YPG and Asayish special forces captured hundreds of sleeper cell members, in addition to thousands of ISIS members captured on the battlefield or in surrender

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reported killed in a US raid near the Turkish border in Idlib last night. SDF commander-in-chief Mazloum Abdi said the operation was the result of five months’ “joint intelligence work” between the SDF and the USA, in comments confirmed by US officials.

While details of this operation are yet to be established, SDF anti-terror and intelligence forces have long been co-operating with the US-led coalition to carry out anti-ISIS operations across North and East Syria. Many of these raids involved SDF-linked YAT and Asayish [internal security]-linked HAT anti-terror forces backed up by Coalition air power, with coalition forces joining SDF on the ground in some instances.

Key Facts

  • Total raids from January until now are estimated at 347, with at least 476 total arrests
  • Anti-ISIS operations have continued despite the Turkish invasion, but at a much lower rate as forces are pulled away to focus on fighting the Turkish Armed Forces and jihadi factions under their control
  • The three months prior to the Turkish invasion saw an average of approximately 2 raids a day, while the October average so far is a raid every two days – a 75% decrease
  • July saw the highest number of arrests- at least 136, during the course of 50 raids that month
  • Among those arrested are high ranking foreign ISIS members such as Anwar Mohammad Hadoushi from Belgium, believed to have been involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks.

Prior to October and the Turkish invasion, the number and productivity of raids was steadily increasing. As of September, joint SDF-Coalition raids were “near-daily”, per al-Monitor.

January to September saw a 380% (10 to 48) increase in the number of raids, and a 319% (16 to 67)  increase in the number of arrests of sleeper-cell members.

Many of these arrests included high-ranking ISIS members such as Anwar Mohammad Hadoushi, a Belgian ISIS fighter believed to be involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks; who was arrested in September. At the start of October, prior to the Turkish invasion, SDF raids resulted in the arrest of 3 such high-ranking ISIS members: Commander Shafaq al-Hachim who was an ISIS administrator in Deir Ezzor; Abu Tayep who was the ISIS Emir responsible for deadly explosions in Heseke; and Jammal Al-Mabruk, a financer for ISIS believed to have assisted in recent Tabqa car bombings.

Robin Fleming, a researcher at the Rojava Information Center said:

“The situation of North and East Syria was slowly becoming more stable, due to the continuous raids, arrests and attacks thwarted by SDF and the Internal Security Forces or Asayish, often in partnership with coalition forces. This increasing stability was exemplified in September which saw a 46% decrease in the number of sleeper-cell attacks compared to August, with September having only 51 recorded attacks against 95 in August.

In the 18 days since the Turkish attacks on North and East Syria began, we can already see that this stability is being threatened. The SDF’s attention has been diverted from its raids on sleeper-cells as it needs to focus on the Turkish invasion. The number of raids in October is already noticeably less than the previous months- an average of one raid every two days, as opposed to the previous average of two raids a day. 

Moreover, in the chaos created by Turkish attacks, especially shelling near prisons and camps holding ISIS members, hundreds of ISIS-linked individuals have escaped, thus undoing the progress that had been made in the region.

Despite now having two fronts to contend with, against both the internal threat of ISIS and the external threat of Turkey, SDF raids do continue, as they struggle to maintain stability in North and East Syria while political tensions rise. Moreover, the SDF has claimed its intelligence played a role in the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, on the night of October 26.”