Column of Syrian army armored vehicles en route to Quneitra (Al-Hall, May 30, 2018).
Syrian army APCs joining the campaign to take over Daraa (Butulat Al-Jaysh Al-Suri, May 31, 2018)
Jaysh Al-Islam tank attacking positions of the Khaled bin Al-Walid Army in Tell Ashtara, north of Daraa.
Jaysh al-Islam field gun attacking positions of the Khaled bin Al-Walid Army in Tell Ashtara (jaishalislam Twitter account, June 3, 2018)
Main events of the week
- The Syrian army announced that it had completed preparations for the takeover of southern Syria and that 40,000 soldiers were waiting for the green light to begin the campaign. On the other hand, the Free Syrian Army, one of the dominant rebel organizations in southern Syria, announced that it would fight against the Syrian army if attacked. The rebel organizations held a show of military strength and, at the same time, issued an announcement stating that they were opposed to the Syrian regime’s entry into southern Syria. Concurrently, the rebel organizations, operating under a joint operations room, are carrying out local attacks against the ISIS-affiliated Khaled bin al-Walid Army in the Yarmouk Basin.
- Concurrently with the preparations for the start of the campaign, intensive diplomatic contacts were held this week between Russia, the United States, Israel, and Jordan regarding all the components of regulating the situation in southwestern Syria. Conflicting reports on this have been published in the various media outlets, expressing differences of opinion among the relevant parties. These reports indicated the components of the understandings that are being formulated: the return of the Syrian army to the Syrian Golan Heights without rejection on the part of Israel; the withdrawal of the rebel organizations from southwestern Syria, surrendering their “heavy weapons” to Russia; the ban on the presence of Iran, Hezbollah, and pro-Iranian militias near the border with Israel and in southern Syria in general; the withdrawal of the US forces from the Al-Tanf enclave near the Syrian-Jordanian border; the deployment of Russian policing forces in the areas to be evacuated by the rebel organizations.
- While ISIS is under severe pressure in its core countries of Syria and Iraq, ISIS’s various provinces are carrying out intensive terror activity. The main center of activity is Afghanistan, where ISIS carried out two suicide bombing attacks in Kabul this week: one against a conference of Muslim clerics who intended to declare a ban on suicide bombing attacks and call for reconciliation with the Taliban (around 70 dead and wounded). The second was against the Afghan Interior Ministry building (five wounded).
Russian and American involvement
The statement by the Russian ambassador to the United Nations
- On June 1, 2018, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, referred to an agreement concerning the withdrawal of the Iranian forces from southern Syria. Ambassador Nebenzia announced that an agreement had been reached for the withdrawal of [Iranian] forces in southwestern Syria, which would soon be implemented. He added that he had heard media reports about the agreement reached for the withdrawal of the forces from southwestern Syria. Regarding the question of whether they would actually leave, he replied that at the moment he could not answer but he understood that the parties that were involved in reaching the agreement were satisfied with their achievements (TASS News Agency, June 1, 2018). On the other hand, Syrian President Bashar Assad said that there was no presence of “Iranian forces” in Syrian territory, but added that there had always been Iranian officers working together with the Syrian army (RT, May 31, 2018).
The withdrawal of the US forces from the Al-Tanf area near the Syrian-Jordanian border
- According to the Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, there is basic agreement between the United States, Russia and Jordan to dismantle the American base in the Al-Tanf crossing area on the Jordanian-Syrian-Iraqi border in return for the withdrawal of Iranian and pro-Iranian militias from the [Syrian-Israeli] border area. There are reportedly still differences of opinion centering on the timetables and the distance from the Israeli border to which Iranian-affiliated forces will withdraw, which are preventing an agreement from being reached (Asharq Al-Awsat, June 3, 2018).
The Syrian army announced that it had finished the preparations for the campaign against the rebel organizations in southern Syria and that its soldiers were awaiting the green light to start the campaign. The Free Syrian Army announced that it would fight against the Syrian army if attacked and that it was too soon to discuss an arrangement. The rebel organizations published their terms for arrangement, which include objection to any entry by the Syrian regime forces into southern Syria. At the same time, clashes continue between the rebel organizations, operating under a joint operations room, and the ISIS-affiliated Khaled bin Al-Walid Army.
Syrian army preparations
- On May 29, 2018, the Syrian army reinforced its troops in Quneitra and Daraa by forces from the 4th Division, including armored vehicles (Al-Hall, May 30, 2018). On May 31, 2018, the Syrian army announced that 40,000 soldiers were waiting for the green light to start the campaign to take over southern Syria. These troops are equipped with tanks and rocket launchers (Butulat Al-Jaysh Al-Suri, May 31, 2018).
Right: Column of Syrian army armored vehicles en route to Quneitra (Al-Hall, May 30, 2018). Left: Syrian army APCs joining the campaign to take over Daraa (Butulat Al-Jaysh Al-Suri, May 31, 2018)
Deployment of the forces in the Daraa area and the Yarmouk Basin: Rebel
organizations (green), Syrian army and supporting forces (red), ISIS (black)
(Qasiyoun, June 2, 2018)
The rebel organizations
- The rebel organizations reportedly submitted a list of their demands regarding southern Syria to be presented in a meeting held between the United States, Russia, and Jordan. The rebel organizations are against any agreement that will include entry of the Syrian regime forces into southern Syria. They also object to placing Russian Military Police stations in the area. At the same time, the rebel organizations demand that a time schedule be determined for the withdrawal of the Iranian militias from the area, to be carried out with an international guarantee (Suriya.net, June 3, 2018).
- A Free Syrian Army-affiliated militia called “Army of Free Tribes” carried out a military show of force in the Daraa area, where it presented its troops. The show included dozens of military vehicles and hundreds of operatives, waving flags of the organization and the Free Syrian Army. The show was entitled: “Increasing readiness to fight against the Syrian regime and against the Iranian militias in southern Syria (Enab Baladi, June 5, 2018).
Right: Convoy of vehicles as part of the military show. Militiamen waving flags of the organization and the Free Syrian Army. Left: Fighters of the tribal militia waving the organization flag (Enab Baladi, June 5, 2018)
Clashes between the rebel organizations and the Khaled bin Al-Walid Army
- This week, clashes continued between the rebel organizations and the ISIS-affiliated Khaled bin Al-Walid Army, deployed in the Yarmouk Basin. The rebel organizations operate under a joint operations room, where the Free Syrian Army and the Ahrar Al-Sham organization are the dominant parties. Operatives of these organizations attacked checkpoints of the Khaled bin Al-Walid Army near the tri-border area of Syria, Jordan and Israel, and fired tank and mortar shells at the organization positions. The rebel organizations also fired rockets at the village of Al-Shajara (Syria Scope, June 3, 2018; Orient News, May 31, 2018; jaishalislam Twitter account, June 3, 2018). The Khaled bin Al-Walid Army announced that its operatives had attacked a position of the rebel organizations in the village of Hit and killed five operatives (www.k1falh.ga, website affiliated with ISIS, June 3, 2018).
Clashes between the Syrian army and ISIS in the desert areas west of the Euphrates River
- Clashes between the Syrian army and ISIS took place this week in the desert areas west of Albukamal, Al-Mayadeen and Deir ez-Zor. On May 31, 2018, nine Syrian army soldiers and eight ISIS operatives were killed in the deserts west of Deir ez-Zor (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, June 1, 2018). On May 31, 2018, it was reported that the Syrian army and forces supporting it had halted several ISIS attacks not far from the T2 oil pumping station west of Albukamal. ISIS operatives reportedly sustained losses and were forced to withdraw (Muraselon, May 31, 2018). Iranian forces reportedly secured the road leading from Albukamal to the T2 station (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, June 3, 2018).
Clashes in the Albukamal area
- Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported (June 1, 2018) that at least eight people, including three children, had been killed in Coalition airstrikes against ISIS targets in the village of Baghouz Al-Fawqani (Upper Baghouz), on the east bank of the Euphrates River (about 1.5 km east of Albukamal). In this village, ISIS maintains a routine of military activity against the Syrian army, along with government activity among the local population.
- On June 2 and 3, 2018, ISIS carried out several attacks against the Syrian army northwest of Albukamal. At least seven ISIS operatives and four members of the forces supporting the Syrian army were killed in these clashes (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, June 3, 2018). On June 5, 2018, it was reported that ISIS operatives had cut off the main highway between Deir ez-Zor and Al-Mayadeen for several hours, while attacking Syrian army positions under artillery cover. At least nine Syrian soldiers were killed in these attacks (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, June 5, 2018).
Right: ISIS sniper observing Syrian army positions from the village of Al-Baghouz al-Fawqani. Left: ISIS sniper shooting at Syrian army soldiers (Haqq, June 2, 2018)
- The (predominantly Kurdish) SDF forces, in cooperation with Iraq, launched a military operation to take over a territory held by ISIS in the rural area south of Hasakah (which is in the Kurdish control area east of the Euphrates River). ISIS’s prominent stronghold in this area is in the village of Al-Dashisha, about 78 km south of Hasakah (Enab Baladi, June 4, 2018).
- On June 3, 2018, it was reported that clashes were taking place between ISIS operatives and SDF forces around the village of Al-Dashisha. During the fighting, rockets were reportedly launched from a US base in Al-Shadadi (about 30 km north of the village of Al-Dashisha) at ISIS targets in three villages southeast of Hasakah (Euphrates Post, June 3, 2018).
SDF fighters at a fighting position in the area of Al-Dashisha
(YPG Press Office, June 4, 2018)
Column of SDF fighters on their way to operate against ISIS targets
around Al-Dashisha (YPG Press Office, June 4, 2018)
- Two ISIS operatives were caught while planting IEDs near the blood bank in the town of Al-Dana, about 32 km north of Idlib. The two men were executed by operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, the jihadi organization controlling the Idlib area (Sputnik, June 1, 2018).
Bodies of two ISIS operatives lying in the street after being executed
by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the town
of Al-Dana, north of Idlib (Haqq, June 1, 2018)
Main developments in Iraq
- This week, ISIS continued its intense terror and guerrilla activity, mainly in the provinces of Salah Al-Din and Kirkuk. Following are the main incidents:
- On May 31, 2018, ISIS operatives attacked the Alas oil field, about 41 km east of Tikrit. They clashed with the Iraqi security forces and eventually retreated from the area (Al-Sumaria News, May 31, 2018).
- On June 2, 2018, ISIS operatives infiltrated into the village of Al-Farhatiya, 22 km south of Samarra, and killed twelve people, all members of the same family (Al-Sumaria News, June 2, 2018). The attack was probably carried out due to collaboration between residents of the village and the Iraqi authorities.
Counterterrorist and preventive activity by the Iraqi security forces
- This week, the Iraqi security forces uncovered an ISIS workshop for making IEDs and a weapons cache:
- The spokesman of the Iraqi Security Information Center announced that teams of the Military Intelligence Directorate of the Iraqi army 20th Brigade had found an ISIS workshop for making IEDs south of Mosul. About 1,500 mortar shells, gun shells, and nine IEDs were found in the workshop (Al-Sumaria News, June 1, 2018).
- On May 31, 2018, the Iraqi army announced that the Military Intelligence Directorate of the 20th Brigade had found an ISIS weapons cache about 35 km south of Mosul, containing 80 mortar shells and five molds for making IEDs (Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, May 31, 2018).
Jihadi activity in other countries
ISIS suicide bombing attack in Kabul during a conference of Muslim clerics
- On June 4, 2018, ISIS operatives carried out a suicide bombing attack in Kabul. The attack was carried out during a conference attended by over 2,000 Muslim clerics. The conference was intended to declare a ban on suicide bombing attacks and call for reconciliation with the Taliban (Afghanistan Times, June 4, 2018).
- ISIS’s Khorasan Province claimed responsibility for the attack. The claim of responsibility stated that an ISIS operative codenamed Siddiq al-Farsi (i.e., the Persian) had entered a conference of the “clerics of Satan” on the subject of combatting terrorism held in Kabul. He blew himself up among them with his explosive vest. As a result, about 70 participants and members of the Afghan security forces were killed and wounded (Haqq, June 4, 2018).
The scene of the attack against the conference of Muslim clerics
(barsh.ir, June 4, 2018)
ISIS suicide bombing attack on the Interior Ministry compound in Kabul
- On May 30, 2018, eight suicide bombers attacked a compound of the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul. The attack began when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint and wounded five Afghan policemen. Then seven terrorists wearing explosive belts attempted to enter the Afghan Interior Ministry compound. They were shot to death by policemen who were guarding the compound (Afghanistan Times, May 30, 2018).
- On May 31, 2018, ISIS’s Khorasan Province announced that a squad of 10 ISIS operatives with explosive belts had attacked the headquarters of the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul. According to the announcement, the operatives detonated a number of IEDs in front of the Interior Ministry building. This was followed by an exchange of fire with the Afghan security forces, lasting several hours. Some of them detonated their explosive belts, one after the other. As a result, dozens of members of the Afghan security forces were killed and wounded (Haqq, June 1, 2018).
- Photos published by ISIS show around 10 ISIS operatives armed with assault rifles and wearing explosive belts. Other photos show the bodies of some of the operatives. A badge of the US Armed Forces 101st Airborne Division is visible on the uniform of one of the dead operatives. Photos of the two vehicles used by ISIS operatives were also published (Haqq, June 1, 2018).
Ten ISIS operatives with the ISIS flag in the background, before setting out for
the attack on the headquarters of the Afghan Interior Ministry (Haqq, June 1, 2018)
Attack on a police station in Libya by ISIS
- On June 2, 2018, ISIS’s Barqa Province in Libya announced that a number of ISIS operatives had attacked the Al-Qinan police station, about 12 km southeast of Ajdabiya (about 145 km south of Benghazi). In the clashes between the sides, the policemen manning the station were killed and ISIS operatives burned its contents (Haqq, June 3, 2018).
ISIS’s claim of responsibility for the stabbing and shooting attack in Belgium (update)
- On May 29, 2018, a stabbing and shooting attack was carried out in the city of Liège, Belgium. As a result of the attack, a Belgian civilian was killed and several policemen were wounded. The 31-year-old Belgian-born assailant, a prisoner who underwent a process of radicalization during his prison term, was also killed (see Spotlight on Global Jihad from last week).
- On May 30, 2018, ISIS’s Amaq News Agency issued a claim of responsibility for the stabbing and shooting attack in Liège. The wording of the claim of responsibility: “The perpetrator of the attack [that was carried out] yesterday evening, Tuesday, [May 29, 2018], in the city of Liège, in eastern Belgium, is [one] of the soldiers of the Islamic State. [He] carried out the attack in response to calls to carry out attacks in the countries of the International Coalition” (Haqq, May 31, 2018).
Gas pipeline in Tunis blown up by ISIS
- On June 2, 2018, it was reported that a natural gas pipeline had been blown up in eastern Tunisia. The pipeline runs between the Al-Dawlab oil field and the city of Sfax on the Mediterranean coast (see map). The explosion of the pipeline led to the loss of oil. The field includes 19 oil wells and has been active since 1969 (Bab Net, June 2, 2018). On June 3, 2018, ISIS’s Amaq News Agency announced that the organization’s operatives had blown up a pipeline carrying gas from the Al-Dawlab oil field to the city of Sfax on the Mediterranean coast (Aamaq, June 3, 2018).