Following is the January 2023 installment of “ISIS Redux: The Central Syria Insurgency,” a monthly chronicle of attacks by the terrorist group ISIS in central Syria. A review of developments throughout 2022 and 2021 can be found here and here. A full background and analysis of ISIS’s resurgence in Syria, including the methodology used to collect this data, can also be explored here, here, and here.
ISIS militants carried out at least five confirmed attacks in January in Raqqa, Homs, and Deir Ez Zor governorates. These attacks killed at least seven pro-Assad regime soldiers and wounded at least two others. Additionally, there was one high quality* attack in January. ISIS activity in central Syria dropped by all metrics compared to the last several months, returning to a level slightly above that of July 2022. This drop in activity mirrors a broader lull in ISIS activity globally in January. As in August, September, and December, January’s activity was concentrated in Raqqa and Deir Ez Zor, with a steady but small number of mine/improvised explosive device (IED) attacks in Homs. Unlike in past months, ISIS claimed no attacks in central Syria in January.
ISIS attacks remained steady in Homs (2) while dropping sharply in Deir Ez Zor (2) and Raqqa (1). No attacks were confirmed in south Aleppo and east Hama.
ISIS began its revamped Badia media strategy in August with a string of southern Raqqa claims. ISIS cells carried out at least 16 attacks in southern Raqqa between August and December 2022, compared to just seven attacks in the first seven months of the year. Activity here continued in January, though apparently at a much-reduced rate (it is important to remember that southern Raqqa is one of the most difficult places to find accurate information on ISIS activity). On January 23, some local anti- and pro-regime pages reported an ISIS small arms attack on a regime position near the Tabqa Airport, allegedly leaving three soldiers dead. Unlike in December, ISIS did not claim any attacks in southern Raqqa this month.
Homs and Deir Ez Zor
ISIS activity in Deir Ez Zor surged in December following no confirmed attacks in November. However, activity dropped again in January. The first attack occurred on January 8, when a soldier was reported killed in the southwest part of the province near the Deir Ez Zor-Homs-Iraq border. The second attack came on January 15, when local pro-regime pages reported an ISIS attack on an army point in the Kharita area, leaving at least one National Defense Forces (NDF) soldier dead.
January saw the same low level of ISIS activity in Homs as in December, with only two IED or mine incidents being reported. On January 16, one soldier was killed and several wounded by an IED or mine while driving near Sukhnah. On January 30, a soldier was reported killed somewhere in the province by another IED or mine.
No major ground operations were confirmed to have occurred in January. However, on January 23, pro-regime sources reported a new anti-ISIS air campaign was to begin from the Tiyas and al-Seen airbases on the western edge of the Badia, presumably to provide support to patrols and enable to the regime to quickly target any suspected ISIS hideouts. Additionally, regime sources in Deir Ez Zor reported the arrival of several thousand Iraqi militiamen under the command of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) throughout January. It is not clear if these fighters are intended to use in anti-ISIS patrols, man checkpoints in Iranian-controlled areas, or simply conduct training exercises alongside their Syrian counterparts.
ISIS activity in central Syria was quite lackluster in January, especially in comparison to the high tempo December and following a general increase in activity during the last five months of 2022. Yet, this mirrors a general lull in self-reported ISIS activity both across Syria and globally. ISIS claimed only eight attacks in Syria—all in the northeast—and only 13 in Iraq throughout January. In this context, the five incidents in central Syria actually constitute a larger proportion of ISIS activity in the region than usual, a trend in line with the last few months of 2022. All this is to say that, as usual, it is not clear whether the drop in activity in central Syria is due to any Badia-specific counter-ISIS pressure from the regime, versus internal ISIS decision-making or some broader global pressure/influence.
Map of locatable ISIS attacks (highlighted) in January 2023 alongside attacks in 2022. Note that it does not include one attack conducted somewhere in eastern Homs. To view an interactive version of this map, please click here.
*High quality attacks are defined as attacks behind frontlines, those that result in seized positions, target regime officers, involve coordinated attacks on multiple positions, fake checkpoints, ambushes on military convoys, or attacks on checkpoints that kill at least three soldiers or lead to POWs.