Spotlight on Global Jihad
Kurdish soldiers firing at the Euphrates Shield forces advancing towards Manbij (website of the Military Council of Manbij and its Outskirts, March 7, 2017)
The US flag on a US Army armored vehicle in the Manbij area (Twitter, March 4, 2017)
Summit meeting between the chiefs of staff of the US, Russian and Turkish armies (Russian Defense Ministry website, March 7, 2017)
Syrian Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij (marked with a circle), during a visit at the Old City of Palmyra after its liberation from ISIS (Syrian TV, March 4, 2017)
The government building compound. One of the buildings is the Nineveh Province Administration building (Al-Sumaria, March 7, 2017)
The three suicide bombers who blew themselves up in west Mosul. Left: Abu Karm al-Hadidi. Center: Abu Khattab al-Akidi. Right: Abu Tayyiba al-Ajili (Haqq, March 1, 2017)
Teenagers who carried out suicide bombing attacks on behalf of ISIS against the Iraqi security forces in Mosul (YouTube, February 20, 2017)
Teenagers who carried out suicide bombing attacks on behalf of ISIS against the Iraqi security forces in Mosul (YouTube, February 20, 2017)
Uyghur boy armed with a rifle, threatening the Jews (YouTube, February 27, 2017)
Uyghur children in an ISIS training camp (YouTube, February 27, 2017)
Main events of the week
Main developments in Syria
The area of Al-Bab
- The situation in the city of Manbij is as follows:
- The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are controlling Manbij. Turkey, on its part, is threatening to take over Manbij through the Free Syrian Army, which is advancing in the rural area west of the city, on the route between Al-Bab and Manbij. Russia is trying to reach a compromise, in which the SDF forces would hand over the control of Manbij and its environs to the Syrian Army, thereby preventing the arrival of the Free Syrian Army in the city. On March 6, 2017, the Manbij Military Council (controlled by the Kurds) announced that Manbij was under the protection of the US-led international coalition (Al-Arab Al-Youm, March 6, 2017).
- Turkey strives to remove the SDF from Manbij in order to complete the establishment of a Turkish “security zone” west of the Euphrates River. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu threatened to hit the Kurds in case they did not retreat from Manbij. He also criticized the US support of the Kurds, noting that Turkey does not wish its allies to stand by “terrorists” (Al-Jazeera, March 3, 2017). However, Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said that Turkey would not attack in Manbij without coordinating with Russia and the United States (Reuters, February 6, 2017).
- The US continues supporting the SDF, which continues in the campaign to take over Al-Raqqah but refuses to evacuate its forces from Manbij. Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davisconfirmed that during the recent days, the US Army had sent several dozen soldiers to Manbij. The purpose of this small force is to make sure that the forces stationed in the city would not attack each other, but would focus on the campaign against ISIS (Reuters, March 6, 2017; RT, March 7, 2017). Photos of armored vehicles with US flags, making their presence felt in the Manbij area, appeared on Western and Arab media.
- Russia is trying to reconcile between the rival sides and at the same time promote its own interests by transferring control in Manbij to the Syrian Army. The Russian Defense Ministry announced that Syrian forces had been deployed in the Kurdish control areas in southwest Manbij. According to the Russian version, this is in line with a Russian-Kurdish agreement to create a buffer zone between Manbij and Al-Bab to curb the Turkish advance. The Kurds reported about handing over six villages southwest of Manbij to the Syrian Army under this agreement. Russia reportedly sent humanitarian aid to Manbij (Khotwa, March 6, 2017).
Friction between the various forces and a US-Russian-Turkish attempt to coordinate the moves in northern Syria
- US commander of the international coalition against ISIS Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsendreported that on February 28, 2017, Russian and Syrian warplanes attacked forces of the Arab coalition in northwest Syria by mistake, causing several casualties. According to Townsend, Russia probably believed that there were ISIS operatives in the area. According to General Townsend, the situation in the region is complicated, as there are three armies deployed there at the same time. He added that following calls via channels of communication, the Russians stopped the airstrikes (The New York Times, March 2, 2017).
- The Russian Defense Ministrydenied these claims and said that there was no airstrike by the Russian or Syrian forces in the areas mentioned by the US. However, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that on February 28, 2017, the representative of the Russian Air Force in Hmeymim contacted the representative of the US Air Force, who expressed concern that during the operations against ISIS south of Manbij, Russian and Syrian warplanes might inadvertently hit US-supported armed groups (i.e., the SDF).According to them, the American representative gave the Russian forces the exact coordinates of the forces of the “Syrian Opposition” operatives, and this information has been taken into account (RIA news website, March 1, 2, 2017).
- nIn view ofthe potential of friction, and in order to try to coordinate the next moves in northern Syria, a summit meeting was held in Antalya, Turkey, between the commanders of the US, Russian and Turkish armies. The meeting was opened on March 7, 2017. The US State Department said that during the meeting, the participants made clear that they would like to establish channels of communication between senior officials in their countries, and also to increase the operational coordination in the fighting in Syria (Sputnik, March 7, 2017).
- The SDF continued to cleanse the area north and east of Al-Raqqah, despite the pressure exerted on them in Manbij. The forces reportedly took over several villages north of Al-Raqqah, and ISIS operatives reportedly retreated (Khotwa, February, 24, 2017).
- On March 6, 2017, the SDF reported that they had managed to cut off the road leading from Al-Raqqah to Deir ez-Zor (themiddleeasteye.net; Aranews, March 6, 2017). At this stage, this is yet to be confirmed. If this information is true, this means that the SDF are tightening the siege on Al-Raqqah and that ISIS leadership in the city may find itself cut off from its forces in the other areas.
- At a press briefing, Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy noted that the operation for the takeover ofPalmyra had been planned and carried out under the management of Russian military advisors, and that the Russian Air Force and Special Units had a significant part in the operation.According to General Rudskoy, over 1,000 ISIS operatives were killedduring the operation, and 19 tanks, 37 APCs and many other vehicles were destroyed. He pointed out that no airstrikes were conducted in the areas where there are archeological findings. According to the general, the Syrian sappers, who had been trained by the Russians in Aleppo, are now neutralizing mines in the city and soon they will be joined by their Russian counterparts (Russian Defense Ministry website, March 3, 2017).
- In the campaign for the takeover of Palmyra, a soldier engaged in securing Russian advisors operating in the city was killed (TASS, March 6, 2017). Major General Peter Milyuhin, the head of combat training of staff of Russia’s Western Military District, was seriously wounded. He was evacuated to the Hmeymim base and from there to Russia for treatment. Milyuhinwas in charge of planning military operations and was supervising their implementation. He is Russia's highest-ranking casualty since the beginning of the Russian involvement in Syria (infox website, March 2, 2017).
Main developments in Iraq
The campaign for the takeover of Mosul
- During the battles, dozens of ISIS operatives were killed, including ten suicide bombers who were found wearing explosive belts. In addition, operational tunnels were exposed, workshops for manufacturing explosives were destroyed, ISIS field hospitals were seized, about 300 IEDs were destroyed, as well as two drones (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, March 6, 2017). The Iraqi forces also uncovered a hundred tons of chemicals that served ISIS for making explosives (Fars, March 5, 2017).
- ISIS continued to conduct guerrilla warfare against the Iraqi forceswhile carrying out suicide bombing attacks. Most of the attacks were carried out in the city’s western neighborhoods, where fighting is taking place against the Iraqi Army forces:
- On March 1, 2017, ISIS released photos of three suicide bombers who blew themselves up in the neighborhood of Al-Tayaran in central Mosul, among Iraqi security forces (Haqq, March 1, 2017).
- On March 2, 2017, the Iraqi forces reported that they had managed to hit several ISIS operatives who had succeeded in getting closer to Iraqi units in southwest Mosul to carry out a suicide bombing attack against them (Reuters, March 3, 2017).
- On March 5, 2017, ISIS released the photos of two Iraqi-born suicide bombers. One of them blew himself up near one of the bridges on the Tigris River, and the other in the neighborhood of Al-Tayaran, in the western part of the city (Haqq, March 5, 2017).
The fighting zone in Tal Afar, east of Mosul
- The Iraqi forces announced their intention to start a campaign to liberate Tal Afar from ISIS. They reportedly cut off the road connecting Mosul with Tal Afar (Al-Arabiya al-Hadath, March 1, 2017). The Iraqi Army announced on March 6, 2017, that the Iraqi Air Force had destroyed ISIS’s treasury building (Bayt al-Mal) and killed the operative in charge. Several ISIS commanders of various nationalities, who were staying in the building, were also killed (Al-Aan Channel, March 6, 2017). According to another announcement, released by the Iraqi Army Spokesperson’s Office,an airstrike carried out in Tal Afar killed Amar Mostafa al-Hassan, the regional governor on behalf of ISIS and the operative in charge of recruitment (Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath, February 26, 2017).
Global jihad activity in other countries
Harassment of Copts by ISIS
- The Egyptian Interior Ministry announced a large-scale operation, coordinated by the Egyptian security forces, to monitor terrorist operatives working to harass the Coptic population. As part of the operation, many security forces were deployed in Al-Arish, the center of ISIS’s harassment of the Copts (Al-Rai, March 5, 2017). A senior Egyptian government official said that 258 Coptic families had left Al-Arish. About half of them reached Ismailiyah, while the rest arrived in other Egyptian cities. Only a meager presence of clergymen stayed in churches in the Sinai Peninsula. The areas where the Coptic churches are located were closed down, and the churches are heavily secured (Al-Youm Al-Sabea, March 5, 2017).
- The United States recently increased its airstrikes against targets of the Al-Qaeda branch in Yemen. According to Pentagon Spokesman Jeff Davis, last week, the US forces carried out over thirty airstrikes by both manned and unmanned aircraft, in south and central Yemen. According to Davis, the airstrikes were intended to prevent Al-Qaeda’s expansion throughout Yemen. Among the targets attacked were operatives and operatives’ houses, including the house of Sa’ad Asef, Al-Qaeda’s leader in the region (Al-Arabiya, March 3, 2017). The airstrikes were carried out after the first commando operation authorized by President Trump on January 28, 2017, in which a US Amy soldier was killed (Bloomberg, March 5, 2017).
Conduct of the Islamic State
Increase in the scope of suicide bombing attacks
- The ICCT Institute for Counterterrorism conducted a study that analyzed about 1,000 suicide bombing attacks carried out by ISIS operatives between December 2015 and November 2016. The study is basedon announcements by ISIS’s Aamaq News Agency. An examination of the data reveals that there has been a significant rise in ISIS’s use of suicide bombing attacks. Another finding is that those planning the suicide attacks became more sophisticated in time. They created a pool of suicide bombers and developed more reliable explosives which are more efficient. According to the study data, during the examined period of time, at least 923 operatives blew themselves up carrying suicide bombing attacks. About 84% of the targets of the attacks were military targets, and about 70% were carried out by a vehicle. A total of 20% of the suicide bombers were foreign fighters. The rest were mainly from Iraq and Syria. It seems that the use of suicide bombing attacks was designed to compensate for ISIS’s loss of territory and address the military pressure exerted on ISIS (New York Post, February 28, 2017).
Increase in the scope of child recruitment to ISIS
- A report published in the monthly CTC Sentinel pointed out a significant increase in the recruitment of children to the ranks of ISIS last year. An examination of videos and information material disseminated by ISIS revealed that death notices were published for 89 children killed. A total of 51% of the children were killed in Iraq, 36% in Syria, and the rest in Yemen, Libya and Nigeria. Among the children, 31% are Syrian and 25% are Iraqis. A total of 39% of the children were killed detonating car bombs, and 33% were killed inbattle. Also according to the estimates of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the number of suicide bombing attacks in which teenagers took part significantly increased last year. Since the beginning of the campaign for Mosul, about 300 children recruited to the ranks of ISIS were killed (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, February 27, 2017).
Uyghur operatives in the service of ISIS
- ISIS’s Euphrates Province released a video documenting Uyghur operatives who had joined ISIS.Among the recruited operatives, the video shows young children training in various martial arts, one of them shooting a prisoner. It also includes a threat against China, according to which the soldiers of the Caliphate will also reach them and spill “rivers of blood” to avenge the blood of the Muslims. The video also includes threats against the Jews, and against the US and Russia (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, February 27, 2017). There were reports in the past about Uyghur operatives joining ISIS. China is concerned about the Muslim Uyghur residents who went to fight in the ranks of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, who might return to China with themilitary experience they gained in battle (Reuters in Arabic, March 2, 2017).
Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) is an academic institution at the United States Military Academy (USMA) in West Point, New York.
The Uyghurs are a Sunni Muslim Chinese minority numbering about ten million, mostly residing in the Xinjiang Province, northwest China. They speak a Turkic language. They arereligiously and culturally discriminated against in China.