Syrian army soldiers searching for ISIS operatives in the village of Al-Jalaa, north of Albukamal. Those operatives came from the desert and tried to take control of the village, but failed (SANA's YouTube channel, January 28, 2018).
Truck stopped by the Egyptian army in one of the crossings into central Sinai. It contained large amounts of spare parts for motorcycles used by ISIS operatives (official Facebook page of the Spokesman of the Egyptian Armed Forces, January 27, 2018)
Documenting the Palestinian company belonging to the Uyghur battalion (The Long War Journal, January 25, 2018)
The five ISIS operatives who carried out the suicide bombing attack against an Afghan army base near the military academy (ISIS's Khorasan Province, as posted in the Terror Monitor Twitter account, January 30, 2018)
Khaled Bin Omar Batarfi. The inscription to his left reads: "The Al-Aqsa Mosque, between the violations of the Jews and the heroism of the fedayeen (fighters who are willing to sacrifice themselves)" (Twitter, January 24, 2018)
- In Syria, the fighting continued in the various arenas, against the backdrop of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, Russia, and the military campaign being waged by Turkey in Afrin (which has so far been carried out without intervention from Russia or the United States).
- In the area of the Abu Ad-Duhur military airbase, clashes continued between the Syrian forces and operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and ISIS (separately). The Syrian forces are striving to mop up the area east of the Hama-Aleppo highway in preparation for taking over the city of Idlib and its environs, the core areas of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and other rebel organizations.
- In eastern Syria, ISIS continues to wage guerrilla warfare against the Kurdish-dominated SDF forces east of the Euphrates River, north of Albukamal. US spokespersons have made it clear that the United States will continue to support the SDF as long as the forces are fighting against ISIS, but will (by implication) refrain from supporting the Kurdish forces in Afrin.
- In Afghanistan, intensive terror and guerrilla activity continues on the part of ISIS’s Khorasan Province and the Taliban. This week, a squad of five suicide bombers carried out an attack on the military academy in the western part of the capital, Kabul (11 soldiers were killed, and 16 others were wounded). Two days earlier, a Taliban suicide bomber detonated a booby-trapped ambulance near the old Interior Ministry building in Kabul (at least 100 dead and 235 wounded).
Involvement of Russia and the United States
The Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi
- On January 30, 2018, the Syrian National Dialogue Congress was held in the city of Sochi, Russia, under the auspices of Russia, Iran and Turkey. The Congress was attended by more than 1,500 representatives of the Syrian regime and the opposition. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the opening of the Congress was postponed for one day due to a delay in the arrival of some of the participants and observers (Russian Foreign Ministry’s Twitter account, RIA, January 30, 2018; RT, January 29, 2018). The United States and other Western countries did not attend the Congress.
The Syrian National Dialogue Congress in the city of Sochi
(Russian Foreign Ministry’s Twitter account, January 30, 2018)
The United States
- Turkish military activity continues in northern Syria against the Kurdish forces (YPG) in the area of Afrin, in northern Syria (Operation Olive Branch). In a telephone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, US President Donald Trump expressed concern over the increase in violence in the area of Afrin. He warned Erdoğan against harming the US forces and damaging relations between the two countries. He urged him to limit the military activity and refrain from harming civilians. Trump reiterated that both countries should focus on the common goal of defeating ISIS (White House website, January 24, 2018).
- Following are additional statements made by senior US officials regarding the Turkish operation and the campaign against ISIS:
- Dana W. White, Chief Spokesperson for the US Secretary of Defense, described Turkey’s activity in northern Syria as a “distraction.” According to her, Turkey and the United States should focus on their common goal of defeating ISIS (US Department of Defense website, January 25, 2018).
- In response to a question, US Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert said that the US had supplied weapons to SDF forces in order to take over Al-Raqqah from ISIS and that the forces had succeeded in this mission. She stressed that the weapons provided by the United States were intended only for this mission. She added that the United States would not agree to the use of any weapons and equipment supplied by the Coalition countries for any other purpose apart from defeating ISIS. According to her, if the US identifies a group or individuals that violate this agreement, it would stop supporting them (US Department of Defense website, January 25, 2018).
- Tom Bossert, the US President’s Homeland Security Adviser, said that the United States would prefer that Turkish troops remove themselves from a conflict in the Syrian border town of Afrin and focus on “long-term strategic goals” like ending the war in Syria. He warned that if Turkish forces clash with US proxy organizations in Syria, which play an important role in defeating ISIS (i.e., the SDF), and especially if American advisers are in danger in the conflict zone, there would be grave consequences. He noted that the United States recognized Turkey’s security concerns over the presence of Kurdish forces on its border, but stressed that he hoped that Turkey would focus on the real problem in the region, which is stabilizing the situation throughout Syria (AP, ABC News, January 25, 2018).
- A senior US government official reiterated the US position that it would continue to cooperate with the SDF forces to ensure that the Islamic State would disappear completely from Syria. He also reiterated the commitment of the United States to Turkey to return the heavy weapons that the United States had supplied to the YPG forces (the Kurdish forces) (Hürriyet Daily News, January 24, 2018).
- According to a diplomatic source, on the margins of the foreign ministers summit in Paris, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson proposed to his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, to establish a 30-kilometer security zone in the area of Afrin, which would constitute a solution to Turkey’s security concerns (Anatolia News Agency, January 25, 2018). In response, the Turkish foreign minister said that the US must first restore trust between the two countries before they can begin discussing the establishment of a safe zone along the Turkish border with Syria (Reuters, January 25, 2018).
Main developments in Syria
The campaign to take over Idlib
Even after the takeover of the military airbase of Abu Ad-Duhur, clashes continued in the airbase area. The Syrian army, with Russian and Syrian air support, attacked rebel targets in the area of the airbase and the village of Abu Ad-Duhur. The Syrian forces took control of several sites in the airbase area, but the area has still not been completely mopped up from rebel forces.
- During the clashes, the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham reportedly sustained dozens of fatalities, including four local senior commanders (Mourasiloun, January 28, 2018). According to one version, the airstrike was carried out by Russian fighter planes. Conversely, Syrian sources quoting the rebel organizations said that the airstrike had been carried out by Syrian fighter planes, killing five operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham. The fatalities included Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, the deputy of the regional commander; Abu Ubeida al-Aqsa, and Abu Abdallah Tarmaneen (Butulat Al-Jaysh Al-Suri, January 28, 2018). The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham on its part announced that the Syrian army had sustained over ten fatalities in an attack carried out by operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham on an overlooking hill west of the village of Abu Ad-Duhur (Ibaa, January 29, 2018).
- At the same time, clashes continued between Syrian forces and ISIS operatives in the area of Sinjar (about 18 km southwest of the Abu Ad-Duhur airbase). Seven Syrian army soldiers were reportedly killed, some of them from an anti-tank missile launched by ISIS operatives. The ISIS operatives also sustained some fatalities in these clashes (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, January 27, 2018).
Clashes continue north of Albukamal
- Clashes between ISIS operatives and SDF forces supported by Coalition airstrikes continued this week in the area north of Albukamal. Several ISIS commanders, some of them of foreign nationalities, were killed in a Coalition airstrike in the area of Hajeen (about 25 km north of Albukamal). The fatalities included Abu al-Abbas al-Samarrai, the emir of the Shura council and representative of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Furat Post Telegram account, January 23, 2018). There were also reports on the death of Issam al-Ray, who had served as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s deputy (Deir ez-Zor 24 Facebook page, January 28, 2018).
- The SDF forces operating north of Albukamal (most of them Kurds) are concerned about the Turkish military activity in northern Syria, in the Afrin area, which is part of Operation Olive Branch. According to some reports, several dozen vehicles belonging to the SDF forces left the area of the Al-Omar oil field and moved towards northwestern Syria to support the Kurdish force fighting there against Turkey and its proxies. For the time being, this information has not been confirmed. According to Nasrin al-Abdallah, one of the commanders of the SDF forces, if the US leadership abandons them, the SDF forces will completely withdraw from the Deir ez-Zor area and move to the front area in Afrin (Furat Post YouTube channel, January 26, 2018).
Tension between ISIS operatives and the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the Yarmouk refugee camp
- Tension continues between ISIS operatives and the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the Yarmouk refugee camp south of Damascus. ISIS operatives reportedly deployed in a number of sites in the camp for fear of attack (Khotwa, January 28, 2018). It was reported that recently, an agreement was signed between the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and the Syrian regime, according to which armed operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the Yarmouk refugee camp will be transferred to the Idlib area. For the time being, the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham denies this information (Khotwa, January 28, 2018).
Main developments in Iraq
Clashes continue between ISIS and the Iraqi security forces
- Iraqi security forces continued to conduct military activity against sites and clandestine networks of ISIS operatives in various regions throughout Iraq. ISIS on its part continued its terrorist and guerrilla activities. Following are several prominent incidents:
- Diyala Province: An Iraqi security source reported that during a joint operation of the Iraqi security services, four ISIS bases northeast of Baqubah were destroyed (Iraqi News Agency, January 27, 2018). A security source reported that a female suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt had been apprehended northeast of Baqubah. The suicide bomber reportedly intended to blow herself up in a commercial area (Iraqi News Agency, January 27, 2018).
- Salah Al-Din Province: The Iraqi security forces detained three men suspected of membership in ISIS. The detainees admitted the existence of a network carrying out terrorist operations such as abductions and murders in the area of Tikrit (Iraqi News Agency, January 27, 2018).
- Al-Anbar Province: The Iraqi security forces and their supporting tribes continue to mop up the Al-Anbar desert from ISIS operatives. Troops of the Iraqi army’s First Division, who were operating in the area south of Rutba, reportedly found and destroyed an ISIS outpost and seized an off-road vehicle with a mounted machine gun (Al-Sumaria News, January 27, 2018).
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
Egyptian army’s security activity and ISIS’s activity
- The Egyptian security forces continued their activity to locate ISIS bases in the Sinai Peninsula. As part of this activity, they operated in northern and central Sinai, with Egyptian Air Force air support. The Egyptian army reported that during its forces’ activity in the northern Sinai Peninsula, several terrorist operatives were detained. In addition, they found and destroyed depots where explosives were stored. Many motorcycles, off-road vehicles, supplies and medical equipment were seized. They also located the opening of a tunnel in northern Sinai, in the area bordering the Gaza Strip (official Facebook page of the Spokesman of the Egyptian Armed Forces, January 26, 2018).
Right: IEDs found by the Egyptian army in northern Sinai. Left: ISIS vehicles on fire (official Facebook page of the Spokesman of the Egyptian Armed Forces, January 26, 2018)
Truck stopped by the Egyptian army in one of the crossings into central Sinai.
It contained large amounts of spare parts for motorcycles used by ISIS operatives
(official Facebook page of the Spokesman of the Egyptian Armed Forces, January 27, 2018)
Conduct of ISIS and jihadists in the various provinces
- A jihadi Uyghur group by the name of The Foreigners’ Battalion of Turkestan (Katibat Ghurabaa Al-Turkistan), which was established about a year ago in Syria, announced the establishment of a Palestinian sub-unit under the name of Foreigners’ Company of Palestine (Sariyyat Ghurabaa Filastin). The commander of this unit is codenamed Abu Muhammad the Palestinian. Photos of this unit’s activity were published on a Telegram account which was especially opened for the Palestinian unit. The photos show Palestinians of this company fighting against the Syrian forces near Abu Ad-Duhur in the Idlib Province (an area where battles are being waged as part of the campaign of the Syrian army to take over Idlib) (The Long War Journal, January 25, 2018).
Logo of the Palestinian unit attached to the Uyghur group
(Long War Journal, January 25, 2018)
Documenting the Palestinian company belonging to the Uyghur battalion
(The Long War Journal, January 25, 2018)
Counterterrorist and preventive activity
- Turkish security forces reported that during a counterterrorist operation of the local police, they detained 13 people suspected of membership in ISIS in southeastern Turkey. All detainees are foreign nationals: seven from Algeria, two Syrians, two Iraqis, a Dutchman, an Englishman, and an Egyptian (Anatolia News Agency, January 24, 2018). The Turkish Interior Ministry reported about the detention of 28 ISIS operatives in Turkey on January 22-29, 2018 (Daily Sabah, January 29, 2018).
- According to the public relations department of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Ground Forces, a Revolutionary Guards force clashed with a group of ISIS operatives who arrived from Iraq (Iranian News Agency, January 27, 2018). Mohammad Bakabour, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Ground Forces, reported that during a confrontation between the Iranian force and the ISIS operatives, 16 operatives were detained, several were killed, and two managed to escape. Three Revolutionary Guards soldiers were killed (Tasnim, January 27, 2018).
Brigadier General Mohammad Bakabour, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary
Guards’ Ground Forces (Iranian News Agency, January 27, 2018)
- According to Ali Shaheed, senior Kurdish Internal Security commander, it was a group that infiltrated Iran from the Kurdistan region in Iraq. According to him, the squad members were all Iranian Kurds. They infiltrated Iran from the area of Mount Bemu in the Halabja Province (see map below). According to the Kurdish senior commander, the Kurdish security forces have been monitoring the movements of the group and also located some of its hiding places, where they found weapons, explosives, and food (Al-Sumaria News, January 27, 2018).
- Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry notes in an interview that the spread of terrorist organizations in Africa is concerning all African countries. According to Shoukry, foreign fighters of the terrorist organizations are moving from the fighting zones in Syria and Iraq to many countries in Africa through Libya. Their transfer represents a risk to the various African countries. The Egyptian minister adds that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry is working to enhance security cooperation and information exchanges between the countries in order to fight against the terrorist organizations (ONTV Channel, January 27, 2018).
- According to Saudi media, Saudi security services exposed a network of five Saudis recruited by ISIS. The network operatives intended to assassinate a senior Interior Ministry official and a security officer, and attack a jail as well as a Shiite place of worship. The first court session in their trial was held at the Riyadh court on January 28, 2018. According to the indictment, the commander of the network had pledged allegiance to ISIS leader al-Baghdadi. He was in touch with Hadi al-Shibani, an ISIS operative in Saudi Arabia who is currently held by the security services. Al-Shibani is accused of setting up four ISIS networks in Saudi Arabia, in coordination with ISIS commanders outside Saudi Arabia (Okaz, January 29, 2018).
- On January 30, 2018, the Afghan National Directorate of Security reported that it had exposed an ISIS network in Kabul. Large amounts of weapons, anti-tank launchers and explosive belts were found in the possession of the network operatives. They were connected to the suicide bombing attack against the Military Academy base (see below). The operatives had planned to carry out three major terrorist attacks in various parts of Kabul during the coming two weeks (Afghanistan Times, January 30, 2018).
ISIS activity in other countries
Taliban suicide bombing attack in Kabul
- On January 27, 2018, a Taliban suicide bomber detonated a booby-trapped ambulance and blew himself up near the old Interior Ministry building in the capital, Kabul. Initial reports indicate that at least 100 people were killed and 235 others were wounded. Dozens of stores and vehicles were also damaged. The attacker was driving an ambulance full of explosives. He passed the first checkpoint with the booby-trapped ambulance after saying that he was taking a patient to the hospital (The Guardian, January 27, 2018). Near the second checkpoint at the entrance to the building he blew himself up along with the ambulance. A claim of responsibility for the attack by the Taliban appeared on social media. The Taliban spokesman posted a photo of the blast in his Twitter account.
Scene of the attack near the old Interior Ministry building in Kabul
(Pajhwok, January 27, 2018)
ISIS suicide bombing attack in Kabul
- On January 29, 2018, five terrorists attacked a checkpoint near the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in western Kabul. This is one of Afghanistan’s principal military academies. In the attack, which lasted around two hours, two terrorists blew themselves up with their explosive vests. Another terrorist was caught. A total of 11 soldiers were killed and 16 others were wounded in the attack (The Guardian, Afghanistan Times, January 29, 2018).
ISIS operative who was captured, one of the squad that carried out the suicide
bombing attack on January 29, 2018. The photo was published by the Afghan
National Directorate of Security (NDS) Twitter, January 29, 2018)
- ISIS’s Khorasan Province claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack. The photo, which was taken before the operation, shows the five terrorists (who appear to be young in the photo) wearing explosive belts, armed with light weapons, with IEDs and various types of rockets on their right (ISIS’s Khorasan Province, as posted in the Terror Monitor Twitter account, January 30, 2018).
The battle for hearts and minds: incitement to carry out terrorist acts
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) calls for terrorist attacks against the Americans, the West, and the Jews
- On January 22, 2018, AQAP’s Al-Malahem media foundation released an 18-minute videotape of AQAP Spokesman Sheikh Khaled Bin Omar Batarfi. The main points that he made are as follows:
- The spokesman refers to the US President’s declaration on the subject of Jerusalem and says that it is “a new Jewish Crusader declaration of war.” He adds that it is no surprise that both the US and Israel have always viewed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
- The recent declaration by the United States is a disgrace to the Arab and Muslim rulers who maintain normal relations with Israel, led by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. He says that Muslims have a commitment to Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. He calls for jihad for the sake of Allah, which does not recognize borders, countries and “artificial nationalities” that distinguish between Muslims.
- The spokesman calls on Islamic movements and jihad fighters to stand united against the Jews and the Americans and to attack them everywhere. The spokesman notes that the main burden is on Muslims in the United States and Western countries, who see how easy it is to harm the interests of the Jews and the Americans.
Khaled Bin Omar Batarfi. The inscription to his left reads: “The Al-Aqsa Mosque,
between the violations of the Jews and the heroism of the fedayeen
(fighters who are willing to sacrifice themselves)” (Twitter, January 24, 2018)
 The meaning of the word “Ghurabaa” is foreigners. However, this word has an additional meaning, according to a hadith (i.e., saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad) – alien entity. According to this hadith, Islam began as an alien entity and was embraced by a minority of believers who lived among a hostile majority. The hadith asserts, “Blessed are those who live as an alien entity (Ghurabaa).” The use of this term in the modern era was intended to encourage Muslims who lead a hard life as a minority, because eventually they will overcome their opponents as was the case in the beginning of Islam. ↑
 It seems that the Foreigners’ Battalion of Turkestan is affiliated with the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (formerly Al-Nusra Front), the dominant organization in the Idlib area. ↑
 It should be noted that the attack against the training center of the Afghan National Directorate of Security in Kabul was also carried out by very young operatives (see the ITIC’s Information Bulletin, Spotlight on Global Jihad, December 20, 2017). The use of young terrorists may be due to ISIS’s success in recruiting young Afghans and/or the ability of young people to easily mingle with the population and approach the target. ↑