The suspected Islamic State sleeper cell launched a series of attacks against US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria, apparently after retaliation foiled a plot to jail thousands of supporters of the terrorist group.
Talk of IS attacks first broke late Monday, with some accounts claiming IS fighters targeted key posts with rockets and bullets.
The Rozwa Information Center, a pro-Kurdish research organization in northeastern Syria, confirmed the attacks on Tuesday, saying IS struck the SDF headquarters in Busaira, about 30 kilometers southeast of Deir al-Zour.
The RIC said Islamic State cells also attacked SDF bases and positions in al-Shahil, al-Thiba and al-Zar, with unconfirmed reports that at least one other SDF checkpoint was also targeted.
SDF forces suffered some injuries, but RIC researchers said they were able to capture two IS operatives with the help of the United States.
According to the US Special Operations Joint Task Force-Levant, coalition forces responded to the SDF’s requests for help, following an attack near Diban, about 60 kilometers southeast of Deir al-Zour by “unknown terrorists with unknown motives”. cited.
The task force told the VOA in a statement, “Alliance forces used rounds of lights to provide visuals in the area.”
The apparent pushback from IS fighters came after SDF officials announced they had foiled a plot to free 5,000 captured Islamic State members from the Sina prison in Hasaka in northeastern Syria.
“Our counter-terrorism units, with the support of the international coalition, were able to identify the location of the cell and conduct a quality operation against it,” the SDF said in a statement on Monday.
At least one Islamic State fighter was killed in the SDF operation, which led to at least four arrests.
SDF officials further said they recovered dozens of firearms, rockets and improvised explosive devices, as well as ammunition.
Since declaring IS military defeat in March 2019, the SDF has held more than 10,000 IS fighters, including about 2,000 foreign nationals.
But SDF and coalition officials have repeatedly warned that prisons, mostly converted schools or hospitals, cannot last indefinitely. And repeated attempts to escape have only raised concerns.
Monday’s fighting between the SDF and IS comes at a time when US intelligence assessments have warned the terrorist group – which still commands some 10,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq – is intensifying its attacks.
The US Defense Intelligence Agency has warned that IS cells in Syria, in particular, are “ready to increase activity … after a period of recovery and recovery.”
The DIA also said it was tracking an increasing number of IS operations since early September, with the group increasingly targeting troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran-backed militias.
In one of its monthly reports, the RIC said it recorded 13 IS attacks in October, all in the Deir al-Zour region.
US defense officials said Tuesday that the Pentagon remains “laser-focused” on working with the SDF to stop the threat from IS.
“We know that ISIS remains in Syria,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in response to a VOA question.
“We know they would love nothing better than to be able to reorganize and continue to use Syria as a place for training, recruiting, resourcefulness,” he said. “That’s why our mission in Iraq and Syria continues.”
Sarwan Kajjo contributed to this report.