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The Islamic State organization in ambush in the Syrian desert

For the Syrian army and its auxiliaries, the winter promises to be harsher than expected. On the Idlib front, the last stronghold of the rebellion, in the north-west of the country, loyalist troops are enjoying an unprecedented respite. The regime does not seem close to relaunching the operation to reconquer this territory, frozen by the Russian-Turkish ceasefire proclaimed in March 2020.

But in Badia, the desert that stretches from Homs to the Euphrates Valley, pro-Assad forces have been facing an intensification of attacks by the Islamic State (IS) organization since the fall of 2020. The survivors of the collapse of the jihadist caliphate are chaining up skirmishes, explosions and ambushes at an almost daily rate.

A low noise insurrection

The very rugged relief of this region, dotted with mountains, canyons and caves, allows them to disappear immediately after having struck, leaving behind a toll that varies depending on the day between a few injured and several dozen dead. The media do not always pay attention to it, but put end to end, these guerrilla actions constitute a low noise insurgency.

Two years after the loss of Baghouz, the last shred of their Syrian-Iraqi empire, the jihadists are leading a campaign that does not speak its name and which maintains the possibility of a comeback of their organization. “La Badia is the center from which any future IS push will start”, predicts Gregory Waters, a researcher at the Middle East Institute, who chronicles these attacks, from death notices and photos, posted on social networks.

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The deadliest operation in recent months took place on December 30, when three buses of soldiers leaving on leave were targeted near Shoula, 30 km southwest of Deir ez-Zor. Thirty-nine soldiers lost their lives, all members of the IVe Armored Division, the praetorian guard of the Assad regime, which is deployed in southeastern Syria, alongside pro-Iranian militiamen, such as the Afghans from the Fatemiyoun brigade.

The jihadists had not carried out such a bloody attack since their rout of Baghouz in March 2019. This locality located on the Euphrates was taken over by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a predominantly Kurdish coalition, with support of the US military. This defeat, coming after the fall, in 2017, of Mosul and Rakka, the two capitals of the IS, had sealed the collapse of “Sunnistan” controlled by the men with the black flag.

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