Syria Military Brief: North-East Syria – 31 May 2022
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and pro-Turkish forces have been in a state of high alert in recent weeks amid rising threats of a fresh Turkish military incursion into northeast Syria and repeated assertions by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that a large-scale operation is imminent. The areas of Manbij, Kobani, and Tal Rifaat are all considered likely targets in a future Turkish-led incursion, with their capture effectively creating a land bridge linking the disconnected regions captured by Turkey in 2017 and 2019 during Operations Euphrates Shield and Peace Spring. The SDF has responded by mobilizing large contingents of troops, vehicles, and arms to strategic points around the towns of Ain Issa, Tal Tamr, and Abu Rasin. Turkish airstrikes in the area have also continued to pound SDF positions on a weekly basis, striking targets around nine towns in the vicinity of Tal Tamr since the beginning of May. Despite the escalating rhetoric and orders for Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) forces to assume a battle footing, senior SNA commanders have been instructed to remain on hold for the moment and an offensive seems unlikely within a window of the next few weeks. However, troops remain ready to deploy if there is a signal from Ankara.
Attached Map: Military Situation in North-East Syria – 31st May 2022
- Troop movements: Amid escalating tensions and threat of incursion from Turkish forces and their allies, the SDF sent military reinforcements to a number of strategic points along the border with areas captured by Ankara during Operation Peace Spring. Five military vehicles equipped with a 23mm machine gun arrived in the city of Ain Issa, with large deployments of troops and vehicles also arriving in Tal Tamr and Abu Rasin (4.5, 5.5, 13.5, 19.5).
- Agriculture conflict: Protests erupted in the towns of Barshim and Al-Tawamiya after the Deir Ezzor Military Council decided to close the al-Khabour irrigation canal in the town of al-Sabha (15.5). The water will be redirected towards the town of al-Sour, privileging state-owned lands there to the detriment of wheat farmers elsewhere.
- Euphrates River offensive: Utilizing missiles and heavy machine guns, SDF forces targeted river crossings in an anti-smuggling operation in the city of al-Shuhail, east of Deir Ezzor (17.5).
- Prisoner releases: The SDF released 42 detainees from the eastern Deir Ezzor countryside on bail, following tribal mediations (20.5).
Turkish & SNA Activity
- Turkish airstrikes: Border skirmishes and shows of aggression between the SDF and Turkish forces continue on a nearly daily basis amid escalating rhetoric and threats of a new incursion into northeast Syria by Ankara. Turkish airstrikes originating from Peace Spring regions have regularly bombarded SDF positions over the past month, striking targets around the towns of al-Kawzliya, Tawila, al-Dardara, Um al-Kif, Abu Rasin, Tal Shanan, Tal Jam, Qabr al-Gharajneh and Dada Abdal, all in the vicinity of Tal Tamr (3.5, 5.5, 10.5, 14.5, 17.5, 19.5, 21.5, 22.5, 23.5, 25.5). Additionally, Turkish citizen Akram Estik, a senior leader in the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), was killed in a Turkish drone strike that targeted his car near the village of Kharab Ishk, west of Ain Issa (11.5).
- SNA coordination meeting: Leaders of six SNA factions met with commanders of the Turkish Army to discuss possible axis for an incursion into northern Syria and to evaluate numbers of available troops within their ranks (26.5). While plans for an operation have been postponed for the time being, SNA groups have been told to remain in a state of readiness.
- Anti-SDF attacks: ISIS attacks have continued to target the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) across northeast Syria, with the group suspected of being behind 13 armed strikes and five IED hits on units across Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Hasakah provinces (1.5-29.5). In total, at least 13 SDF soldiers were killed and six wounded in the attacks.
- Anti-regime attacks: The Syrian regime has also continued to suffer frequent attacks from ISIS units, with at least four armed assaults and two IED blasts recorded in the past month in Raqqa and Hasakah provinces. Nine regime troops died as a result of these attacks and six were reported injured.
Political & Humanitarian Developments
- Landmines: Numbers of soldiers and civilians continue to die each month from landmines planted across northeast Syria. At least four regime soldiers were killed by landmines around the villages of Maadan and Debsian in Raqqa province, while an SDF fighter died in a blast near Ain Issa, north of Raqqa. (4.5-24.5) Additionally, two teenage smugglers and a number of others were injured when a landmine exploded under a tank loaded with oil that was being smuggled in the town of Jadid Bakara, east of Deir Ezzor (13.5).
- Heating oil cuts: The General Administration for Fuel, affiliated to the Self Administration, reduced heating oil allowances for individuals from 440 to 300 liters for next winter (15.5).
- Wheat prices: The Self Administration set the purchase price of wheat at 2,200 SYP per kilo in the areas under its control, nearly 30 percent higher than the 1,7000 SYP per kilo offered by the regime (23.5).
- Protests: Two demonstrations took place in the Hasakah neighborhoods of al-Nashwa and Ghweran, in protest against the SDF’s recent ban against motorcycles on the city streets (13.5).
- Population census: The Self Administration has begun conducting a population census across several areas of Hasakah, which will eventually cover the entire province. The areas surveyed included Tal Tamr, Ad-Darbasiyah and Abu Rasin (7.5, 8.5, 24.5).
- Roj camp flooding: A number of tents were damaged by a rainstorm that swept through the Roj camp in the Malikiyah countryside, northeast of Hasakah (1.5).
- Al-Hol killings: Violence remains at extremely high levels inside the al-Hol camp, and at least nine additional camp residents were murdered in recent weeks by suspected ISIS members on the inside. A number of organizations operating in the camp also suspended their work following the kidnapping of a Norwegian Refugee Council employee by unknown persons (9.5).
- Al-Hol raids: The SDF launched a series of raids across all sections of the al-Hol camp, arresting at least 10 individuals, among them foreign women and children (1.5, 5.5, 9.5, 19.5).
- International ISIS returns: A number of foreign ISIS family members were repatriated in recent weeks from northeast Syria. Two Swedish women and three children from the Roj camp were handed over to a delegation from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while a Belgian delegation arrived the same day at the camp to repatriate a group of Belgian women and children (11.5). Later in the month, Self Administration officials transferred at least 13 Albanian nationals to an Albanian delegation in preparation for their return to their country through northern Iraq (28.5). Additionally, the SDF opened registration for Iraqi families wishing to leave the al-Hol camp to be transferred to the Jadah camp in Iraqi (13.5).