SDF insurgency in Northern Aleppo

The SDF insurgency in Northern Aleppo refers to a series of armed guerilla and insurgent attacks carried out by factions aligned or affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), following the defeat of the SDF in the early 2018 Operation Olive Branch carried out by the Turkish Armed Forces and allied Syrian rebel groups.

SDF insurgency in Northern Aleppo
Part of the Syrian Civil War and Operation Olive Branch
Date25 March 2018 – present
(1 year, 8 months, 2 weeks and 5 days)
Status Ongoing

Syrian Democratic Forces

Afrin Liberation Forces (HRE)

Various other insurgent groups[1]
Supported by:
 Syria (per Turkey)[2]
Kurdistan Workers' Party (per Turkey)
Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA)
National Front for Liberation
Units involved

Syrian Democratic Forces

Insurgent groups

Syrian National Army

National Front for Liberation

Casualties and losses

15 killed
169 killed

1,124+ killed

Per Turkey:
10 killed, 14 wounded


Shortly after the defeat of Kurdish forces in Afrin, the spokeswoman of Rojava's ruling party, the PYD, had already announced that the SDF would fight Turkish and allied opposition forces using guerilla tactics.[5][6] The PYD's armed branch, the People's Protection Units (YPG), also stated that they would target the families of rebel fighters active in the Afrin region, as well as refugees displaced from other parts of Syria in Afrin.[7][8] Following these events the "Wrath of Olives" operation room was established in early summer, 2018. However the YPG has denied affiliation with the group.[9]

By May 2018, an insurgency had broken out in the Afrin District, as the YPG[10] along with allied militants, as well as an armed insurgent group called the "Afrin Falcons",[11] has been carrying out bombings, ambushes and assassinations against the Turkish army, allied opposition forces, and civilians sympathetic or affiliated with them.[10][12] Other areas with pro-SDF guerilla activity include Azaz and al-Bab. Clashes regularly occur between Syrian opposition factions allied with Turkey and pro-SDF and at times Syrian governmental forces in nearby areas with pro-SDF insurgents at times operating from these locations.



By mid-2018, the insurgency was mostly focused on the rural areas[10][12] and Afrin city's outskirts, causing the Turkish Air Force to targeted guerilla holdouts in between May and July.[10][13] In May, YPG killed the former leader of the Free East Ghouta Police, Jamal al-Zaghloul, who had been tasked with police duties in Afrin, he was killed by a mine in al-Basouta, south of Afrin city. Following his death, YPG stated that "anyone in cooperation with the invasion forces is our target" in response to assassinating him.[14]

  • 9 August 2018 - The National Front for Liberation clashed with YPG in Kafr Nabu and Ba'ai in the southern part of the Afrin district near the border with the Idlib Governorate. 4 fighters belonging to YPG were killed and several light weapons and explosives were seized by the National Front for Liberation. A representative from the National Front for Liberation told journalists that the group had been monitoring the YPG cell for months as the area had seen heightened levels of violence, mainly being assassinations targeting fighters and civilians with links to the Free Syrian Army on behalf of YPG cells active in the region.[15]
  • 26 August 2018 - YPG released a video showing the assassination of an al-Rahman Legion commander, named Abu Muhammad Al-Shmali, in Babili.[16]
  • 23 October 2018 - the Gathering of the Eastern Martyrs, a group affiliated with Ahrar al-Sharqiya, posted a video on its Facebook page showing a captured smuggler affiliated with SDF near Manbij, and displayed a number of captured weapons including machine guns and rocket launchers.[17]
  • 3 November 2018 - YPG published a statement on its website, claiming to have carried out 19 guerilla operations against Turkish and allied forces in Afrin during the previous month of October, the statement also said that during the operations 3 Turkish soldiers had been killed, 10 allied opposition fighters had been killed and that 10 others were injured and 9 vehicles had been destroyed. YPG also stated that 2 Self-Defense Forces (HXP) fighters had been killed by Turkish forces and that a 6 year old girl was killed as well, along with 4 civilians.[18]
  • 28 November 2018 - YPG stated that an insurgent cell belonging to the group had destroyed a Hamza Division vehicle on the road between Afrin city and Basuta with an IED, hours later on the same day YPG also stated to have destroyed a vehicle belonging to the Levant Front with an anti-tank guided missile reportedly killing a member of the Levant Front standing next to the vehicle.[19]
  • 3 December 2018 - Jaysh al-Islam stated to have foiled an attempted YPG infiltration in northwestern Aleppo in the town of Deir Mushmush.[20]
  • 21 December 2018 - the Afrin Liberation Forces (HRE), a pro-YPG insurgent group, was established and released a press statement laying out the group's goals; the group stated that they seek to end the "occupation of their areas" and that they will carry out operations as part of a "justified war" until the region is "liberated". The statement also claimed responsibility for two attacks: one occurring on 18 December involving the detonation of an improvised explosive device against Turkish soldiers, saying as many as 6 men had been injured and killed, and another attack on the same date the detonation of another IED on forces belonging to the Hamza Division.[21]


  • 20 January 2019 - A bombing carried out by pro-YPG insurgents killed and injured dozens of individuals in Afrin city. A health source claimed that the attack resulted in the deaths of 3 and the injury of 12 others.[22] On the same day, HRE stated to have attacked construction equipment belonging to Turkish forces used for building trenches and tunnels, further stating "Jihadist" fighters allied with the Turkish military had been killed during the attack.[23]
  • 23 January 2019 - 2 bombings occurred outside the headquarters of Ahrar al-Sharqiya in the town of Rajo in the Afrin district of the Aleppo Governorate, no group claimed responsibility for the attack, 3 members of the group were killed by the bombings.[24]
  • 21 February 2019 - A car bombing occurred near a hospital in Afrin city during a Syrian National Army parade, pro-YPG media outlets stated that casualties occurred as a resulting of the bombing.[25]
  • 24 February 2019 - A member of the Sultan Murad Division was killed by an IED while attempted to dismantle it.[26]
  • 8 April 2019 - The Turkish military began training allied rebel forces on air landing via helicopters in Afrin in anticipation of possible planned operations against SDF.[27]
  • 11 April 2019 - Clashes broke out between Turkish backed forces and Kurdish fighters from YPG in northern Aleppo, the Free Syrian Army fired artillery and mortars at YPG lines and heavy machine gun fire was also used, the clashes reportedly came after a series of heightened tension between SDF and Turkey with the Turkish military recently sending reinforcements to Jarabulus and areas near Manbij which is currently under SDF control.
  • 12 April 2019 - Turkish forces shelled YPG positions near Tell Rifaat, YPG responded by shelling positions under Turkish and allied rebel control, prior to the attack Russian military police had withdrawn from the location two days before.[28]
  • 4 May 2019 - Clashes erupted between Turkish and allied Free Syrian Army forces with YPG over the death of two Turkish soldiers, during the fighting the Free Syrian Army captured three villages in the northern part of the Tell Rifaat Subdistrict from YPG, and later withdrew.
  • 5 August 2019 - HRE stated to have attacked and killed 8 fighters belonging to Ahrar al-Sham and Suqour al-Sham at a base near Mare' and injuring another 4, using AK47 rifles and PK light machine guns as well as RPG-7s, on the same day HRE also stated to have attacked a Hamza Division base near al-Bab, saying that 3 Hamza Division members were killed and 3 were injured.[29]
  • 9 August 2019 - HRE stated it has killed 7 Turkish soldiers during an attack on a Turkish military checkpoint.[30]

Concurrently with the Operation Peace Spring, two Turkish soldiers were killed by a mortar attack in Azaz, originating from Tel Rifaat on 11 October.[31][32]


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  2. "Damascus or Washington — which side will the YPG choose?".
  3. "Marxist Insurgents in Afrin: Small arms of TİKKO fighters". Calibre Obscura. April 6, 2019.
  4. "Three Turkish-backed mercenaries killed in Afrin's Bilbile district". YPG Press Office. 2 December 2018.
  5. "Turkish Led Forces Seize Centre Syria's Afrin" Middle East Eye 18 March 2018 Archived 20 July 2018 at the Wayback Machine
  6. "Saleh-moslem-guerrilla-warfare-begins-in-afrin" anfenglish 18 March 2018 Archived 11 July 2018 at the Wayback Machine
  7. "Syrian Kurdish forces threaten families of Turkey's allies in Afrin – Ahval". Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  8. Wilgenburg, Wladimir van. "YPG will target any group working with Turkish army in Afrin". Retrieved 3 June 2018.
  9. "YPG rejects involvement in attacks by mysterious groups in Afrin". Kurdistan24.
  10. Borzou Daragahi (13 July 2018). "Turkey Has Made a Quagmire for Itself in Syria". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  11. Sirwan Kajjo (30 June 2018). "Twin explosions mark new tensions in Afrin". Ahval. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  12. Wladimir van Wilgenburg (17 July 2018). "YPG continues attacks on Turkish army and rebels in Afrin". Kurdistan 24. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  13. "After 54 Days of Controlling the Area, Turkish Warplanes Bomb North of Afrin, In Conjunction with Ground Shelling Accompanies A Direct Confrontation Between the Kurdish And Turkish Forces • The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights". May 11, 2018.
  14. Bahira al-Zarier; Justin Clark; Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim; Ammar Hamou (14 May 2018). "Hidden explosives stunt movement, frighten Afrin residents two months into pro-Turkish rule". SYRIA:direct. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  15. "أربعة قتلى لـ "الوحدات" الكردية في منطقة عفرين بمواجهات مع "الحر"".
  16. "YPG assassinated high ranking FSA commander in Afrin". AMN – Al-Masdar News.
  17. "Security Check Required". November 27, 2019.
  18. "YPG Reveals Details Of Its Operations In October, Claims It Carried Out 19 Attacks In Afrin". November 7, 2018.
  19. "YPG Cells Destroy Several Military Vehicles In Afrin With IEDs And ATGMs (Videos)". November 28, 2018.
  20. Aboufadel, Leith (December 3, 2018). "Jaysh Al-Islam foils YPG attack in northwestern Aleppo".
  21. "Afrin Liberation Forces carried out 2 operations in Afrin - ANHA | HAWARNEWS | English".
  22. "VIDEO: Explosion kills, injures over a dozen in Syria's Afrin". Kurdistan24.
  23. "Afrin Liberation Forces hit invaders in Mare". ANF News.
  25. "Explosion in Afrin". ANF News.
  26. اليوم, HalabToday حلب (February 24, 2019). "فرقة السلطان مراد في الجيش الوطني تنعي مقاتلاً لها قضى في انفجار دراجة مفخخة في قرية مشعلة بعفرين خلال محاولة تفكيكها".
  27. Desk, News (April 8, 2019). "Turkish military begins air landing drills for Syria operation".
  28. Desk, News (April 11, 2019). "Turkish Army attacks Kurdish forces near key town in northern Aleppo".
  29. Barić, Joško (August 5, 2019). "Syrian War Daily – 5th of August 2019".
  30. "HRE: 7 Turkish soldiers eliminated in Afrin - ANHA | HAWARNEWS | English".
  31. "SON DAKİKA HABERİ: Azez'de 2 asker şehit".
  32. "Two Turkish soldiers killed in Kurdish attack in Afrin: ministry".
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