A sharp increase in Iranian-backed militia activity is destabilizing security conditions in north-east Syria, with regions along the Syrian-Iraqi border witnessing a surge in weapons deliveries and attacks against US-led International Coalition forces. Mortar attacks targeting a coalition base at the Conoco oil field in eastern Deir Ezzor were launched from suspected militia positions inside Syria; several UAV attacks striking coalition infrastructure around the al-Omar oil field and al-Tanf base, meanwhile, originated from Iraqi territory. Coalition forces responded by striking a weapons convoy coming from Iraq. Even so, dozens of trucks have been observed entering Syria from Iraq recently. The Assad regime is thought to be avoiding visibly and directly assisting these operations––an approach likely designed to avoid armed responses against regime targets.
Military Situation in North-East Syria
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Starting in mid-October, north-east Syria witnessed an unprecedented surge of incoming weapons shipments via official and unofficial crossings from Iraq, at the same time that a fresh influx of Iranian-backed militia members started entering the country.
Iranian-backed militias also increased attacks against coalition sites in October. Three mortar shells targeted coalition positions around the Conoco oil field base, resulting in no known casualties, while the next day two drones targeted the al-Tanf base. Another attack targeting the al-Omar oil field was carried out using two drones.
Deir Ezzor Tribal Conflict
While the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) effectively regained control of all territory in Deir Ezzor following September’s tribal uprisings, clashes have continued between the SDF and tribal forces loyal to the former Deir Ezzor Military Council leadership. Arab tribal fighters launched dozens of coordinated attacks on SDF positions, resulting in the deaths of at least seven SDF fighters, with dozens more injured. At least five civilians were also killed in recent clashes.
The SDF imposed curfews in several towns in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor and renewed a partial curfew later in the month. The group also launched several major arrest campaigns in recent weeks, rounding up and detaining a number of individuals in southern Deir Ezzor, western Raqqa and northern Raqqa.
ISIS attacks targeting the SDF have decreased in recent weeks across north-east Syria, with two armed attacks and one IED blast claiming the lives of at least two SDF soldiers in rural areas of western Deir Ezzor during the month of October. Regime-controlled areas of north-east Syria are starting to witness significant security repercussions following the withdrawal of the Wagner Group, with ISIS activity and attacks increasing considerably in the desert triangle between Shula, al-Tanf and Rusafa.
Turkish & Turkish-Backed Activity
Following a suicide attack targeting the Turkish Interior Ministry in Ankara in early October, Turkish forces and the Syrian National Army (SNA) ramped up a campaign of drone strikes and shelling against SDF sites across north-east Syria. Most of these attacks were concentrated in the northern border region of Hasakeh province. Turkish forces targeted SDF military sites, as well as several power stations and oil wells, in parts of northeastern Hasakeh.
Political & Humanitarian Developments
Iraq began building a cement wall along the Syrian-Iraqi border near al-Yaroubiyah in northeastern Hasakeh.
A demonstration in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip took place in the city of al-Tabqa after Friday prayers on 21st October.
Humanitarian conditions remain dire in al-Hol camp, where two children recently died as a result of health complications and a woman was murdered by ISIS sympathizers inside the camp. Additionally, the SDF carried out two raid campaigns covering several sections of the camp, resulting in the arrest of three minors.
Repatriation efforts continued to progress slowly in October. The Self Administration worked with Iraqi authorities to prepare a new list of 80 Iraqi families due for transfer from al-Hol to a camp in Iraq. Russia also repatriated 34 children from ISIS families detained in al-Roj camp, while Kyrgyz officials received 83 people, including 62 children and 21 women, from al-Hol.
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