One of the Syrian army soldiers who was targeted by the snipers of the Guardians of Religion Organization.
Main events of the week
- In the Idlib area, clashes continued, mainly between the Syrian army and the jihadi organizations. The Syrian media reported that the Syrian army had sent reinforcements to the Idlib area as a preliminary step towards an offensive against the rebels. The Russian President’s envoy to Syria declared that Russia would be ready to take part in fighting against the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, stressing that the fighting against it and against ISIS would continue until these organizations are eliminated.
- In eastern Syria, the fighting continued between the SDF and ISIS. ISIS carried out attacks against the SDF southeast of Albukamal and against the headquarters of the Popular Mobilization forces (the Iraqi Shiite militias) in east Albukamal. The SDF forces continue to send reinforcements to the area as part of their preparations for a large-scale offensive to eliminate the presence of ISIS in the region. According to Syrian media reports, International Coalition planes carried out dozens of airstrikes against ISIS targets this week, killing dozens of operatives. A senior ISIS operative codenamed Abu al-Umarayn was killed an airstrike in the desert area west of the Euphrates Valley. He had been involved in the execution of several prisoners, including Peter Kassig (a US humanitarian activist who was executed in 2014).
- In Iraq, the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) captured Jamal al-Mashhadani, a senior ISIS operative who had held a number of senior positions in Iraq and Syria, and served, inter alia, as governor of the North Baghdad Province and the Kirkuk Province. He had reportedly taken part in many terrorist attacks and had fired shells and rockets containing chemical substances at a city some 10 km south of Kirkuk. The capture of Al-Mashhadani, the most senior operative who fell into the hands of the Iraqi government, may provide important and intimate window into ISIS’s conduct in Iraq and Syria, internal relations within the organization and a host of other topics pertaining to ISIS.
- While ISIS remains under heavy pressure in its “core countries” (Syria and Iraq), intensive activity continues in its provinces around the world. An examination of the activity of ISIS’s various provinces in the past month shows that the leading provinces in terms of volume of activity were Khorasan (Afghanistan/Pakistan) and the West Africa Province in Nigeria (whose activity also “overflows” into neighboring countries). One prominent attack was carried out against two vehicles transporting Coptic Christians in Egypt (while sporadic attacks continued in the Sinai Province in northern Sinai, despite the heavy pressure exerted on it by the Egyptian security forces). The rest of the provinces continued their routine terror and guerrilla activity at lower levels of intensity.
Russian involvement in Syria
The Russian President’s envoy to Syria: Russia is willing to take part in fighting against the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham
- Speaking at a press conference, Russian President Putin’s Special Envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev announced that Russia was ready to take part in fighting against the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (November 28, 2018). According to him, there are more than 15,000 operatives (“militants”) who belong to the organization in the Idlib region. He expressed the hope that the armed forces of the Syrian opposition (i.e., the non-jihadi rebel organizations) would manage to cope with this problematic area and impose order there. “If necessary,” Lavrentiev said, “we are prepared to provide all the necessary assistance, including assistance to the Syrian government forces.” He stressed that the fighting against ISIS and the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham would continue “until they are eliminated” (TASS News Agency, November 28, 2018).
Announcement of the conclusion of the round of talks in Astana: Russia, Turkey and Iran will work to implement the agreements on Idlib
- On November 29, 2018, the 11th round of talks on Syria in Astana ended. In their concluding statement, Russia, Turkey and Iran (the three leading countries) expressed their concern over the continuing ceasefire violations in the Idlib region. The concluding statement noted that these three countries would increase their efforts to supervise the ceasefire, including intensifying the activity of the Iranian-Russian-Turkish Joint Coordination Center. The three also reiterated their determination to continue cooperation in order to “ultimately eliminate” ISIS and the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (“the Al-Nusra Front”). They also called upon all forces of the armed opposition (i.e., the other rebel organizations) to immediately disengage from these organizations (the text of the joint statement as published by the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, November 29, 2018).
The Idlib area
The Syrian army reinforces its troops in the Idlib area in advance of a possible attack
According to a report In the Syrian media (a website affiliated with the Syrian opposition), the Syrian army has reinforced its troops in the Idlib area in advance of a possible attack. This week, the Syrian army and the forces supporting it reportedly sent hundreds of reinforcements and dozens of military vehicles to the Idlib area and to the demilitarized zone, as a preliminary step in advance of a possible attack against the rebels (Al-Durar Al-Shamiya, December 2, 2018). Photos of these reinforcements were uploaded to YouTube apparently in order to convey a public deterrent message to the rebel organizations in the Idlib area. In addition, it was reported that Shiite militias handled by Iran had been transferred from Deir ez-Zor and deployed in the southern Idlib Province (Khotwa, December 2, 2018).
Incidents in the Idlib area
- Following are prominent incidents that took place this past week in the Idlib area, mainly between the Syrian army and the jihadi organizations:
- The Syrian army fired artillery at villages northwest of Hama. According to the Syrian regime, the targets were rebel traffic arteries and infiltration routes. Several rebel organization operatives were killed and wounded (SANA, December 1, 2018).
- The Syrian army fired artillery at towns and villages in the rural area south of Idlib. One woman was wounded and several houses were damaged (Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, November 28, 2018).
- The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham attacked Syrian army positions in the Latakia Province. Four Syrian soldiers were killed. The attackers were killed by the Syrian army (TASS, November 29, 2018).
- The operations room controlled by the Guardians of Religion Organization (affiliated with Al-Qaeda) reported that it had fired mortar shells and heavy machine guns in the northern part of the Al-Ghab Plain (about 11 km south of Jisr Al-Shughur) (Whaharid_almuminin@ Telegram channel, December 1, 2018).
- Snipers of the Guardians of Religion Organization (affiliated with Al-Qaeda) fired at soldiers of the Syrian army and the forces supporting it in the rural areas of Aleppo, Latakia and Hama (operations room controlled by the Guardians or Religion Organization, November 30, 2018).
Right: One of the Syrian army soldiers who was targeted by the snipers of the Guardians of Religion Organization. Left: Position made of tires filled with rocks, manned by a Syrian army soldier, targeted by a sniper of the Guardians of Religion Organization (operations room controlled by the Guardians of Religion Organization, November 30, 2018)
- Media outlets affiliated with the Syrian regime reported that the Syrian army had fired artillery at the rural area north of Hama, in retaliation for a rebel attack.
Fighting against the ISIS enclave along the Euphrates River focused this week on the southern part of the enclave, southeast of Albukamal. It seems that this week, too, ISIS seized the initiative. Coalition planes increased their airstrikes, killing dozens of ISIS operatives. The Coalition spokesman said that one of those killed was a senior ISIS operative involved in the execution of prisoners, including the American humanitarian activist Peter Kassig (who was executed by ISIS in 2014). At the same time, the SDF continued to send reinforcements to the area.
ISIS attacks against the SDF forces
- On November 30, 2018, an ISIS motorized force, including 15 vehicles, attacked SDF forces in the Al-Baghouz area (southeast of Albukamal). Clashes occurred between both sides. As a result, twelve ISIS operatives were killed (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 30, 2018). The SDF forces reported that on December 1, 2018, ISIS operatives had attacked SDF positions in the Albukamal area. According to the statement, the ISIS operatives used car bombs (SDF Media Center, December 1, 2018).
- The SDF forces announced that they had carried out a humanitarian campaign in the Albukamal area (the focus of the fighting this week). As part of this campaign, they opened a humanitarian crossing used by dozens of people, mostly women and children. Those were families previously controlled by ISIS, who had used them as human shields. The SDF fighters gave them food and medications and transferred them to safe zones (SDF Media Center, December 1, 2018).
Right: ISIS antitank missile hitting a Syrian army tank in the village of Al-Asha’er, north of Albukamal (Shabakat Shumukh, December 3, 2018). Left: SDF fighter assisting a boy to dismount from a vehicle with civilians rescued from ISIS in the Albukamal area (SDF Media Center, December 1, 2018)
ISIS attack against the Iraqi Shiite militias
- On November 29, 2018, an ISIS force attacked the headquarters of the Popular Mobilization forces (Iraqi Shiite militias) in east Albukamal (near the Euphrates River). For over two hours, clashes took place between ISIS operatives who infiltrated from the east bank of the Euphrates, and members of the Shiite militias who manned the headquarters. During the clashes, the ISIS operatives fired an antitank missile, following which the headquarters caught fire. At the end of the attack, the ISIS force retreated, and reinforcements of the Nujaba Movement (an Iraqi Shiite militia handled by Iran) were sent to the site (Al-Sharqiya 24, November 30, 2018).
International Coalition airstrikes
The desert area west of the Euphrates
- Colonel Sean Ryan, Spokesman for the International Coalition forces, announced that a Coalition aircraft had carried out an airstrike that resulted in the death of a senior ISIS operative codenamed Abu al-Umarayn. Several other operatives of the organization were also killed in the airstrike. According to the announcement, the airstrike was carried out in the “Syrian desert” west of the Euphrates Valley. Abu al-Umarayn was directly involved in the execution of a number of prisoners held by ISIS, including Peter Kassig in 2014. Kassig was a US citizen who worked for a humanitarian organization (CNN, December 2, 2018; Army Times, December 3, 2018).
ISIS enclaves in the Euphrates Valley
- Following are reports of Coalition airstrikes in the Euphrates Valley:
- The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced that on the night of November 27-28, Coalition aircraft carried out an airstrike against ISIS houses and headquarters in the village of Al-Kashmah (about 11 km south of Hajin). At least five prisoners held by ISIS were killed in the attack, along with three ISIS operatives who secured the area (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 29, 2018). ISIS, on its part, announced that Coalition aircraft had carried out an airstrike against a prison (controlled by ISIS) in the village of Al-Kashmah. As a result, SDF fighters who were incarcerated in the prison were killed and wounded (Shumukh, November 28, 2018).
- On November 30, 2018, a Coalition airstrike was carried out against ISIS targets in the city of Hajin, ISIS’s stronghold. The targets attacked included ISIS arms and ammunition depots. Seven ISIS operatives were killed in the attack (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 30, 2018). ISIS reported that its operatives had used a heavy machine gun mounted on a motorcycle to shoot down an SDF drone used for surveillance missions around the city of Hajin (December 3, 2018) (Amaq, December 4, 2018).
Right: ISIS operative firing a machine gun mounted on a motorcycle at an SDF drone circling above the city of Hajin (Amaq, December 4, 2018). Left: ISIS operative firing an anti-aircraft gun mounted on an ATV at a Coalition drone circling above the region (ISIS’s Al-Sham – Al-Baraka Province, December 1, 2018)
- According to the Media Center of the SDF forces, on December 1, 2018, a total of 34 airstrikes were carried out by Coalition aircraft against ISIS targets. According to the announcement, 33 ISIS operatives were killed. The bodies of four of them are in the hands of the SDF forces. In addition, two positions where ISIS operatives had barricaded themselves were destroyed (SDF Media Center, December 1, 2018).
SDF reinforcements along the contact lines with ISIS
- According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, over 1,000 fighters were sent this week to reinforce the SDF troops along the contact lines with ISIS. In addition, more than 1,700 SDF fighters arrived to reinforce the Al-Tanak oilfield (about 22 km north of Hajin), where the SDF base is located. According to these reports, a total of over 2,700 fighters reinforced the area north of Albukamal (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 29, 2018). According to a Syrian opposition source, the SDF and the local forces supporting it have over 15,000 fighters in the area north of Albukamal (Syria TV, December 1, 2018).
SDF reinforcements on their way to the contact lines with ISIS (Syria TV, December 1, 2018)
- According to another report, on the night of December 4, 2018, a convoy was spotted consisting of 75 trucks transporting military equipment for the SDF. The trucks arrived from the autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq. The arrival of the convoy is reportedly part of the preparations carried out in advance of a large-scale offensive, designed to put an end to the ISIS presence on the east bank of the Euphrates River by taking over the ISIS enclave (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, December 4, 2018).
ISIS and SDF casualties
- According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, since the beginning of the offensive against the ISIS enclave north of Albukamal, 807 ISIS operatives and 469 SDF fighters have been killed (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, December 4, 2018).
Main developments in Iraq
The activity of the Iraqi security forces
- On November 29, 2018, the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) announced that it had detained Jamal Khalil Taha al-Mashhadani in Baghdad. He was a high-ranking ISIS operative who had held several senior positions in Syria and Iraq and served, inter alia, as the governor of North Baghdad and governor of Kirkuk. He took part in many terrorist activities, as well as in firing shells and rockets containing chemical substances at the city of Taza (Khurmatu), about 10 km south of Kirkuk. He also participated in the battles in Iraq and Syria (Al-Sumaria News, November 30, 2018).
Jamal Khalil Taha al-Mashhadani, codenamed Abu Hamza al-Kurdi, ISIS senior operative apprehended in Baghdad by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (NAS YouTube channel, November 29, 2018)
In the ITIC’s assessment, this is the most significant achievement of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces, as part of the activity to locate ISIS operatives and commanders who have occupied senior positions in the Islamic State. The capture of Al-Mashhadani opens a window to more intimate knowledge of ISIS’s military and financial conduct in Iraq and Syria.
An examination of ISIS’s activity in the past month in Iraq shows that ISIS’s terrorist and guerrilla activity continued to focus on the area between Baghdad and Kirkuk, an area with a large Sunni-Muslim population. The provinces where prominent activity took place were Diyala, Salah al-Din, and Kirkuk. Terrorist activity and guerrilla warfare also took place on a smaller scale in the Al-Anbar Province and in other provinces.
- Following are prominent ISIS’s operations carried out in the past week (according to ISIS reports):
- Al-Anbar Province: On November 30, 2018, ISIS reported that its operatives had killed an Iraqi army officer in the Al-Anbar Province. The officer served also as the sheikh of one of the tribes cooperating with the Iraqi government as part of the (Tribal) Mobilization. The ISIS operatives killed the officer in his home with an M-16 assault rifle equipped with a silencer. Seven other people who were there were killed along with him (Iraq – Al-Fallujah Province, November 30 – December 1, 2018).Kirkuk Province: A roadside charge was activated against vehicles of the “Mobilization” (either the Tribal or Popular Mobilization, the ISIS report does not specify which) about 65 km south of Kirkuk. The operatives in the vehicles were either killed or wounded and the vehicles were damaged (Iraq – Kirkuk Province, November 30, 2018).
- Salah al-Din Province: On November 30, 2018, ISIS operatives attacked with light and medium weapons a position of the “Mobilization” (either the Tribal or Popular Mobilization, the ISIS report does not specify which) about 63 km north of Baghdad, killing two of the Popular/Tribal Mobilization members and wounding a third (Iraq – North Baghdad Province, December 1, 2018).
- Diyala Province: An airstrike was carried out against an ISIS underground hideout in the Hamrin Mountains, about 75 km northeast of Baqubah, killing three ISIS operatives (Iraqi News Agency, December 1, 2018)
- Salah Al-Din Province: ISIS operatives activated an IED against a Popular Mobilization vehicle southwest of Baiji. ISIS reported that all the passengers in the vehicle were either killed or wounded (Iraq – Salah Al-Din Province, December 2, 2018).
- Salah Al-Din Province: ISIS operatives activated an IED against a Tribal Mobilization vehicle in the Tikrit area. ISIS reported that all the passengers were either killed or wounded (Iraq – Salah Al-Din Province, December 2, 2018).
- Nineveh Province: ISIS announced that on December 1, 2018, its operatives had detonated an IED against an Iraqi army vehicle in the city of Mosul. One soldier was reportedly killed and another wounded (Iraq – Nineveh Province, December 2, 2018).
- The city of Mosul: An Iraqi police force apprehended an ISIS security apparatus operative in northwest Mosul. Following his admission, four other ISIS operatives were detained. They had operated as part of ISIS’s security apparatus and morality police when the organization controlled Mosul (Al-Sumaria News, December 2, 2018).