Islamic State Steps up Attacks in the Syrian Desert
Jan 16, 2024 810

Islamic State Steps up Attacks in the Syrian Desert

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As 2024 began, the Islamic State group escalated its campaign of attacks against Syrian regime forces and Iranian militia positions in eastern Syria’s  badiya  desert region. IS cells carried out no less than seven attacks over just three days, killing and wounding dozens.  

On January 1, an IS cell attacked Russian-backed pro-regime Qatirji militiamen deployed at the Al-Kharata / Bir Qasiba oil field and in Al-Mazraa, southern Deir ez-Zor. The attack killed six of the fighters and wounded four, as well as destroying two tanks. Another group of IS fighters simultaneously attacked a checkpoint of the Liwa Al-Quds militia on the road from Al-Shula and Kabajib in western Deir ez-Zor, killing at least three fighters.  

The next day, two IS cells attacked two checkpoints controlled by the regime’s 17 th   Division on the road linking Maadan in southern Raqqa and Al-Shula (Al-Shiha area), killing nine and wounding 20. The survivors withdrew from the two checkpoints towards Tabqa on and Al-Sukhna, respectively. IS also destroyed three military vehicles, damaged one and seized another, which had been carrying reinforcements to the same checkpoint.  

These operations came after seven regime fighters were killed and 10 others wounded after IS attacked their bus near the city of Palmyra in the Homs countryside, in late December. There had also been an attack in southern Raqqa on November 8 which killed at least 30 pro-regime fighters.  

The latest attacks appear to be an extension of the jihadist group’s string of operations in late 2023, part of a strategy of attrition aimed at seizing control of desert roads and wearing down Iranian militias and regime forces. IS cells are adept at exploiting every opportunity, in continuous coordination, to launch parallel attacks in the targeted area.  

The organization is likely to step up its attacks in the coming weeks, increasingly hitting regime and Iranian militia checkpoints, with the aim of boosting its own finances and expanding its arsenal by seizing vehicles, ammunition and weapons. It also appears to be aiming to rid the area of such checkpoints entirely, forcing pro-regime forces to withdraw from the region through repeated attacks.  

The organization is thus seeking to gain total control over transport nodes in the  badiya region. It is likely to then prepare for the next stage, one of redeployments, extending its presence in the region and planning attacks against key cities, such as Sukhna.