(New York, N.Y.) – In August, ISIS fighters carried out more than 35 attacks and killed at least 76 pro-Assad regime fighters across Syria in the Homs, Deir Ez Zor, Raqqa, Hama, and Aleppo governorates. Since losing its territory in Syria, ISIS has shifted its strategy in the country from holding territory to an insurgency against the state. Nonetheless, the increased volume of violence, sophistication of attacks, and total number of pro-regime casualties demonstrates ISIS’s “robust logistical and strategic capability,” despite the defeat of its self-proclaimed caliphate.
In his analysis, “ISIS Redux: The Central Syria Insurgency in August 2020,” Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Research Analyst Gregory Waters details the nature and scope of the ISIS attacks. According to Waters, in August, ISIS fighters conducted at least one “high-quality attack” in each Syrian province where they were present and staged multiple attacks in one day for eight straight days. ISIS’s ability to commit recurrent and far-reaching attacks has stoked fear that the insurgency group will once again establish a Syrian stronghold for its operations.
Although the terror group once controlled large swaths of territory across Iraq and Syria at the peak in the summer of 2014, ISIS lost control of that land over the course of 2017. In June 2017, U.S.-backed forces began an offensive to drive ISIS out of its self-declared capital in Raqqa, Syria. On October 17, 2017, U.S.-backed forces announced the liberation of Raqqa. By December 2018, ISIS retained only a small foothold in the Syrian town of Baghuz along the Syrian-Iraqi border. In March 2019, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched an assault on ISIS forces in Baghuz.
The ISIS insurgency has since been carrying out small-scale attacks throughout rural territory along the porous border of Iraq and Syria and the informal border of Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq. Notwithstanding its territorial losses, security officials expect ISIS to remain a threat and lead an ongoing insurgency in the region.
To read CEP’s ISIS resource, please click here.
To read CEP’s blog post, ISIS Redux: The Central Syria Insurgency in August 2020, please click here.