Spotlight on Global Jihad
Launching an anti-tank rocket at an SDF outpost in southwest Al-Raqqah.
ISIS operatives fire at the SDF forces on the outskirts of Al-Raqqah (Haqq, July 20, 2017)
ISIS operatives fighting against the Syrian forces in the area of Ithriya (Haqq, July 20, 2017)
The Bab Al-Hawa crossing (website of the Bab Al-Hawa crossing, July 25, 2017)
Food warehouse in the Blue Factory compound near the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing, which was set on fire by the Ahrar Al-Sham operatives before they had withdrawn, leaving the area for the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham operatives (Twitter account of Ibaa News Agency, July 21, 2017).
Flag of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham flying in Idlib (Orient News, July 23, 2017).
The scene of the car bomb explosion in Idlib (Qasiyoun, July 24, 2017)
Sheikh Abu al-Yakzan the Egyptian in the audiotape (GllMedia YouTube account, July 21, 2017)
: Gun mounted on a Hezbollah truck fires artillery at outposts of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the area of Arsal.
Hezbollah operatives fighting in the Arsal area (Syrian Army Spokesperson’s Office; Al-Alam, July 24, 2017)
Debris of a street in west Mosul.
Displaced residents return to their homes (Nineveh Information Center, July 22, 2017).
ISIS operatives captured while attempting to flee Mosul, dressed in women’s clothes (Al-Aan Channel, July 23, 2017)
Main events of the week
Russia and the United States
De-escalation agreement in southwestern Syria
- The de-escalation agreement in southwestern Syria, which went into effect on July 9, 2017, was maintained, with the exception of isolated violations on a daily basis. As part of the measures to implement the agreement, around 400 Russian MPs reportedly arrived in southern Syria and are staying in a base north of Daraa. The Russian MPs are supposed to serve as a separation force on the lines of contact between the Syrian forces and the rebel organizations. According to reports, the Russian separation force has already begun to patrol the area (Al-Arabiya al-Hadath, Orient, July 19, 2017).
- At the same time, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that in the wake of the de-escalation agreement in southwestern Syria, a de-escalation agreement had been reached in the area of eastern Ghouta (east of Damascus) as well. The agreement entered into effect on the afternoon of Saturday, July 22, 2017. The need for an agreement arose after recent clashes in the region between Syrian rebel groups and Islamist rebel groups, including the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (formerly the Al-Nusra Front). According to the agreement, the borders of the de-escalation zone will be determined and supervisory forces will be deployed in the area. In addition, routes were established to provide civilians with humanitarian aid and safe passage. According to the Russians, the first humanitarian aid convoy will be sent to the area in the next few days, and casualties will be evacuated (Russian Defense Ministry’s Facebook page, July 22, 2017).
- Following are some Russian statements about the de-escalation agreements:
- According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Russians have managed to bring about an end to the hostilities between the Syrian government and the rebel groups (the so-called Patriotic Opposition) through talks with various parties. Thus, the Russians have enabled the Syrian forces to direct their efforts to fighting the terrorists. According to Lavrov, the Syrian government did not prevent Russia from taking this course of action, out of a general understanding that“the first priority is fighting against ISIS” (Russian Foreign Ministry website, July 21, 2017).
- A senior Russian Foreign Ministry source told Izvestia that Washington had tried to protect Israeli interestsduring its consultations with Russia on the establishment of the de-escalation zone (in southwestern Syria). According to the same source, the main objective of the talks was to prevent the establishment of a Shiite foothold in the Syrian Golan Heights. The source added that Washington was also interested in preventing the transfer of weapons and ammunition along the Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut route (TASS News Agency, July 21, 2017).
- A Russian military-diplomatic source told Izvestia that during the consultations between Russia, the United States and the Jordanian army, an agreement was reached regarding a de-escalation zone on the Syrian-Jordanian border. According to the agreement, all non-Syrian units would withdraw to a distance of 30 km from of the Syrian-Jordanian border. The non-Syrian units include Iraqi militias, Hezbollah, Iranian military personnel, and foreign fighters from several other countries (TASS News Agency, July 21, 2017).
Articles in the US media about the strategy towards ISIS
- Following are the highlights of two articles published in the American media about the US strategy towards ISIS and towards US involvement in Syria:
- The Daily Beast, an American news website, published an article revealing unclassified portions of a classified “strategy document” presenting the current strategy of the United States towards ISIS. According to the article, the current strategy is reminiscent of the policy adopted by the Obama administration, and the difference between them is “purely linguistic.” According to the article, the strategy preserves the policy of operating in conjunction with local allies. Some of goals that were set: to protect the U.S. homeland and Americans from ISIS attacks; defeat ISIS’s core in Iraq and Syria; degrade its branches globally; disrupt its networks; and neutralize its narrative. The American strategy now focuses on the presence of ISIS in Syria, and only as a secondary goal does it deal with ISIS’s branches in countries such as Libya and Afghanistan (The Daily Beast, July 18, 2017).
- The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration had announced the end of the “covert program” led by the CIA to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime. According to senior government officials, the decision was made about a month ago after President Trump consulted with the head of the CIA and with his national security advisor. After the termination of the program, US involvement in Syria will consist of carrying out airstrikes against ISIS and supplying weapons and arms to the Kurdish rebel force, which is advancing towards ISIS’s strongholds in Al-Raqqah and along the Euphrates River. It is estimated that this decision reflects President Trump’s desire to find ways to expand cooperation with Russia in Syria (The Washington Post, July 19, 2017). The spokesmen for the National Security Council and the CIA declined to comment on the report.
Main developments in Syria
The campaign to take over Al-Raqqah
Mopping up the rural area northeast of Homs
- Near the town of Ithriya and in the rural area northeast of Homs, there were clashes between the forces of the Syrian regime and militias supporting it, and ISIS. In an attack by ISIS against the Syrian forces east of Ithriya, Jawdat Ali Suleiman, a Syrian Army officer in the rank of Amid (Brigadier General), was reportedly killed (Twitter, July 22, 2017). There were also clashes in the area of Salamiyah, northeast of Homs.
The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham establishes its presence in the Idlib area
- During the fighting, the Ahrar Al-Sham operatives lost control of the compound near the Bab Al-Hawa crossing, and their operatives in the area turned themselves in to the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham(Khotwa, July 20, 2017). Following that, it was reported that an agreement had been reached to hand over the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing to the civilian authorities (Khotwa, July 20, 2017). Under the agreement, Ahrar Al-Sham evacuated its operatives from the border crossing. The Syrian media reported that 450 Ahrar Al-Sham operatives were transferred, through the Bab Al-Hawa crossing, to the city of Jarabulus (Dimashq Al-Aan, July 24, 2017).
- On July 23, 2017, operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham took control of the unofficial border crossing of KhirbatAl-Joz, about 40 km west of Idlib. This border crossing was previously mannedby Ahrar Al-Sham operatives, who retreated from it (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, July 24, 2017). Following these incidents, the Turkish government closed the Bab Al-Hawa and Khirbat Al-Jozborder crossings (Al-Jisr Channel, July 24, 2017).
- On July 23, 2017, a car bomb exploded in Idlib. As a result, over 15 civilians and operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham were killed and wounded. Many vehicles were burned, and buildings at the scene sustained heavy damage. The car bomb exploded at a staging area of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the city (Qasiyoun, July 24, 2017). On July 24, 2017, two people accused of being involved in the car bomb attack in Idlib were executed (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, July 25, 2017).
- In view ofthe fighting in the area, an audiotape was releasedin the voice of Sheikh Mohammad Naji (Abu al-Yakzan al-Masri, i.e., the Egyptian), one of the senior clerics in the military wing of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham. Sheikh Mohammad Naji says in the tape that in accordance with the decision of Hashem al-Sheikh(Abu Jaber), commander of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, killing the operatives of Ahrar Al-Sham is permitted. In his words, “If [the operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham] can receive from [the operatives of Ahrar Al-Sham] the control in the checkpoints only by killing them, then they should shoot them in the head” (Haqq, July 22, 2017; Andrew Cox YouTube account, July 21, 2017; GllMedia YouTube account, July 21, 2017).
- In the meantime, fighting continues in the area of the Aarak and Al-Hail oil and gas fields (northeast of Palmyra). ISIS released a video showing its operatives firing artillery at a Syrian Army tent camp east of the Aarak oil and gas field. The video shows direct hits (Haqq, July 22, 2017).
Hezbollah campaign to mop up the ridges dominating Arsal
- Hezbollah asserts that the campaign is being waged to defend the eastern border of Lebanon. According to Sheikh Naim Qassem, deputy secretary general of Hezbollah, the campaign in the ridges of Arsal represents defense of the eastern border of Lebanon and is part of a sequence of attacks that began in the liberation of [the southern] Qalamoun [Mountains] (the border between Syria and Lebanon, northwest of Damascus) and continued in the liberation of Zabadani, northwest of Damascus (Al-Ahed, July 22, 2017).According to estimates, Hezbollah assigned about 5,000 fighters to the campaign. The Lebanese Army did not participate in the fighting, but the attack was carried out in coordination with it. The Lebanese Army closed all the crossings leading tothe town of Arsal to prevent terrorist operatives from fleeing to Lebanon (Al-Nashra, July 21, 2017).
- After several days of fighting, Hezbollah seems to record successes in the campaign. According to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Mayadeen affiliated with Hezbollah, Hezbollah has managed to liberate about 90% of the territories controlled by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (Al-Mayadeen, July 23, 2017). Operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham fled towards the contact lines of the area held by ISIS (Al-Nashra, July 24, 2017). Among the fleeing operatives was Abu Talha al-Ansari, a senior commander in the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham who fled together with thirty of his men (Al-Nashra, July 23, 2017).
- Hezbollah reportedly uses drones in the fighting:The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham reported that it had downed a Hezbollah drone on the western Qalamoun ridge (Khotwa News Agency, July 25, 2017). The Syrian media reported that the Hezbollah forces encircled the positions of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the Arsal ridges and took control of key areas along the supply line between Syria and the Arsal ridges (Syrian Army Spokesperson’s Office, July 23, 2017).
- The Syrian and Lebanese media reported that Hezbollah decided to end the campaign by a decisive military victory, with no negotiations. Hezbollah operations headquarters reported that the campaign was close to its end and called on the armed operatives that remained in the Arsal ridges to lay down their arms and turn themselves in. At the same time, Hezbollah began preparations for press tours in the liberated areas. Later, Hezbollah intends to attack the areas controlled by ISIS in the ridges of Ras Baalbek and Al-Qaa (north of Arsal). Hezbollah expects the fighting in these areas to be easier since ISIS’s power is inferior to that of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (Al-Jumhuriya, July 25, 2017).
Main developments in Iraq
The situation in Mosul after its liberation
- Since the rehabilitation of Mosul has not begun yet, the Iraqi activity is currently focused on the attempt to raise funds from the international community for its rehabilitation. According to the announcement of Iranian Industry Minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, Iran is ready to assist the Iraqi government to repair the water and electricity infrastructures and assist in the construction of public buildings (Al-Mayadeen, July 16, 2017). Germany announced that it would allocate €100 million for the rehabilitation of the city (Al-Aan Channel, July 25, 2017). Turkey expressed its willingness to assist in rebuilding the city without mentioning specifics (Al-Alam, July 20, 2017).
- ISIS’s propaganda machine continues to present ISIS’s defeat in Mosul as an achievement. This week as well, ISIS released an infographic glorifying its achievements in the fighting against the Iraqi security forces. According to the infographic, during the nine months of fighting, over 11,700 fighters of the Iraqi security forces were killed, and more than 50,000 fighters were wounded (Haqq, July 22, 2017).
Fighting in other areas in Iraq
- Even after the liberation of Mosul, fighting continued in various sites in Iraq, albeit at low intensity:
- The environs of Mosul: Iraqi police announced that the Iraqi forces had taken over the village of Imam Gharbi, about 70 km south of Mosul, which was under ISIS control (Reuters, July 20, 2017).
- Tal Afar: The Iraqi Air Force attacked ISIS’s ammunition depots west of Tal Afar (Al-Sumaria, July 22, 2017). An Iraqi Army officer reported that four Popular Mobilization fighters were killed and another was wounded in an attack carried out by dozens of ISIS operatives against a Popular Mobilization outpost near Tal Afar in northern Iraq (Anatolia, July 18, 2017).
- Fallujah: A car bomb exploded at the western entrance to the city of Fallujah. At least three members of the Iraqi security forces were killed (Al-Sumaria, July 24, 2017).
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
The Sinai Peninsula
- In the Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptian security forces’ activity against ISIS operatives continues. The Egyptian security forces reported that during their activity in North Sinai, thirty ISIS operatives were killed and five others were detained in Al-Arish, Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah. In addition, twelve off-road vehicles and four car bombs were destroyed, thirty IEDs planted on roads used by the Egyptian security forces were exposed and neutralized, and four depots of powerful explosives were destroyed (official Facebook account of the Spokesman of the Egyptian Armed Forces, July 21, 2017).
ISIS in other countries
- Confrontations between ISIS operatives and Philippine Army forces continue in the city of Marawi, Mindanao Island, southern Philippines. ISIS announced that its snipers had killed six Philippine Army soldiers. Five additional soldiers were killed and four were wounded in clashes between the parties (Haqq, July 22, 2017). ISIS released a video showing the organization operatives fighting in Marawi (Haqq; Twitter account, July 20, 2017).
The Ahrar Al-Sham movement was established in the beginning of the civil war in Syria, following the unification of several Islamic rebel organizations. The center of power of this organization is in the Idlib area, and therefore it competes there over control with the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham. Until recently, the organization controlled the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, which was a source of revenue and through which weapons were transferred to it.
Jarabulus is situated near the Syrian-Turkish border, in the Turkish control zone west of the Euphrates River.