Eastern Syria insurgency

The Eastern Syria insurgency is an armed insurgency being waged by remnants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and both pro and anti-Syrian government Arab nationalist insurgents, against the self-declared Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and their allies in the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF–OIR) coalition.

Eastern Syria insurgency
Part of the Rojava conflict and the Syrian Civil War

Map of areas held by Rojava
Date11 October 2017[1] – present
(2 years, 2 months and 4 days)
Portions of eastern Syria
Status Ongoing

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Syrian government loyalists

Supported by:
 Iran (alleged)[2]

Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army

al-Nusra Front remnants (allegedly)
Supported by:

Rojava[lower-alpha 1]


Supported by:
Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK, claimed by Turkey, ISIL and the Popular Resistance)
Commanders and leaders
Thabit Sobhi Fahd Al-Ahmad [9]
(ISIL oil minister)
Mohammed Remedan Eyd al-Talah (POW)[10]
(ISIL chief financial officer)
Mazlum Kobane
(SDF commander-in-chief)
Eric T. Hill[10]
(SOJTF commander)
Units involved

Military of ISIL

Syrian Democratic Forces


  • Special Operations Joint Task Force (SOJTF)[10]
Unknown, probably thousands[12] 60,000–75,000 (2017 estimate)[13]
c. 2,000 (2018 estimate)[14]
Casualties and losses
ISIL: 204 killed, 107 captured, 161 wounded (2018)[15]
42 captured (2019)[16]
SDF: 221 killed (vs IS; Aug. 2018-June 2019)[17]
5 killed (vs TAF; 2018)[15]
Coalition: 6 killed[18][17]
84 civilians killed (Aug. 2018-June 2019)[17]


The insurgency began after a series of campaigns in 2016 and 2017 which targeted ISIL's territory led by the CJTF-OIR and SDF, the Syrian government and allied forces, and Turkey along with the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army. This eventually resulted in the ousting of ISIL from its capital in Raqqa and surrounding areas in the Aleppo Governorate, Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor which were largely populated by Arabs with Turkmen minorities, causing tensions with Kurdish rule and occupation.[19] Multiple factions, made up mostly by Arabs, have formed armed groups in support of either the Syrian Opposition or Syrian Government, with additional ISIL remnants operating as clandestine cells who have emerged in areas captured by SDF and the coalition during the 2016-2017 campaigns. These groups have also utilized guerrilla tactics to target the Coalition and SDF forces. Methods of these tactics include assassinations, hit and run attacks, rocket attacks and use of improvised explosive devices (IED).

Locations of attacks vary across cities held by Rojava, but also include Manbij, Raqqa and Hasakah.

Insurgent factions

  • Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant: Following the loss of most of its territory, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has launched a desert-based insurgency, while simultaneously attempting to rally elements of the civilian population to its cause. By attacking SDF-backed civil authorities, it undermines the latter's reputation and worsens existing grievances, resulting in a deteriorating security situation. It is unclear how many active ISIL fighters still operate in Syria, but they probably number several thousands.[12]
  • Government loyalists: Various pro-government groups operate in eastern Syria, including the "Popular Resistance of the Eastern Region" (founded in February 2018 in Raqqa), the "Popular Resistance in Hasakah" (founded in April 2018),[20] and the "Popular Resistance in Manbij" (founded in June 2018).[21] These groups are reportedly supported by Iran,[2] and elements of the Syrian Armed Forces such as the Baqir Brigade.[20] The loyalist militants are not very active, however, and have carried out relatively few attacks.[21]



  • November 2017 - Harakat al-Qiyam utilized an IED in an attempt to assassinate SDF commander Muhammad Abu Adel leaving him injured in Manbij.[22]


  • 5 April 2018 - The Popular Resistance claimed to have carried out a mortar or rocket attack on a U.S. base at Ayn Issa.[14][2]
  • 6 April 2018 - The Baqir Brigade vowed to aid the pro-government insurgency in territories held by U.S.-allied forces.[14][2]
  • 2 September 2018 - 5 SDF militiamen were killed and wounded by an IED planted in Raqqa.[23]
  • 31 October 2018 - The Turkish military and SDF began clashes with stated future goals of a Turkish-led operation in Manbij. The fighting lasted one week, with the United States responding by establishing observation posts in Manbij to prevent further violence.[24]
  • 2 November 2018 - ISIL gunmen assassinated the prominent tribal leader Sheikh Basheer Faisal al-Huwaidi in broad daylight in the city of Raqqa.[25]
  • 4 November 2018 - A car bomb exploded in the city of Raqqa, killing at least one person and injuring ten more people, which included members of the SDF. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq News Agency.[26][27][28]
  • 4 December 2018 - YPG claimed to have arrested four members of Harakat al-Qiyam, allegedly collaborating with Turkish intelligence.[29]


  • 9 January 2019 - "The Gathering of the Eastern Martyrs," a sub-unit of Ahrar al-Sharqiya, claimed responsibility for bombing an SDF humvee with an IED.[30]
  • 21 January 2019 - An ISIL suicide SVBIED targeted a US convoy accompanied by SDF troops on the Shadadi-Al-Hasakah road in Al-Hasakah province, killing 5 SDF personnel. Witnesses say the SVBIED rammed into an SDF vehicle by a checkpoint held by Kurdish forces a dozen kilometers outside Shadadi as the US convoy drove past. No Americans were harmed.[33]
  • 7 February 2019 - The SDF media center announced the capture of 63 ISIL operatives in Raqqa. According to the Kurds, the operatives were a part of a sleeper cell and were all arrested within 24 hours, ending the day-long curfew that was imposed on the city the day before.[34]
  • 9 February 2019 - ISIL militants attacked SDF fighters near the al-Omar oilfield, triggering airstrikes by the U.S.-led Coalition. SOHR said 12 Islamic State fighters attacked SDF and clashed with them for several hours until most of the attackers were killed. Ten attackers were reportedly killed, while two managed to flee. Other activist collectives, including the Step news agency, reported the attack, saying some of the attackers used motorcycles rigged with explosives.[35]
  • 21 February 2019 - 2 successive SVBIEDs detonated in the market area of Shahil, Syria - 10 kilometers from the SDF's al-Omar oilfield HQ - killing 14 people. SOHR reported a car bomb that was detonated remotely as a convoy of workers and technicians that worked at the oilfield was passing by. SOHR said 20 were killed and others wounded.[36][37][38] Other reports of this attack provided alternate locations of the VBIED explosions, the Northwestern city of Afrin and the village of Ghandura near Jarablus.[36][37]
  • 9 March 2019 - 8 people were wounded when a suicide bomber blew up a car in Manbij, near a market. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.[39][40]
  • 14 March 2019 - The pro-Syrian government Popular Resistance detonated an IED in Raqqa, targeting a military convoy. The group claimed that they had killed SDF fighters and injured U.S. soldiers, but these claims could not be independently verified.[41][42]
  • 3 April 2019 - An ISIL cell clashed with the SDF and the Asayish in Raqqa, with 4 ISIL fighters blowing themselves with explosive belts, according to SOHR.[47]
  • 10 April 2019 - ISIL cells attacked SDF fighters at a checkpoint in rural Deir Ez Zor on the outskirts of the town of al-Shuhayl, the cell reportedly used machine guns and RPGs during the attack, as part of a global campaign launched by ISIL, which the group has called "The campaign in revenge for the blessed Province of the Levant" after losing territorial control in Syria after the Battle of Baghuz Fawqani, which has prompted the group to carry out a series of attacks around the world where the group has a presence, as well as encouraging supporters to carry out lone wolf attacks in their countries, other attacks related to the group's call for vengeance have occurred in Libya and Iraq.[49][50][51][52]
  • 12 April 2019 - ISIL claimed responsibility for an attack in Manbij against members of the SDF.[53]
  • 7 May 2019 - A senior commander in the SDFs' Deir ez-Zor military council claimed that Iran, Turkey, and the Syrian government are collaborating to destabilize SDF controlled areas with fighters from Operation Euphrates Shield and al-Nusra remnant cells in eastern Syria. The commander also claimed there is ideological support for ISIL and al-Nusra among the local populations, particularly in the towns of Jadidat Agidat, Shehail, and Basira, which is a hub for Deir ez-Zor's tribes and has also been the site for recent protests against SDF administration.[55] The commander also claimed that the SDF had foiled 180 attempted attacks against SDF, and claimed that Turkey and the Syrian Government provide support for these attacks.[56]
  • 11 May 2019 - Unidentified gunmen attacked a YPG headquarters in the western part of the town of Shuhail, where ongoing protests against the SDF were occurring.[57]
  • 14 July 2019 - The SDF and U.S. special forces killed ISIL's oil minister Thabit Sobhi Fahd Al-Ahmad during a raid somewhere in Deir ez-Zor Governorate.[9]
  • 1 September 2019 - The SDF's Anti-Terror Units captured Mohammed Remedan Eyd al-Talah, ISIL's chief financial officer, during a raid in ash-Shahil, Deir ez-Zor Governorate.[10]
  • October 2019 - The U.S. withdrew from many of its bases in northern Syria in early October, substantially reducing its presence there and disrupting anti-ISIL operations.[58] Nevertheless, the U.S., with Kurdish, Turkish and Iraqi assistance, conducted a successful high-stakes special operations raid in Barisha, Idlib targeting ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; the raid resulted in Baghdadi's death and ISIL selecting a new leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi.[59] By the end of October, the U.S. had adopted a subordinate mission to protect SDF-controlled oil and gas infrastructure, including oil fields, from the ISIL insurgency as the terror group had previously used profits from oil smuggling to fund its activities. The U.S. deployed mechanized infantry units for the first time in its intervention to "reinforce" its presence in eastern Syria and to assist its continuing anti-ISIL insurgency mission.[60]
  • 22 November 2019 - Coalition forces accompanied by allies attacked ISIL enclaves near the Iraqi border, which reportedly resulted in multiple ISIL fighters being killed and wounded.[61][62] While up to 600 ISIL fighters are thought to be defending a small pocket stronghold in Syria's eastern province of Deir ez-Zor.[63]

See also


  1. Known as "Democratic Federation of Northern Syria" until September 2018, and as "Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria" afterwards.


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