Russian President’s Special Envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev, during the round of talks (Russian Foreign Ministry’s Twitter account, August 1, 2018)
Syrian army soldiers making the victory sign with the Yarmouk Basin in the background.
Syrian army soldiers looking at the Al-Wahda Dam in the Yarmouk Basin (SANA, August 2, 2018)
IDF forces searching the area where seven bodies of ISIS operatives were found in the southern Syrian Golan Heights.
Column of Syrian army forces on their way to the Idlib Province (Butulat Al-Jaysh Al-Suri, August 7, 2018)
Buildings in the village of Al-Najiya which were hit by Syrian army artillery (Ibaa, August 3, 2018)
SDF vehicles traveling near the Syria-Iraq border, south of the village of Al-Dashisha, about 60 km southeast of Al-Hasakah (YPG Press Office, August 4, 2018)
Main events of the week
- On August 2, 2018, the Syrian army and its allies completed the campaign to take over southern Syria. The campaign lasted for nearly three weeks, during which the Syrian army took over the areas of Daraa and the Syrian Golan Heights. In most cases, the rebel organizations preferred not to fight, and most of their control areas fell into the hands of the Syrian regime through local surrender arrangements in which the Russians played a central role. ISIS tried to stop the army’s advance, but the balance of power, which was clearly against it, rendered the fighting ineffective and the Yarmouk Basin was taken over relatively easily.
- In order to ease the pressure on the Yarmouk Basin, the ISIS enclave northeast of As-Suwayda initiated a deadly showcase attack against the Druze population in the city of As-Suwayda and its rural area (July 25, 2018). In addition, an attack was carried out against the Khalkhalah military airfield (about 40 km north of As-Suwayda). These attacks demonstrated the increase in the power and self-confidence of ISIS operatives and their becoming a threat, which is liable to cast a shadow over the achievements of the Syrian regime in southern Syria.
- This is apparently the background for Syria’s decision to take over the ISIS enclave northeast of As-Suwayda, even at the expense of a certain delay in the campaign to take over the Idlib area (for which preparations continue). In early August, reinforcements (consisting of several divisions) were transferred to the area east of As-Suwayda. On August 5, 2018, after a brief period of organizing its forces, the Syrian army, with air support, launched a ground operation aimed at taking over the ISIS enclave. The Syrian forces are now operating within ISIS’s control area and the battles continue.
- This week, suicide bombing attacks continued in ISIS’s Khorasan Province in Afghanistan. In the city of Jalalabad, an attack was carried out against the Afghan government institutions (15 fatalities); in the city of Gardez (south of Kabul), an attack was carried out against worshippers at a Shiite mosque (around 40 fatalities). On the other hand, the Afghan army recorded an achievement when over 150 ISIS operatives surrendered in the Jawzjan Province in northern Afghanistan. The background for the mass surrender was a month-long period of fighting in the area between the Taliban and ISIS, in which the Taliban recorded achievements (more than 150 ISIS operatives were reportedly killed by the Taliban and more than 130 were taken prisoner). Many ISIS operatives apparently preferred to surrender to the forces of the Afghan government and not to the Taliban.
Russian involvement in Syria
Statement by a senior Russian diplomat about the presence of Iranian forces in Syria
- On July 30-31, 2018, the tenth round of talks in the Syrian peace process (the Astana Process) was held in Sochi, Russia. The round of talks was attended by Russia, Iran and Turkey, the guarantor countries for the peace process. The Russian delegation was headed by the Russian President’s Special Envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev, who was interviewed by the Russian media at the end of the meetings. In the interview, Lavrentiev addressed the presence of Iranian forces in Syria, among other things.
End of the campaign in the Syrian Golan Heights
Takeover of southern Syria by the Syrian army: Areas taken over by the Syrian army through local surrender agreements are marked in blue; Areas where (mostly low intensity) fighting took place are marked in purple; Areas which were under Syrian control even before the beginning of the campaign are marked in red (Khotwa, July 31, 2018)
Resumption of the UN forces’ activity on the Syrian-Israeli border under Russian sponsorship
- Sergei Rudskoy, Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, said at a press conference that conditions were ripe for the resumption of the activity of the UN observation forces, which are deployed in the buffer zone between Israel and Syria, in accordance with the UN resolution from 1974. Rudskoy announced that on August 2, 2018, the UN forces, accompanied by the Russian Military Police, had visited the buffer zone for the first time in for six years. He added that in order to prevent “provocations” against UN positions, eight positions of the Russian Military Police would be set up along the Bravo Line (the Syrian border of the buffer zone). According to Rudskoy, when the situation in the area stabilizes, those positions will be handed over to the Syrian army (website of the Russian Defense Ministry, August 2, 2018).
Right: Bullet-proof vehicle of the Russian Military Police leading a convoy of UN vehicles near the Syrian-Israeli border. Left: UN vehicles near the Syrian-Israeli border (Al-Quneitra Al-Youm, August 2, 2018)
- Sergei Kuralenko, deputy commander of the Russian forces in Syria, reported that units of the Russian Military Police assisted the UN forces in reopening the Quneitra crossing, which has been closed for the past six years (TASS, August 3, 2018). He noted that on August 3, 2018, the UN forces, assisted by the Russian Military Police, managed to move from Syria into Israeli territory for the first time since the beginning of the civil war in Syria (website of Zvezda Channel, owned by the Russian Defense Ministry, August 3, 2018).
Right: Syrian army soldiers opening the Quneitra crossing, with the Syrian flag waved above. Left: Members of the Russian Military Police, the UN and Syrian army soldiers near the Quneitra crossing (Al-Quneitra Al-Youm, August 2, 2018)
- Sergei Kuralenko also said that coordination was taking place with the UN with the aim of manning once again UNDOF positions in the Quneitra Province. According to Kuralenko, all UNDOF forces are due to return to their positions in late August 2018. He added that within a few days, a “settlement center” would be established in the Quneitra Province. At the center, Russian officers will try to solve problems of the residents in the “liberated villages” with the relevant elements (Al-Watan, July 30, 2018).
Completion of the takeover of the Yarmouk Basin from ISIS
- On August 2, 2018, the Syrian regime announced that the Syrian army had completed the deployment of its forces in the area of the Yarmouk Basin (SANA, August 2, 2018). A day earlier, on August 1, 2018, the Syrian army took over the village of Qusayr, ISIS’s last remaining stronghold in the southern Syrian Golan Heights (Al-Manar, July 31, 2018). According to reports, only a few dozen ISIS operatives remained out of 1,000-1,500 who had previously held the Yarmouk Basin area. The remaining operatives are probably hiding near the Yarmouk Basin, in Syrian and Jordanian territory (Reuters, August 2, 2018). The army forces are searching the tri-border region to locate ISIS squads remaining in the area (Enab Baladi, August 5, 2018).
The IDF kills an ISIS squad
- On the evening of August 1, 2018, an IDF aircraft attacked a squad of seven ISIS operatives in the southern Syrian Golan Heights. The operatives were seen walking at a distance of 200 meters from the border fence. The Israeli army soldiers found in their possession five Kalashnikov assault files and vests, with IEDs and hand grenades. In the ITIC’s assessment, it was an ISIS squad whose operatives fled from the Syrian army rather than heading to carry out a terrorist attack in Israel.
Right: IDF forces searching the area where seven bodies of ISIS operatives were found in the southern Syrian Golan Heights. Left: Kalashnikov assault rifles, vest and equipment of ISIS operatives who were killed in the IDF attack (IDF Spokesperson’s Office, August 2, 2018)
ISIS operatives killed by the Jordanian army
- On July 31 and August 1, 2018, the Jordanian army killed several ISIS operatives who had fled from the Syrian army and were getting close to the border between Syria and Jordan. A senior Jordanian army commander said that following the clashes between the Syrian army and ISIS in the area of the Yarmouk Basin, several ISIS operatives were nearing the Jordanian border. The Jordanian Border Police opened fire at them and killed several operatives (Jordanian News Agency, August 2, 2018).
ISIS attack on the Khalkhalah military airbase
- There are contradicting versions on the attack and its results:
- The Syrian version: An official Syrian source reported that the Syrian army had halted a massive attack carried out by ISIS operatives against the Khalkhalah military airbase. Around 01:00, ISIS operatives tried to infiltrate into the airbase, but the Syrian army repelled the attackers. During the fighting, many ISIS operatives were killed, several were wounded and the others fled the scene (Sputnik, August 1, 2018). Eight Syrian army soldiers were reportedly killed in the attack (Enab Baladi, August 1, 2018).
- ISIS’s version: ISIS reported that its operatives had attacked the Khalkhalah military airbase with light and medium weapons. Over 45 Syrian army soldiers, including officers, were killed in the clashes between the two sides. At the same time, a squad of ISIS operatives infiltrated into hangars in the airbase and destroyed two fighter planes and six reconnaissance drones (www.k1falh.ga, an ISIS-affiliated website, August 1, 2018).
The campaign to take over the ISIS enclave northeast of As-Suwayda
- An ISIS enclave established itself in the area of Al-Safa, northeast of As-Suwayda. Over 800 operatives, evacuated from Damascus’s southern neighborhoods (the Yarmouk refugee camp and Al-Hajar Al-Aswad neighborhood), joined the ISIS enclave. During the first half of June 2018, the Syrian army opened a military campaign against that enclave. However, the attack stopped in the second half of June, when the Syrian army shifted its attention to the campaign for taking over southern Syria. Upon the collapse of the Yarmouk Basin and the completion of the takeover of southern Syria, ISIS’s enclave became an outstanding stronghold, initiating showcase attacks against targets of the regime and the local population, as was proved last week.
Syrian army observation position on the outskirts of the Al-Safa area (Syrian Al-Watan, August 7, 2018)
Negotiations with ISIS for the release of the abducted Druze
- During the attack against As-Suwayda and its environs (July 25, 2018), ISIS took more than 30 Druze hostage. On August 5, 2018, it was reported that ISIS was holding 14 women and 16 children (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, August 5, 2018). On August 2, 2018, ISIS executed one of the hostages, a 19-year-old student named Muhannad Dhuqan Abu Amar, from the village of Shabki east of As-Suwayda. The video which ISIS distributed on social media shows the abductee saying that he is doomed because of the failure of the negotiations for the evacuation of the ISIS operatives from the Yarmouk Basin to the Syrian Desert. The abductee adds that if ISIS’s demands are not met, the rest of the abductees will also be executed (As-Suwayda 24 Facebook page, August 4, 2018; Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, August 5, 2018).
- A Russian delegation reportedly started to negotiate with ISIS, in coordination with the Syrian regime, in order to bring about the release of the abductees. ISIS reportedly presented several conditions for their release, including the withdrawal of the Syrian army from the entire As-Suwayda Province, ending the military operation against ISIS’s operatives (in the enclave northeast of As-Suwayda), and the release of the ISIS detainees (Khotwa, August 4, 2018)
The Idlib area
The rebels’ control area in Idlib (Khotwa, July 24, 2018)
Local battles on the outskirts of the rebels’ control area
- This week, local battles took place between the rebel organizations and the Syrian army on the outskirts of the rebels’ control area, possibly in preparation for the planned campaign to take over the Idlib area. Following are several noteworthy events:
- The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham reported that the Syrian army was firing artillery every day at the village of Al-Najiya, about 9 km west of the city of Jisr Al-Shughour (on the western outskirts of the Idlib area). The village sustained heavy damage (Ibaa, August 3, 2018).
Buildings in the village of Al-Najiya which were hit by Syrian army artillery (Ibaa, August 3, 2018)
- On August 4, 2018, the Syrian army halted an attack of an organization named Gaza Army (Jaysh Al-Ghazza), affiliated with the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, in the village of Al-Zalaqiyat (about 29 km northwest of Hama). The Syrian army fired artillery at the attackers’ supply routes (Muraselon, August 4, 2018).
- The Syrian army thwarted an attack of the New Fateh Army (the umbrella framework established by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham) south of the city of Jisr al-Shughour. The Syrian troops fired artillery at the positions of the organization operatives and at their logistics routes (Muraselon, August 4, 2018).
Mopping up the area between the Euphrates River and the Syrian-Iraqi border
- The Kurdish SDF forces are about to complete the mopping up of the desert area between the Euphrates River and the Syrian-Iraqi border from the presence of ISIS. Following are the principal activities of the forces:
- According to a “local military source,” the SDF forces have completed their takeover of the Deir ez-Zor Desert and driven out the ISIS operatives from there. According to the same source, ISIS still controls a number of villages north of Albukamal, but the SDF forces will apparently take control of them in a matter of days (Muraselon, August 4, 2018).
- On August 4, SDF forces announced that they were mopping up ISIS’s remaining “pockets of resistance” in the area. In a video released by the forces, one of the speakers notes that hundreds of armed ISIS operatives were killed and large quantities of ammunition were seized (YPG Press Office, August 4, 2018).
- On August 4, 2018, the SDF announced that its forces had advanced in the desert area east of the village of Al-Dashisha. The forces took over the Al-Azraq oil field, some 32 km west of the Syrian-Iraqi border, from ISIS. They also took over the Al-Malah oil field south of Al-Azraq (SDF website, August 4, 2018).
Main developments in Iraq
- On August 3, 2018, the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity reported that two double high voltage pylons northwest of Kirkuk had collapsed as a result of IEDs apparently planted by ISIS. Electricity cables were also cut. As a result, the Kirkuk Province’s electricity supply was impaired. Maintenance crews worked to restore the electricity supply (Al-Sumaria News, August 3, 2018).
- In addition, ISIS’s “routine” guerrilla activity continued this week: an army officer and an official from the Iraqi Interior Ministry were killed by an IED attached to the car they were traveling in north of Baghdad; Vehicles of the Popular Mobilization were hit in the Salah al-Din Province and the Diyala Province; Four Iraqi policemen were wounded northeast of Baqubah; Three Iraqi policemen were killed by the detonation of an explosive device northeast of Baqubah; Two Iraqi soldiers were killed by sniper fire east of Baqubah.
The activity of the Iraqi security forces
- Following are the main activities carried out by the Iraqi security forces against ISIS:
- In the district of Fallujah, the military intelligence teams captured an ISIS operative and found a hiding place containing 40 IEDs. The IEDs were detonated in a controlled manner (Iraqi News Agency, August 4, 2018).
- Acting on intelligence, security forces in the Nineveh Province captured five ISIS operatives in the western part of the city of Mosul. In addition, two ISIS operatives were captured in eastern Mosul (Iraqi News Agency, August 4, 2018).
- The Iraqi security forces killed two ISIS operatives in eastern Mosul. The two operatives were planting an IED and were subsequently killed in clashes.
Jihadi activity in other countries
ISIS suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan
- On July 31, 2018, ISIS carried out a suicide bombing attack in Jalalabad, which was directed against the Afghan government. The target of the attack was the building of the Department of Refugees and Returnees of the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations. The attack killed 15 people, including an employee of IOM, a leading international aid organization for migrants (The Afghanistan Times, August 1, 2018).
- ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the claim of responsibility, two terrorists codenamed Farouq al-Khorasani and Hamad al-Khorasani attacked the building while a meeting was taking place, attended by officials from Western international organizations. ISIS operatives detonated an IED and blew up a car against the security guards, and exchanged fire for several hours with the Afghan security guards and security personnel. The operatives blew up their explosive belts, killing and wounding 86 people, including several Western nationals (www.k1falh.ga, an ISIS-affiliated website, August 1, 2018).
Right: The building of the Department of Refugees and Returnees in Jalalabad (The Afghanistan Times, August 1, 2018). Left: The scene of the attack (Al-Fajr, August 1, 2018)
ISIS suicide bombing attack at a Shiite mosque south of Kabul
- On August 3, 2018, ISIS carried out a double suicide bombing attack at a Shiite mosque in the city of Gardez (around 100 km south of Kabul). The attack was carried out when hundreds of worshipers gathered for Friday prayers. The two suicide bombers dressed in burqas (robes worn by devout Muslim women) shot security guards in front of the mosque and then entered the mosque and blew themselves up (The Afghanistan Times, August 3, 2018). On August 4, 2018, it was reported that the number of people killed in the attack had risen to 39 and at least 80 were wounded (Reuters, August 4, 2018).
- ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the claim of responsibility, around 150 Shiites and members of the Afghan security forces were killed in the attack (www.k1falh.ga, an ISIS-affiliated website, August 5, 2018).
Over 150 ISIS operatives surrender to the Afghan Army
- The Afghan media reported that on August 1, 2018, more than 150 ISIS operatives had handed over their weapons and surrendered to the Afghan army in the Jawzjan Province (northern Afghanistan). The operatives who surrendered included ISIS leader in the Jawzjan Province Mawlawi Habiburrahman and his deputy Nematullah. A total of 330 women surrendered along with the operatives, apparently their family members (The Afghanistan Times, August 1, 2018). According to official Afghan sources, this was the largest number of ISIS operatives who surrendered at the same time (The Independent, August 5, 2018).
Completion of a new ISIS training session in the Nangarhar region
- On August 6, 2018, a new training session ended at the Abu Obeida bin Al-Jarrah camp in the Nangarhar region in eastern Afghanistan. The trainees at the camp were operatives who were trained to operate recoilless guns, RPG launchers, and mortars (www.k1falh.ga, an ISIS-affiliated website, August 6, 2018).
Right: ISIS operatives with their instructor at the training camp. Left: ISIS operatives being trained in the operation of a recoilless gun (www.k1falh.ga, an ISIS-affiliated website, August 6, 2018)
 The activity of the UNDOF forces in the buffer zone was stopped in 2012 for fear for their safety due to the Syrian Civil War. ↑