in Manbij (20.2).