Main events of the week
- The Syrian arena: the Syrian army’s ground offensive against the rebel organizations in the Idlib area is still bogged down. This week, the rebel organizations, led by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, managed to take over Al-Hamamiyat and Tal Hamamiyat, the hill next to it (about 30 km northwest of Hama). However, the Syrian army regained control of them less than 24 hours after they had fallen into the hands of the rebels. Both sides sustained heavy losses. At the same time, local clashes, airstrikes and exchanges of fire continue. This included an additional attack against the Russian base in Hmeymim by several rebel UAVs. According to a Russian report, the aircraft were intercepted by Syrian army anti-aircraft fire.
- The Iraqi arena: The Iraqi security forces’ extensive security operation in northern and western Iraq continues. There have been reports on the arrest of ISIS operatives, destruction of tunnels and logistics facilities, and seizure of car bombs. At the same time, ISIS continues its routine terrorist and guerrilla activity in its various provinces. One noteworthy attack this week was a suicide bombing attack at a Shiite religious-social center in Baghdad (nearly 70 killed and wounded). In the ITIC’s assessment, the attack in Baghdad along with two other attacks in the city over the past month indicate improved operational capability. This is reflected in ISIS’s effort to hit the soft underbelly of the Iraqi regime, at a time when the Iraqi security forces are engaged in an extensive security operation against ISIS.
- In ISIS’s various provinces in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, routine activity continued: In Afghanistan, ISIS carried out noteworthy attacks this week in the Nangarhar Province (in the east of the country). The attacks were carried out against an American target and against targets affiliated with the Afghan government and the Taliban (including a noteworthy suicide bombing attack during a conference of tribes and militias loyal to the Afghan government). Attacks were also carried out in Congo (an attack on the Congolese army in the eastern part of the country) and in Somalia (two policemen shot and killed). In the Sinai Peninsula, there was an incident of sniper fire in the area, but in general, there has recently been a (possibly temporary) decrease in the volume of activity of the Sinai Province.
Main events in Syria
The Idlib region
On the evening of July 10, 2019, the rebel organizations, led by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, carried out a large-scale attack against the Syrian army positions in Hamamiyat and Tal Hamamiyat, the hill next to it (about 30 km northwest of Hama). A previous attack carried out by the rebel organizations against the village and the hill (July 5-6, 2019) failed and the attacking force retreated. In their recent attack, the rebels succeeded in taking over Hamamiyat and Tal Hamamiyat, and the Syrian army withdrew. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported (July 12, 2019) that the Syrian army and the militias supporting it (including Hezbollah) sustained 29 fatalities. On the following day (July 11, 2019), less than 24 hours after the takeover of the village and the hill, the Syrian army managed to retake them.
The Hamamiyat area (marked in blue) retaken by the Syrian army and the forces supporting it (including Hezbollah). The area held by the rebel organizations is marked in green. The area held by the Syrian army is marked in red (Khotwa, July 12, 2019).
- Following the fall of the village and the hill in the hands of the rebels, Russian fighter jets and Syrian army helicopters carried out over 30 airstrikes against rebel targets in the area (Khotwa, July 11, 2019). In addition, in preparation for the counterattack, the Syrian army fired artillery on the Hamamiyat area and the adjacent Tal Hamamiyat (Muraselon, July 12-13, 2019).
- On July 11, 2019, the Syrian army attacked Hamamiyat and Tal Hamamiyat, regaining control of them. According to “military sources,” over 70 operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, including Chechens and Turkestanis (Uyghurs from China), were killed in the attack, and over 100 operatives were wounded (Muraselon, July 12-13, 2019; Enab Baladi, July 12, 2019).
Hmeymim airbase attacked with UAVs
- The rebel organizations, mainly the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, continued to attack the Russian Hmeymim airbase with UAVs. On July 12, 2019, Maj. Gen. Alexey Bakin, the head of the Russian Coordination Center in Syria, reported that on the night of July 12, 2019, three rebel UAVs which took off from the Idlib area attempted to attack the Russian airbase in Hmeymim. They were shot down by Russian anti-aircraft fire at a safe distance from the base (Sputnik, July 12, 2019).
Raid on Syrian army positions on Turkmen Mountain
- This week as well, clashes continued between operatives of the “Awaken the Believers” operations room (affiliated with Al-Qaeda) and the Syrian army on the Turkmen Mountain (about 20 km north of Latakia). Photos which were published show operatives of the operations room attacking Syrian army positions (Twitter, July 12, 2019).
Right: Turkmen Mountain, north of Latakia (marked in red) (Wikimapia). Left: One the operatives of the operations room fires at Syrian army positions (Twitter, July 12, 2019)
Special Forces course completed by Army of Glory
- The Army of Glory recently completed a Special Forces course in the Idlib area in the midst of fighting with the Syrian army. The course was attended by several dozens of operatives who were trained in the use of light weapons and the operation of tanks. The operatives also trained in carrying out raids, urban area warfare, and storming the enemy. The course was named after the shahid Abdul Baset al-Sarout, of the Army of Glory, formerly a goalkeeper in Syria’s youth team.
Right: Trainees of the Army of Glory’s Special Forces course. Left: Army of Glory operatives training on motorcycles and storming a building (Ibaa, July 15, 2019)
Right: Operative codenamed Bashar al-Turki (i.e., the Turk) notes in an interview that now, after they finished their training, they are “ready to fight against the Russian and Syrian regime.” Left: An instructor in the Army of Glory’s Special Forces course being interviewed on the training sessions (Ibaa, July 15, 2019)
Interim summary of the losses in the fighting
- The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that since April 30, 2019 (shortly before the Syrian army offensive) until July 14, 2019, a total of 2,515 people had been killed. A total of 958 of the dead belonged to the rebel forces; 892 to the Syrian army and the forces supporting it; 665 were civilians (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, July 17, 2019).
Attacks deep in the area controlled by the Kurds
- On July 13, 2019: An IED was activated against an SDF vehicle about 80 km northeast of Al-Al-Hasakah. Four passengers were either killed or wounded (Telegram, July 13, 2019).
- On July 14, 2019: An IED was activated against an SDF vehicle in Al-Ziyanat, about 60 km south of Al-Al-Hasakah. Five passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, July 14, 2019).
SDF headquarters blown up in the Al-Mayadeen area
- On July 12, 2019, an ISIS operative detonated a car bomb at an SDF headquarters in Al-Tiyanah (about 8 km south of Al-Mayadeen). ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the ISIS version, dozens of SDF soldiers were killed and wounded in the attack, and the headquarters building sustained damage (Telegram, July 12, 2019).
Exchanges of fire during an attempt to detain an ISIS operative
- On July 16, 2019, SDF fighters with International Coalition support tried to detain an ISIS operative in the Al-Basira area, 4 km north of Al-Mayadeen. The operative barricaded himself in a building and exchanged fire with the SDF forces. As the SDF forces could not break into the building, it was attacked by Coalition planes and the operative was killed (July 16, 2019).
Additional attacks in the area of Al-Mayadeen and Deir ez-Zor
- Following are additional terrorist attacks carried out by ISIS in the Al-Mayadeen area (according to statements of the Al-Sham Province – Al-Khayr region):
- July 11, 2019: An IED was activated against an SDF vehicle 4 km northeast of Al-Mayadeen. Five passengers were killed and seven were wounded (Telegram, July 11, 2019).
- July 12, 2019: An SDF truck was shot at 14 km north of Al-Mayadeen. Two fighters were killed and two others were wounded (Telegram, July 12, 2019).
- July 12, 2019: An IED was activated against an SDF vehicle 4 km northeast of Al-Mayadeen. An SDF fighter was killed and three others were wounded (Telegram, July 12, 2019).
- July 12, 2019: An IED was activated against an SDF vehicle 9 km north of Al-Mayadeen. The passengers were wounded (Telegram, July 12, 2019).
- July 13, 2019: An operative of the SDF Military Intelligence was shot at and wounded about 14 km southeast of Al-Mayadeen (Telegram, July 13, 2019).
- July 13, 2019: A motorcycle bomb was detonated against SDF forces in the village of Al-Sour, about 50 km northeast of Deir ez-Zor. Two SDF fighters were killed and others were wounded (Telegram, July 14, 2019).
- July 15, 2019: An IED was activated against an SDF truck on the main road in the village of Diban, 5 km east of Al-Mayadeen. Two fighters were killed and four others were wounded (Telegram, July 15, 2019).
Main developments in Iraq
Shooting and suicide bombing attack against Shiite in the city of Baghdad and its environs
On the evening of July 15, 2019, ISIS operatives carried out two shooting and suicide bombing attacks targeting Shiite civilians in Baghdad and its environs. According to ISIS’s announcement, nearly 90 people were killed and wounded (Telegram, July 16, 2019). The attack was carried out as a continuation of previous attacks in the past month in Baghdad, after a long period during which ISIS was not active there. These attacks may indicate an improvement in ISIS’s operational capabilities in the Baghdad area. They may represent an ISIS effort to hit the soft underbelly of the Iraqi regime at a time when it is engaged in a large-scale operation against ISIS in northern and western Iraq (see below).
- In the first suicide bombing attack, two ISIS operatives infiltrated into a Hussainiya (a Shiite social and religious center) in the Al-Maalef area, in southwestern Baghdad. They fired machine guns and threw hand grenades. After running out of ammunition, they blew up themselves with their explosive vests. As a result, over 70 people were killed and wounded. Another attack took place in the Sabaa al-Bour area, 17 km northwest of Baghdad. ISIS operatives detonated a motorcycle bomb, killing 17 Shiites (Telegram, July 16, 2019).
Right: The two suicide bombers who operated in Baghdad (Telegram, July 16, 2019). Left: The scene of the attack in Baghdad (newsaliraq.com, July 15, 2019)
ISIS additional activities throughout Iraq
This week, ISIS activity continued in northern and western Iraq. The most common forms of attacks were the activation of IEDs against vehicles moving on the roads, mortar shell fire, and sniper fire.
- Following are the main activities carried out by ISIS (based on ISIS’s claims of responsibility):
- Nineveh Province: Several mortar shells were fired at Tribal Mobilization positions about 90 km southwest of Mosul (Telegram, July 10, 2019).
- Nineveh Province: An IED was activated against an Iraqi police vehicle about 90 km southwest of Mosul. Two policemen were killed and several others were wounded (Telegram, July 10, 2019).
- Diyala Province: Sniper fire about 90 km east of Baqubah (about 8 km from the border between Iraq and Iran) (Telegram, July 10, 2019).
- Diyala Province: Snipers shot at an Iraqi army position about 40 km east of Baqubah, killing an Iraqi soldier (Telegram, July 11, 2019).
- Diyala Province: Two IEDs were activated against a patrol of intelligence and Popular Mobilization operatives about 65 km northeast of Baqubah. Two intelligence operatives were killed and three others were wounded. Among the casualties was Brigadier General Ali al-Sudani, the director of the Counterterrorism Service, who was critically wounded (Telegram, July 12, 2019). Iraqi military sources confirmed the report (Sawt al-Iraq, July 12, 2019).
- Diyala Province: Four mortar shells were fired at an Iraqi army company about 40 km east of Baqubah. Reportedly, there were direct hits (Telegram, July 15, 2019).
- Diyala Province: Ten mortar shells were fired at Tribal Mobilization positions about 80 km northeast of Baqubah. There were reportedly direct hits. The car of one of the tribal chiefs (of the Tribal Mobilization) was hit (Telegram, July 15, 2019).
- Diyala Province: Rockets were fired at a Shiite village 2.5 km north of Baqubah. Several houses sustained damage (Telegram, July 15, 2019).
Counterterrorist activities by the Iraqi security forces
The security operation against ISIS continues
- This week, the Iraqi security forces continued their extensive security operation, which began on July 7, 2019, and is intended to mop up the western and northern governorates from the presence of ISIS. Brig. Gen. (Amid) Yahya Rasoul, spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, reported that up to now, several ISIS operatives had been killed and others arrested. In addition, a number of ISIS tunnels and logistics facilities had been destroyed, car bombs had been found and “important documents” had been seized (Iraqi News Agency, July 14, 2019).
Additional operations by the Iraqi security forces
- Following are the main counterterrorist activities carried out by the International Coalition and the Iraqi security forces in the various provinces:
- Nineveh Province: International Coalition planes carried out an airstrike based on accurate intelligence about 145 km southwest of Mosul. Four ISIS operatives were killed (Al-Sumaria, July 13, 2019).
- Kirkuk Province: A force from the Iraqi Police Intelligence Directorate located a hiding place and a tunnel used by ISIS operatives in the rural area outside Kirkuk. Ten rockets were found in the hiding place, along with two cell phones used for detonating IEDs, various types of ammunition and military equipment. The hiding place was destroyed and the tunnel was sealed off (Iraqi News Agency, July 14, 2019).
Weapons and equipment found in a hiding place and a tunnel used by ISIS operatives
(Iraqi News Agency, July 14, 2019)
- Kirkuk Province: A Popular Mobilization force located a workshop in south Kirkuk used by ISIS for making IEDs (al-hashed.net, July 14, 2019).