المرصد السوري لحقوق الانسان
The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

62 months of the “international coalition” operations in Syria: Killing “al-Baghdadi” the biggest achievement after the US withdrawal, new bases and goals in in East Euphrates and joint operations with SDF to “fight IS cells”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,
November 2019

The international coalition against ISIS was barely five years into its intervention in Syria last September, until the map of control and alliances in the northeastern region of Syria changed. With the International Coalition completing 62 months of its operations in Syria, the map of influence and power distribution is becoming clearer after US President Donald Trump’s decision, following a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 6, 2019, ordering the withdrawal of US troops from Syria before retreating and declaring that hundreds of troops would remain to protect and prevent anyone from taking over the oil facilities, whether that was the regime, Iran or Russia, which made the control of the “coalition” confined to the area east of the Euphrates and Deir ez-Zor only, thus losing the control of nearly a third of Syria voluntarily after the decision of the US President.

On October 6, the US president announced the full withdrawal of US troops from military bases deployed in northeastern Syria, which was a green light for the Turkish military operation “Peace Spring”, which led to Turkey’s control over an area of more than 4875 square kilometers of Syrian territory from Ras al-Ain to Tall Abyad with a depth of 32 kilometers (9.2% of the previous areas of SDF), according to the Russian-Turkish agreement that resulted from the meeting of Russian Presidents Vladimir Putin and Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi.
Since October 6 till today, the Syrian Observatory monitored the withdrawal of the international coalition from its military bases in various parts of northern Syria, where it withdrew from “Kharab Ishk” near Ain al-Arab (Kobani) and Al-Qulaib base, which included a runway for military transport aircraft and helicopters in the area, in addition to withdrawing from “Tal Baidar” in Hasakah countryside, as well as from Manbij, Ein Issa and Sarin, before Russian forces took control of a number of bases from which US and Coalition forces withdrew, while US forces destroyed a number of the bases that they withdrew from them by air strikes on those bases.

 

Baghdadi’s death, the biggest achievement in 5 years after the abandonment of most reliable ally, SDF

Since the first moment of the formation of the US-led international coalition, Washington announced that its goal was to “completely eliminate the caliphate of the Islamic State,” which was achieved by ending the group’s control of most of Syrian territory and declaring the elimination of the “caliphate” in late March. Following the recent developments, the Turkish military operation “Peace Spring” and the decision of the US withdrawal; the coalition forces returned on a new mission to reaffirm their commitment to continue counter-terrorism and anti-Islamic State operations. On October 27, the Syrian Observatory monitored the eight aircrafts taking off the airbase “Sarin” in the countryside of Ain al-Arab (Kobani), to target the leader of the Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, where the eight aircrafts flew in a straight line between the Turkish-Syrian border, from Jarablus and “al-Ra’ei”, then Azaz and Afrin towards Idlib countryside to “Barisha” village. “There is information that the SDF counter-terrorism forces participated in the operation, as 3 of the eight helicopters were carrying SDF counter-terrorism forces and were mainly involved in raids and carrying out an operation, amid reservations about the secrecy of the SDF participation due to Turkish sensitivities towards them,” reliable sources told the SOHR. According to information obtained by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the remains of Al-Baghdadi’s body after he blew himself up were transferred to “al-Asad” Iraqi military base. According to sources of the Syrian Observatory, the operation carried out by the international coalition also resulted in the killing of Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, the spokesman for the Islamic State, in addition to about 9 other people, including a number of other leaders of the organization, where the dead included 2 women and a child. According to reliable sources, “the targeted house was bought from a jihadi leader a few days ago and identified himself to the people of the area as being from Aleppo”.

On October 28, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored a new operation in which an aerial landing operation was carried out over “al-Hawi” area of Jarablus, west of the Euphrates River, where a family of suspected Iraqi and suspected ISIS operatives was captured from the area.

In an effort to confirm the international coalition’s commitment to anti-Islamic State operations, the international coalition forces, in cooperation with the SDF, carried out several raids and security campaigns against IS cells. On November 9, Syrian Observatory learned that coalition aircraft targeted three tents in the Khubayra area of the northeastern desert of Deir Ezzor. According to reliable sources, “the tents were erected about a week ago by people who claimed to be fishermen, and the targeting resulted in the death of all those who were in the tents”. On November 22, Syrian Observatory sources learned that Coalition aircraft participated in a security operation accompanied by the SDF to raid the neighborhoods of “Theban” town, killing a resident of Qatar who had returned to his family to marry, after his house was destroyed. Meanwhile, the “Syrian Observatory” learned that SDF killed a citizen during the raid in the neighborhoods of the town, while the sources confirmed that a number of militants of the cells of the “Islamic State” managed to escape.

While the International Coalition seeks to confirm its involvement in counter-ISIS operations, the situation on the ground indicates that the Coalition has abandoned its greatest achievement over the past five years, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which have been the most reliable ally on the ground, when the International Coalition resorted to cooperating with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose main units are the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), until SDF, in cooperation with the International Coalition, controlled until September 30, about 28.8% of Syria with a total area of 53396 square kilometers of the north and east of Syria, including the Manbij and its countryside in the west of the Euphrates River, and the entire east of the Euphrates area except for several areas controlled by regime forces and their allies in the east of the Euphrates off the city of Deir Ezzor, before the situation changed following the Turkish military intervention, as the SDF is left only with 29,220 km2, 55.2% of the total area it occupied before October 9, with the regime taking control of 18821 km2 (35.6% of the total area of the SDF before the Turkish operation).

 

Re-positioning, new military bases and changes in alliances, the “International Coalition” settle for “oil” and “IS”

Since mid-December 2018, the map of alliances has taken on a new shape following the first announcement by US President Donald Trump to withdraw from Syria, before he partially reversed his decision and announced the change of the objectives of the international coalition in Syria from the elimination of the Islamic State to the judiciary. On October 6, the telephone call between him and his Turkish counterpart reversed the table by withdrawing US troops from the border with Turkey, allowing Turkish forces and factions to intervene militarily in northern Syria through Operation “Peace Spring”, which has succeeded so far to control over an area approaching 6.4% of the total areas under the control of Syria’s democratic forces, which are confined to the border area between Ras al-Ain (Sri Kanye) and Tal Abyad.

As the humanitarian crisis triggered by the Turkish military operation worsened by the displacement of more than 300,000 civilians from their homes, the killing of 120 civilians and the killing of hundreds of fighters, US President Donald Trump announced a package of sanctions against Turkey that led to a 120-hour ceasefire agreement to give a chance to the SDF withdrew from the border area, but Turkish forces and factions loyal to it continued to violate the truce for five days of siege on Ras al-Ain, where the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored the continuation of these forces in bombing the area and preventing ambulances and medical convoys from entering the city to evacuate the injured and dead bodies.

Once President Donald Trump faced tremendous domestic criticism, he announced a new target for US forces in the international coalition to counter ISIS, declaring his intention to keep hundreds of US troops in order to protect oil facilities and “ensure that it do not fall under the control of ISIS, the Regime or Iran,” which was followed by new changes in areas of influence and control on the ground, where the “international coalition” retreated to the east of the Euphrates and “Deir ez-Zor” in order to control the oil wells. On November 5, the “Syrian Observatory” monitored the arrival Significant military reinforcements of the international coalition forces to the headquarters of the former “Brigade 113”, which has become a military base of the coalition. Sources told the” Syrian Observatory “that the new base is away from the city of Deir Ezzor about 8 km east of the Euphrates. On November 2, the Syrian Observatory observed the arrival of a US forces patrol in the village of Hemo, 4 km from the city of al-Qamishli from the west, a few kilometers from the Syrian-Turkish border. The patrol toured the village, which originally contained a US military base. The Syrian Observatory also reported that US forces are working to establish a new military point in Qamishli.

With the International Coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS) declaring a new goal of “protecting Syrian oil,” and since those areas where the International Coalition imposed its influence contain most of Syria’s oil and gas wealth, about 70% of the total oil wealth according to estimates by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights; the forces supported by the international coalition in northern and eastern Syria control al-Omar oil field and its stations, al-Tank oil field, Konico gas field and al-Jafra oil field, which are the most important oil and gas fields in northern and eastern Syria. In addition, the International coalition-backed factions are now controlling a number of stations and less productive fields, such as Dero, Kashma and Rumailan fields, al-Jebsa field and al-Jebsa gas plant, in addition to another oil and gas stations that the Chinese and others nationalities have been awarded the right to develop them. In light of the changes of alliances that have taken place in the past period, and with Russia’s demanding the sovereignty of Damascus to control oil fields at a time when the US president asserts that the international coalition forces will remain in control of oil fields to ensure that they do not fall into the hands of the Syrian regime or Iran, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights calls on the various parties in the Syrian conflict to provide all guarantees to ensure that the wealth owned by the Syrian people is not stolen.

On November 14, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights learned from credible sources that the international coalition forces completely withdrew from the Sarin airport base near Ain al-Arab (Kobani), from which the operation team targeted the leader of the Islamic State (IS) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took off. On November 21, Russian forces confirmed what the Syrian Observatory revealed on November 15 that it had taken control of the Sarin airport base after US forces withdrew from the base. According to reliable sources, four Russian helicopters landed at Sarin airport and Russian military police were deployed at the airport. Thus, the Russian forces have deployed in five previous bases of US forces after the withdrawal of the latter, namely, Aoun al-Dadat and al-Asaliyah bases in Manbij, and Mashta al-Nur and Sarin bases in Ain al-Arab (Kobani) countryside, in addition to Ain Issa airport base in the northern Raqqa countryside.

 

Militants are not the only victim, thousands of dead, wounded and missing civilians

Although the International Coalition against the Islamic State launched its operations in Syria under the pretext of rescuing civilians and countering terrorism, civilians were the first victims of coalition air strikes in various Syrian regions. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented the death of 14033 people between the period from September 23, 2014 to November 23 this year. The number of dead is distributed as follows: 3833 Syrian citizens including 2150 men, 711 female citizens and 972 children, in addition to the death of 491 members of the families of the Islamic State, including: 355 men and 63 female citizens and 73 children. In addition, the SOHR documented the death of 9,158 members of ISIS and its leaders, 12 militants affiliated with “Jaish Khaled bin al-Walid”, who pledged allegiance to ISIS, 11 from the Islamic factions and fighters, 349 from HTS (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and jihadist groups, and 169 of regime forces. According to the documentation of the SOHR, thousands have been injured of varying severity, while others have suffered permanent disabilities and amputations, not to mention the destruction of public and private buildings and property. In addition, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights received documented information that 215 Russian mercenaries were killed in February 2018 as they attempted to advance towards al-Omar oil field in eastern Syria. The Observatory was unable to document the deaths of these 215 foreign nationals, due to the severe blackout imposed by the Russian authorities on the issue.

According to estimates by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the real number of casualties among ISIS and other Islamic factions is greater than what the Observatory has been able to document so far, given the intense secrecy of the targeted parties for their human losses. Also, tracing operations and exhumations are still going on by the forces controlling the areas that have been hit by missiles and aerial bombardment of the international coalition during the past five years.

Although seven months have elapsed since the official announcement of ISIS defeat, and despite developments over the past month, the coalition and the SDF remain silent on the issue of ISIS abductees, providing no answer to the fate of thousands of abductees and the results of the investigation with thousands of members of the organization who were detained by SDF and the coalition east of the Euphrates, where fears persist for the lives and fate of the abductees, including Father Paolo Dululio, Archbishops John Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, Abdullah Khalil, SkyNews Journalist, a British journalist, and two other Journalists. In addition, hundreds of abductees were from Ain al-Arab (Kobani) and Afrin, in addition to children from Deir Ezzor.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which provides adequate monitoring of Coalition operations over the past five years, stresses that it would have been possible to avoid the heavy loss of Syrian civilian life if the international coalition had not deafened the SOHR’s calls to neutralize civilians from its operations. We here reassure that the presence of an Islamic State militant or other jihadist groups in a civilian area does not in any way justify the bombing of the area and the loss of civilian life there. The Syrian Observatory also calls on the leaders of the international coalition and the SDF to announce the results of investigations with ISIS detainees and to disclose the fate of thousands of abductees.

The Syrian Observatory had previously called on the international community to investigate information about the killing of 200 ISIS operatives and their families, women and children, in a massacre committed by the coalition’s warplanes by bombing al-Baghouz camp on March 21, 2019. According to information obtained by the SOHR at the time, the 200 bodies were buried at dawn that day, without information as to whether the international coalition was aware of the presence of children and women from ISIS families inside the camp. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also stresses that the scourge of Turkish military intervention on civilians could have been avoided had the US President pressed his Turkish counterpart to refrain from causing a new humanitarian crisis, displacing thousands and killing and injuring hundreds.

 

For High Resolution copy of the Infographic:

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