One year of IS’s disappearance…  between announcement of its defeat and warnings of its re-emergence

IS's militants pledge allegiance to their new leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi in Hauran area of south Syria- 5 November 2019 (Amaq News Agency)

IS's militants pledge allegiance to their new leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi in Hauran area of south Syria- 5 November 2019 (Amaq News Agency)


A year ago the General Commander of US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Mazloum Abdi, along with former US Ambassador William Rubak, stood together at the al-Omar oil field in eastern rural Deir Ezzor to announce the defeat of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in its last stronghold in Syria.

The announcement came after six months of fighting between the two sides, including weeks of combat in a small IS encampment located in eastern Syria called the “Baghouz” camp. Back then, the IS showed fierce defense, which necessitated intensive air and land intervention by the International Coalition Forces (ICF).

SDF’s winning card

In its victory announcement, the SDF did not hide the fact that there are elements of IS’s sleeper cells, fortified in remote areas of the Syrian desert, and Iraqi cities, indicating that these cells could launch attacks at any possible opportunity.

Considering that the end of the fight against the so-called  IS could eliminate the reason for which SDF was founded, thereby the end of SDF’s purpose. The SDF declared in its announcement that it would be transformed from a military force to a security force to confront any future attacks by IS.

Besides, SDF’s depiction of itself as a fighting force against the sleeper cells of IS will strengthen its position against the prospect of being presented as a “Scapegoat” to political understandings between the conflicting forces in Syria, namely Turkey, US, and Russia.

In early October 2019, the US gave the green light to Turkey to carry out its Euphrates Shield Operation, which allowed Ankara, according to the SDF, to move forward into the eastern Euphrates region. 

Therefore, the SDF threatened to release IS prisoners and stop fighting its sleeper agents. However, the SDF backtracked on its threats, and commander Abdi sent a letter to US Vice President Mike Pence, confirming the continuant cooperation of SDF with the US against the IS.

 Expected re-emergence of IS

Most of the analysis issued by research centers and analysts after the Baghouz battle confirmed that the IS would return to the scene in small, individually-based groups in Syrian and Iraqi areas, as part of an old organizing strategy, adopted for years by the IS in its first years.

Although the IS took extensive hits in Syria and Iraq that limited its capabilities, facts on the ground showed that few months after the IS’s disappearance, its elements carried out assassinations against members of the SDF and the Syrian regime forces, in the provinces of Deir Ezzor, al-Raqqa, al-Hasakah, and most recently in the Syrian south, in addition to its operations in Iraq.

It is worth mentioning that the IS has executed the surprise attacks’ military tactic, where its elements suddenly appear to tackle their opposing target, then withdraw from the location after carrying out their mission rapidly and as if they have not appeared in the first place.

Intensified and expanded attacks of IS after al-Baghdadi’s killing

At the end of October 2019, the US declared that it killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the IS group, in a raid in northwestern Syria.

After the announcement of the US, the IS’s operations returned with a more vigor momentum through a series of attacks in Syria, Iraq, Africa, and Yemen. The IS group called these attacks the “Revenge for the Killing of the Two Venerable Sheikhs:” in reference to its former leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and IS former spokesman, Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir.

The IS’s avenging attacks coincided with its announcement that Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi would be the new caliph in succession to al-Baghdadi, according to an official statement by the IS, on 31 October 2019.

The number of IS’s implemented offensives in Syria cannot be counted since the announcement of its defeat. However, the group has been issuing information regarding its attacks in recent months via its al-Naba magazine, the main outlet by the Central Media Office of the IS. Al-Naba publishes several weekly press releases of the IS’s attacks in its deployment areas, as well as the number of the death toll.

Meanwhile, Syrian local news websites show that the IS has recently increased its attacks against sites and elements of the SDF, the Syrian regime, and even against the bases of the ICF in rural Deir Ezzor.

 Return of US’s security operations to northeast Syria

The resurgence of IS attacks in the countryside of Deir Ezzor, called for the ICF led by the US to intensify their security operations along with SDF fighters to detect and capture elements of the IS’s cells.

Moreover, Washington, DC has announced the revitalization and intensification of its military operations against terrorism in Syria, after a temporary halt, as reported by the Washington Post newspaper.

The newspaper added on 26 January that the Commander of US Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie, said that anti-terrorism operations in Syria have returned to their previous position, indicating that the US troops are continuously executing joint operations with the SDF fighters.

General McKenzie added that US forces are currently conducting three to four joint operations with the SDF every week against the IS elements 

The US’s security operations against the IS group coincide with the deployment of qualitative military equipment to northeast Syria, according to the SDF official website on 11 March.

The website pointed out that the purpose of the US’s reinforcements of heavy artillery weapons is to protect military bases and support joint operations against the IS.

The SDF’s website also indicated that the US’s weapons could destroy long-range targets with high accuracy.

As by the map of control in Syria, the IS is currently fortified in hidden areas between the provinces of Homs and Deir Ezzor, from the outskirts of al-Sukhnah town to the borders of the two cities of al-Bukamal and al-Mayadeen in Deir Ezzor.





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