, 63 tweets, 37 min read
1. Ongoing thread covering #IS’s response to and comms around recent developments in northern #Syria. Focus will be on camps, prisons and tactics.
2. 9 Oct: Something weird going on in #Raqqa, which was, per #SDF reports last night, subject to a “large-scale assault” by #IS. Meanwhile, total radio silence from #IS.
3. This is strange. When #IS has mounted flash urban assaults in years gone by, it has intensively reported on them, often as the attacks were ongoing. Think #Palmyra, Dec 16; Kirkuk, Oct 16, #Rutbah, May 16, #Kobane, Jun 15.
4. Last night, however, #IS’s official newswires were silent and even its supporters were uncharacteristically tentative when discussing #Raqqa. None of the usual cries of takbir and intense excitement.
5. Instead, munasirin speaking simply of “armed raids in #Raqqa” without tying them to #IS, or even going so far as to claim these attacks were just “rumours spread by #SDF to keep #US troops in #Syria.”
6. To be quite honest, I don’t know what’s going on. If the #Raqqa attacks were indeed #IS, its reporting on them—or lack thereof—is deeply unusual.
7. Either it wasn’t #IS (seems unlikely), #IS’s #Syria comms are down (seems unlikely), or this is part of something bigger (seems possible but, if it is, this is happening much faster than many had expected).
8. 10 Oct: Okay, so #IS have now issued a report about #Raqqa, saying *one* inghimasi fighter hit an #SDF HQ last night, killing/injuring 13. Not quite a "large-scale assault."
9. Telling post from pro-#IS channel shows Ocalan billboard being trashed in N #Syria; comment reads, “We don’t rejoice at victory of these [people] but we do rejoice at fall, destruction & pain of those among dogs of #SDF & atheism who inflict pain on Muslims.”
10. 11 Oct: #SDF accounts circulating vid purporting to show riot in al Hol. #IS|ers in al Hol claiming that nothing is amiss there. I'm not saying #IS is right & #SDF is wrong, but given exaggerated reports from #Raqqa this week, we need to be careful.
11. Seems this Hol report has legs. Other #IS|ers have intervened to say there was attempt to rush the camp gates this AM. They shared another video & some new pics, and the first #IS|er I quoted has now confirmed too. Still need to be wary, but it's looking less dubious.
12. In any case, even if both #SDF & #IS report same thing in same way, there is still room for exaggeration. Certain developments—or, indeed, the perception that certain developments have come to pass—could work to both parties' advantage (eg. in #Raqqa).
13. Basically, it's probably a good idea to always wait for confirmation from lots of different sources before leaping onto a report, especially the more sensational ones.
14. 12 Oct: Some general observations about #IS’s response over last 72 hours.
15. On tactics: #IS appears to have reactivated its covert cells in NE #Syria, having put them (mostly) on a back-burner since the second “raid of attrition” in early August.
16. Since #Trump’s volte face, #IS cells have been engaging in unusually impactful, costly & daring ops. An inghimasi op in #Raqqa; major car bomb in #Qamishli; another big IED in #Ghuwayran last night (reported by #SDF, not yet #IS)t—this is not business as usual.
17. Critically, while #IS supporters have largely welcomed #Turkey’s campaign (some enthusiastically but most only tentatively), #IS itself has not commented on the matter, aside from a brief note on the second-last page of its newspaper.
18. Instead, this week’s uptick in #IS activity has been framed as retaliation for the “escalating” ills through which its (female) supporters are suffering in #SDF-run camps. There’s been no substantive mention of #Turkey at all.
19. I don’t expect #IS’s silence will last for long. Keep an eye out for something in next week’s al-Naba’ editorial. A statement from #Muhajir wouldn’t come as a surprise either.
20. On the prisons (where fighters are being held): These are a priority right now. If #IS were able to facilitate a breakout, it could pick up an entire battalion of fighters just like that. However, this is easier said than done.
21. For maximum strategic effect, jailbreaks need serious planning; they should be intel-led with an immediate off-ramp in place to facilitate passage of detainees back to ground. It’s no good freeing 1000s of your best fighters only to have them killed in a clean-up op.
22. Hence, #IS unlikely to make a serious move on the prisons until it’s confident it has the right preparations in place. A concerted effort would probably involve bomb(er)s, inghimasiyyin & conventional forces (probably with vehicles).
23. On the camps (where IDPs, mainly women/children, are being held): While important to #IS, these are a lesser priority right now (contrary to its public comms). That being said, at some point when the time's right there’ll likely be some sort of op to break into/out of al Hol.
24. #Baghdadi called for this very explicitly in his last speech, so if no efforts were made at all it’d be egg on his face. #Baghdadi wouldn’t look good with egg on his face, so I’m guessing a plan is in the pipeline.
25. That said, #IS probably isn’t in any big rush. The prisons are the strategic priority right now. And besides, it’s conceivable that al Hol will be coopted from within by #IS supporters any way. If the tinderbox is already alight, there may be no need for outside intervention.
26. Basically, it’s not great news.
27. (Usual caveats apply: this is reasoned speculation and could turn out to be completely wrong.)
28. 14 Oct: What a difference 36 hours makes. Now that the #SAA is deploying to the north, some new thoughts on #IS’s response.
29. It’s too early to say how (or even if) #IS will adapt militarily to #SAA deployments in northern #Syria, but I’ve no doubt it’ll take credit for the #US’s withdrawal.
30. In any case, this is all very good optics for #IS. Here’s how it’s being framed: “western crusaders [#US], exhausted by war with #IS, are abandoning atheists [#SDF] to make room for Nusayris [regime] backed by eastern crusaders [#Russia] & Safavids [#Iran].”
31. The undertone to #IS|ers’ discussions on this is that it demonstrates their enemies’ fundamental fragility while simultaneously underlining #IS’s strength of unity.
32. Crucially, this chaos is all being cast as a new opportunity. #IS|ers going so far as to describe it as a “second chance,” saying they are “so lucky and blessed to have this time upon us again.”
33. On the prisons: No change since my last comments, though there will perhaps be more urgency to act now that #SAA is moving in.
34. As an aside, it would be a disaster if #Assad gets his hands on those 1000s of #IS detainees. In the short-term many may think it a good thing, but mark my words, he’ll one day be using them as bargaining chips.
35. On the camps: #AinIssa’s collapse, which reportedly led to some 800 #IS supporters escaping, has been met with great enthusiasm by #IS|ers.
36. Based on how precipitously it fell, #IS|ers have been encouraging families in al Hol (which is a much bigger camp) to “prepare your bags [...] Allah has given you a way out, grab it with both hands.”
37. Other #IS|ers—along with #IS itself—have been issuing warnings against corrupt smugglers looking to extort female escapees. Lots of accusations being levelled at networks in NW #Syria.
38. Also, #IS officials have been distributing a letter to communities in vicinity of camps. It essentially says, “help the Muslimat, conceal their identities and aid us as we smuggle them out...”
39. “...If you do not, we will slaughter you. There is no one to protect you and we are everywhere.” Interesting implicit sense of confidence here. Wonder how much of it is just grandstanding.
40. I’m a bit surprised by the tone of this letter to be honest. Given the tenor of #Baghdadi’s last statement, I would’ve expected a more softly-softly approach. As things stand, it’s banking on lot of local perceptions of its reach.
41. Next few days, my eyes are firmly on al Hol.
42. 16 Oct: Quick update on #IS’s response to northern #Syria developments. Not much is clear, but reports of a sustained #IS resurgence there don’t reflect reality at present. foreignaffairs.com/articles/middl…
43. Online, #IS’s radio silence on #Turkey’s incursion into #Syria and the #SDF’s deal with #Damascus is deafening. Offline, aside from its letter campaign in the camps’ environs, no indication of what its comms currently look like.
44. Whatever the case, #IS has been lying low the last couple of days. After claiming 7 attacks in NE #Syria on Monday, its activity reporting has dropped off: just 1 operation claimed yesterday and another 2 today.
45. Interestingly, the character of #IS’s activities has reverted to type—away from the spectaculars it deployed immediately after #Turkey’s incursion and back to the (relatively) low impact IEDs and ambushes that were happening before.
46. This could be due to an operational refit presaging another major uptick in #IS ops, or it could simply be a reflection of #IS’s operational limitations in northern #Syria today. It’s too early to tell.
47. Either way, I’d expect #IS’s radio silence on #Turkey’s incursion to break sometime soon. There’s only so long that it can keep shtum on something like this without frustrating even the hardest core of its supporters.
48. In any case, I’m still keeping a close eye on al Hol. And, given the clock’s ticking when it comes to regime security consolidation, I think it’s well worth monitoring the prisons too.
49. 17 Oct: #IS has claimed it stormed an #SDF position about 90km south of #AinIssa, freeing "a number of kidnapped female Muslims" in the course of doing so. Unusually, no image was attached to the A'maq writeup.
50. To be taken with a big pinch of salt until further (/any) evidence emerges.
51. 18 Oct: As expected, the editorial of #IS’s newspaper focuses on northern #Syria. It hits all the talking points you’d expect, among other things mocking the #SDF’s abandonment and revelling in the #US’s proclivity to build and subsequently shatter alliances.
52. Elsewhere in this week’s issue of al-Naba’, #IS reports on the various activities it’s deployed “to avenge the chaste women.” Aside from a couple of new pics—one of which could easily be a stock image from early 2018—nothing it hadn’t covered already.
53. Besides al-Naba’, #IS also published a video showing its fighters executing a man accused of handing female #IS|ers over to the #SDF. This doesn’t relate to the #Mahmudali breakout.
54. Meanwhile, unofficial #IS comms have been stressing that #FSA and #Assad regime prisons are just as bad as those of the #SDF, “if not worse.”
55. The above is an interesting (and, quite frankly, surprising) indication of the tone of current discussions around the implications of the #SDF’s possible withdrawal and the prison/camp handover/transfer that’d follow.
56. What with that and earlier reports from other #IS|ers that services have now resumed in al Hol, it seems that the initial burst of “let’s escape” momentum has subsided a bit.
57. As an aside, #IS|ers in al Hol have been throwing shade on the Fikku al-Asirat campaign, which @ajaltamimi interviewed earlier this week. Apparently they’re a “bunch of swindlers profiteering off the ills faced by female Muslims.” aymennjawad.org/2019/10/free-t…
58. 19 Oct: Conspicuous silence on #Syria from both #IS (aside from a single ghanimah pic from #Busayrah) and most core munasirin accounts. Neither ops nor camp developments reported—#IS’s eye is on #Nigeria and #Afghanistan.
59. Interestingly, there was no Bayan Radio bulletin yesterday. They usually come daily. I wonder if someone (#Muhajir/#Baghdadi) is hogging the radio booth? (TBH I’d eat my hat if Bayan shared equipment with Furqan, but still, its absence is conspicuous).
60. 21 Oct: Two of #IS’s key IDP forums came back online yesterday. Tenor of conversation has again changed gear. Since last night, #IS|ers have been discussing living costs in #Syria and which regions will fall to #Turkey and which to #Damascus.
61. On the forums, much of the urgency around leaving has gone—for now at least. There is still an obvious appetite for (and expectation of) imminent escape, but planning seems to be taking precedence at present.
62. Interestingly, one #IS|er did pick up on #UK decision to repatriate orphans. “This means they aren’t taking back women and men,” they said.
63. As for official comms and day-to-day activities, back to normal operational simmer—just the one attack claimed yesterday in #Busayrah (that's 200km south of al Hol).
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