The tribal insurgency against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has maintained a steady rate of attacks over two weeks, and this insurgency’s objectives mean it will likely unintentionally support ISIS lines of effort. ISIS possibly is executing a military deception operation that aims to increase the success of ISIS defensive action over the next few weeks while preparing for future ISIS offensive action against the SDF over the next few months.
Terrorist Networks Project
Al Qaeda–linked and IS-linked militants are continuing to expand in northern Mali and threatening to control major population centers. Al Qaeda–linked militants are exploiting the void left by withdrawing UN forces to besiege and coerce regional capitals in northern Mali, while IS-linked militants are setting conditions to control a regional capital they have encircled since April. Both groups’ growing control over northern Mali increases the risk that they could generate a transnational attack threat.
Rival Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) factions met and demonstrated their first sign of reconciliation after eight months, which indicates the TTP is trying to reduce internal tensions. A TTP faction could defect to the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) as ISKP positions itself as an alternative to the TTP.
Iraq and Syria. Local tribes are resisting the Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) campaign against the Deir ez Zor Military Council (DMC), which could enable ISIS to re-embed itself into in local Sunni Deir ez Zor tribes.
Pakistan. Pakistan deployed security forces to protect state energy infrastructure from ongoing protests. The protests may continue through mid-September because the Pakistani government cannot address the issues that prompted them. Deploying additional police to address the protests could disrupt Pakistan’s counterterrorism operations against Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban are conducting an information campaign that frames Tajikistan as responsible for the actions of Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). The framing aims to deflect responsibility for the Taliban’s inability to defeat ISKP and prevent attacks beyond Afghanistan.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is facing multiple internal and external pressures, which could destabilize the SDF and create opportunities for ISIS.
Iraq and Syria. ISIS is conducting offensive operations in the central Syrian desert that are likely undermining the cohesion of pro-regime forces and enabling ISIS to maintain its momentum. Poor cohesion and coordination among Syrian regime forces will very likely limit their effectiveness in a counteroffensive. The regime’s prioritization of expelling US forces from Syria over combating ISIS also will likely inhibit its ability to successfully roll back ISIS gains.
Niger. The Nigerien junta will likely expedite efforts to remove French forces from Niger due to France’s strong support for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The Nigerien junta may allow the United States to continue operating in Niger because the United States has been less antagonistic toward the junta.
The Nigerien junta plans to use the Kremlin-funded Wagner Group and local volunteer militias to bolster security in the capital and may intend to use both against Salafi-jihadi insurgents after securing its hold on power. Relying on these auxiliary forces risks increasing human rights abuses and exacerbating communal tensions, which would create opportunities that Salafi-jihadi groups have historically exploited.
Iraq and Syria. ISIS targeted Shi’a civilians at Sayyida Zainab, southern Damascus city, in two separate motorcycle-borne improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on July 23 and 25, which may be the first in irregular but sustained ISIS attacks against urban centers in Syria.
Russia in Syria. Russia is continuing an information operation that aims to deflect responsibility for the increase in tensions between the United States and Russia and Syria. This information operation aims to make Syria a less permissible environment for US forces by further delegitimizing the US presence in Syria to a regional audience.
Niger. The Nigerien junta is unlikely to capitulate to international pressure to reverse its coup, which will result in its international isolation and could lead the junta to seek out the Wagner Group as a long-term replacement for Western support. The junta’s obstinacy may also prompt an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) military intervention, which is a most-dangerous scenario that would likely create vacuums for Salafi-jihadi groups to fill and spread regional instability.
Afghanistan. Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) released propaganda addressing National Resistance Front (NRF) supporters to convince them to defect to ISKP, which is highly unlikely to be successful due to fundamental differences in ideology and strategic goals.
Pakistan. ISKP claimed a suicide bombing at a political rally for a conservative Islamist Pakistani political party linked to the Afghan Taliban, likely as part of ISKP’s effort to build support zones in northwestern Pakistan. This was ISKP’s deadliest attack since January 2023.
Iraq and Syria. Iranian, Russian, and Syrian regime deployments and attacks targeting the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are interfering with an SDF counter-ISIS operation. The operation aims to take advantage of a US drone strike that killed the ISIS governor in Deir ez Zor, which will likely temporarily disrupt the group. Iranian, Russian, Syrian, and ISIS activity illustrates the overlapping threat to the US mission and force in Syria. Each actor seeks to limit US influence in the region and undermine the SDF. A rapid and effective SDF counter-ISIS operation would take advantage of temporary ISIS confusion in the wake of the US drone strike, but regime, Iranian, or Russian-backed harassing attacks could inhibit the SDF’s ability to carry out the operation.
ISIS conducted three attacks in Iraq near a border crossing in Saudi Arabia, possibly signaling the group’s intent to challenge Saudi Arabia’s religious legitimacy by threatening Hajj pilgrims. ISIS’s lack of strong relationships with the tribes in northern Saudi Arabia makes crossing the border extremely difficult. The location of the attacks and ISIS’s limited capability in Saudi Arabia suggests ISIS sought to message its intent rather than try to access the Saudi side of the border.