Thursday, June 25, 2015

ISIS Counterattacks in Northern Syria

by: Christopher Kozak with Jennifer Cafarella

ISIS launched a series of spectacular counterattacks on June 24-25 in a two-pronged line of effort targeting Kurdish and regime forces in northern Syria. ISIS conducted a wave of suicide attacks in Hasaka City in northeastern Syria on June 24, detonating two SVBIEDs as well as three or four SVESTs targeting Kurdish internal security and regime-held checkpoints in a move likely intended to soften the city’s defenses. ISIS later launched an offensive against Hasaka City on June 25, detonating at least one VBIED and seizing the regime-held southwestern neighborhoods of the city. ISIS’s advance allegedly received support from tribal fighters previously aligned with the Assad regime. Simultaneously, approximately thirty to forty ISIS fighters disguised in Kurdish YPG and Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel uniforms infiltrated the Kurdish border town of Ayn al-Arab (Kobani) on June 25, detonating two SVBIEDs at the border crossing to Turkey and clashing with YPG forces.

ISIS’s synchronized attacks in northern Syria likely represent part of an overarching campaign to contain its opponents in the area and set conditions for further advances in Syria. The attacks in Ayn al-Arab (Kobani) and Hasaka City appear designed to disrupt ongoing YPG-led anti-ISIS operations in northern ar-Raqqa Province in order to divert pressure away from core ISIS terrain in ar-Raqqa City. The scale of the ISIS offensive against Hasaka City also suggests that ISIS may intend to seize the city to offset recent losses to Kurdish and rebel forces along the Syrian-Turkish border at the border crossing of Tel Abyad as well as the town of Ayn Issa and its associated Brigade 93 base further south. At minimum, ISIS’s attacks in Ayn al-Arab and Hasaka City demonstrate that ISIS possesses sufficient resiliency to absorb losses in northern Syria without losing the capability to conduct military operations. Alternately, reports indicating that ISIS did not mount fierce resistance in either Tel Abyad or Ayn Issa suggest that ISIS may have accepted a degree of calculated risk north of ar-Raqqa City in order to conserve resources for new lines of effort targeting Hasaka City, central Syria, or other regions of the country.