ISIS Redux: The Central Syria Insurgency in October 2023

November 13, 2023
Gregory Waters  —  Research Analyst

Following is the October 2023 installment of “ISIS Redux: The Central Syria Insurgency,” a monthly chronicle of attacks by the terrorist group ISIS in central Syria.

ISIS carried out at least 19 confirmed attacks in October in the Homs, Hama, Raqqa, and Deir Ez Zor governorates. These attacks killed at least nine pro-Assad regime soldiers and wounded at least three more. There were also six high quality* attacks during October, all of which occurred in eastern Homs. ISIS activity in central Syria increased in October, reaching levels similar to those in August, although with fewer confirmed deaths. As in September, ISIS maintained an aggressive posture this month. At least 12 of October’s 17 confirmed attacks were carried out using small arms or heavy weapons, and often involved attempted or successful assaults on regime positions. Only one attack this month involved a mine or improvised explosive device (IED).

While August’s activity was concentrated in Deir Ez Zor and Raqqa, ISIS cells focused the bulk of their attacks in eastern Homs in October, particularly around the Sukhnah-Wadi Doubayat axis. For the second month in a row, ISIS fighters successfully captured regime military positions in central Syria. Most notably, ISIS routed regime forces from the Wadi Doubayat Gas Field during a coordinated assault on multiple regime positions south of Sukhnah on October 18. However, unlike in September, ISIS retained control over many of the positions it captured through mid-October.


*Indicates attacks in Damascus City claimed by ISIS. Two additional IED attacks occurred in Homs City in June 2023 that went unclaimed but were suspected to be conducted by ISIS.

ISIS attacks dropped in Deir Ez Zor (4) and Raqqa (2), rose sharply in Homs (9) and increased slightly in Hama (3) and Aleppo (1). Aleppo saw its first confirmed ISIS attack since May.


Deir Ez Zor and Raqqa

The number of ISIS attacks in Deir Ez Zor in April (18) was unprecedented, more than in any month since the beginning of the insurgency in 2018. There was a dramatic reversal in activity in May (4), June (3), and July (3) followed by another surge in activity in August (8). Throughout this period, ISIS cells began targeting regime security forces inside the urban centers along the Euphrates River. However, ISIS activity in Deir Ez Zor dropped again in both September (5) and October (4).

Local pro-regime community pages reported that one soldier was killed in Deir Ez Zor on October 1, and another died on October 2. It is not clear where the first soldier died, but the second soldier’s death coincides with a report by journalist Zain al-Abidin that ISIS cells had attacked a military position near the Tayem Oil Field. On October 16, a captain was killed by a mine or IED near Kbabij, west Deir Ez Zor. Lastly, two soldiers were reported killed in Deir Ez Zor on October 19. No specific location of death was provided for them and it is possible they were actually killed in the battles near Sukhnah.

In southern Raqqa, locals reported an attack on shepherds in the Mansoura area on October 9. On October 12, pro-regime sources reported that ISIS militants targeted the 4th Division-held village of al-Khuraybah. According to journalist Zain al-Abidin, who spoke with this author remotely, ISIS conducted a total of five attacks against security forces and locals in the Tabqa-Mansoura region in October. This follows al-Abidin’s reporting in August that ISIS cells had established fake checkpoints in the Mansoura and Resafa regions, which they used to extort money from shepherds and local traders.


Map of locatable ISIS attacks in Dier Ez Zor and Raqqa (highlighted) in October 2023 alongside all other attacks in 2023. Not mapped are three attacks that occurred somewhere in the Deir Ez Zor countryside.

Homs, Hama and Aleppo

ISIS activity in eastern Homs surged in October. This increase came after five months of generally muted activity in the region following the conclusion of the battles around al-Kawm. However, the withdrawal of Wagner Group forces from the Sukhnah sector seems to have spurred a new ISIS push to test the regime’s defenses around this key city. Regime sources claim this new ISIS offensive began after a change in ISIS leadership in eastern Homs last month, and the transfer of fighters from Kawm to the Sukhnah axis.

Battles began on October 5 when Sukhnah National Defense Forces (NDF) units clashed with ISIS militants south of Wadi Doubayat, resulting in the death of at least one NDF field commander. Two days later, on October 7, ISIS militants advanced on regime positions south of Sukhnah but were repelled by army units stationed there. The next serious fighting began on October 16, when suspected ISIS militants reportedly fired multiple heavy mortars at the western outskirts of Sukhnah. This is the first known case of ISIS using mortars in its central Syria campaign in at least four years. The next day, ISIS cells launched a coordinated attack on three checkpoints south of the city. At least one position 25km south of the city fell to ISIS on October 18. Later that same day a group of about 75 ISIS fighters reportedly broke through the northern defensive line around the Doubayat Gas Field. Fighting continued, and eventually regime forces withdrew from the gas field, ceding control to ISIS. On October 24 ISIS militants attacked a regime position south of the gas field, and on October 29 militants captured two regime positions in the same area, creating a 5km buffer zone south of the field.

Three attacks were documented in eastern Hama in October, all targeting security forces (a rarity, as mine or IED attacks are more the norm in this region). On October 15, pro-regime Facebook pages reported the death of a Syrian fighter from the Iran-backed “313 Forces” near Ithriya. According to Aymenn Tamimi, the man was an assistant to an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander known as Hajj Abu Haider and was killed in an ISIS attack on their position. Hajj Abu Haider was also reportedly wounded in the attack. On October 21, an ISIS attack occurred near Uqayribat. On October 23, two soldiers from the Russian-backed 25th Division were wounded and one was killed by a mine or IED east of Ithriyah.

On October 24, one soldier was killed in what appears to have been an ISIS attack on a small convoy of water tankers likely moving to or from regime military positions in the southeast Aleppo desert.

Regime forces, mostly led by the Liwa al-Quds militia, attempted to retake the Doubayat Gas Field several times between October 20 and 21, but were unsuccessful. Regime forces have continued to conduct security operations along the southern Sukhnah-Arak axis during the last week of October, including using night vision equipment on multiple occasions. Meanwhile security forces reportedly conducted an arrest campaign in the eastern Hama town of Uqayribat – once a key ISIS stronghold – on October 22, likely in response to the previous day’s attack. On October 24, soldiers from the 25th Division killed two ISIS fighters in the desert outside Ithriyah, east Hama.

A review of developments throughout 2022 and 2021 can be found here and here. The January 2023 edition can be found here, February’s here, March’s here, April’s here, May’s here, June’s here, July’s here, August’s here, and September’s here. A full background and analysis of ISIS’s resurgence in Syria, including the methodology used to collect this data, can also be explored herehere, and here.


Map of locatable ISIS attacks in Homs and Hama (highlighted) in October 2023 alongside all other attacks in 2023.

Looking Ahead

ISIS’s heavy pressure around Sukhnah came just weeks after the Russian Ministry of Defense withdrew all units of the Wager Group out of Sukhnah and western Deir Ez Zor. As this author highlighted in last month’s ISIS Redux, the redeployment of Wagner forces potentially creates a severe vulnerability in regime defensive lines across eastern Homs. ISIS seems to have decided to test the new defenses and found moderate success. While the lack of Wagner troops hinders the regime’s ability to effectively respond to ISIS assaults, the regime and its Iranian allies still vastly outnumber ISIS combatants in this region. Thus, while ISIS was able to capture the gas field and a half dozen checkpoints around it, militants still never got close to the city. For ISIS, cutting off the regime’s access to Doubayat’s gas – and possibly producing some for themselves – is a victory, but the group’s real goal is to raid the large weapons and ammunitions depots on the outskirts of Sukhnah. These still appear to be out of ISIS’s reach.


Map of locatable ISIS attacks (highlighted) in October 2023 alongside all other attacks in 2023 (green for Quarter 1, blue for Quarter 2, and black for Quarter 3). Not shown are three attacks somewhere in Deir Ez Zor. 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.

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

In Their Own Words:

We reiterate once again that the brigades will directly target US bases across the region in case the US enemy commits a folly and decides to strike our resistance fighters and their camps [in Iraq].

Abu Ali al-Askari, Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) Security Official Mar. 2023
View Archive