CEP Report: Central Syria’s ISIS Insurgency In 2023

(New York, N.Y.) — The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) released a report today detailing ISIS activity in central Syria in 2023 showing that ISIS attacks, high quality attacks, and civilian and military casualties rose dramatically last year—and were often more aggressive than in recent years.

The 215 ISIS attacks chronicled by CEP often utilized attack styles the group had not used since 2020, such as fake checkpoints, highway ambushes, and capturing regime positions. More than 285 soldiers and 231 civilians were killed by ISIS in the Homs, Hama, Raqqa, Aleppo, and Deir Ez Zor governorates of central Syria. Another 212 people were wounded.

“After suffering significant losses in 2021 and 2022, ISIS took on a renewed aggressive posture in 2023—not only through carrying out more attacks on military and civilian targets in Syria, but also by reintroducing tactics that have not been commonplace for several years,” CEP analyst Gregory Waters said. “We are now seeing that the once-dominant position of the Assad regime has waned significantly, and the resurgence of ISIS in central Syria is being bolstered by a new batch of young recruits principally trained in cells located throughout the Badia region. These trends should be monitored closely by Western policymakers, particularly as ISIS attempts to regain lost military equipment through more battlefield captures in 2024.”

Map of ISIS attacks in Central Syria in 2023

The report observes that ISIS’s new aggressive posture is costing the terrorist group men, and likely materiel. However, Waters warned that “as long as ISIS continues to enjoy the level of success it saw at the end of 2023, it will likely be able to replace lost equipment through battlefield captures.”

Key Facts

In 2023, ISIS killed more than 285 soldiers and 231 civilians, and wounded more than 212, in the Homs, Hama, Raqqa, Aleppo, and Deir Ez Zor governorates of central Syria. This amounts to a 195 percent increase in military deaths and a 745 percent increase in civilian deaths compared to 2022.
Of the 231 murdered civilians, 206 civilians were killed during the truffle season between February and April. During this period, ISIS killed an unprecedented number of civilians and security forces since its insurgency began in 2018.
ISIS militants conducted at least 215 attacks in 2023, 168 percent of the total in 2022.
Of the 215 documented attacks in 2023, 72, or 33 percent, were high quality attacks. Both a quantity and percentage increased in 2023 compared with 2022 and 2021.
ISIS conducted multiple IED attacks inside the cities of Damascus and Homs.
ISIS militants conducted four distinct offensives during 2023, the last of which continues into 2024.

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