On early Tuesday morning, a squad of ISIS militants infiltrated behind the lines of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and attacked the Rajm al-Sulaibi Camp for Internally Displaced People (IDP) in southern Hasakah countryside, along the border of Iraq.
Aided by an on-going dust storm and difficult terrain, the militants killed 50 residents of the camp and injured before security forces affiliated with the SDF intervened and secured the camp. By all accounts, the militants spared nobody, targeting men, women and children indiscriminately in carrying out their brutal attack.
In the aftermath of the attack, many of the survivors were taken to Hasakah City’s main public hospital, as well as a number of private clinics around the city. City officials have recalled all doctors and nurses available to ensure everyone would receive treatment. They will need all the help needed, as many of the injured are in critical condition, four children among them.
The response of the city’s residents was one of solidarity. Following the news of the attack, many citizens of Hasakah rushed to the medical centres to donate blood or otherwise offer volunteer services. Those interviewed expressed solidarity with fellow Iraqis and Syrians who made up residents of the camp.
ISIS has since released a statement claiming the attack and publishing a photo of the 16 militants who conducted the attack. By all accounts, the militants were organised as a suicide squad, with many of them equipped with explosive vests. Similar behind-the-lines attacks have taken on SDF positions near the front-lines of Hasakah as well as Tabqa City in Raqqa Province.
The flurry of attacks represents a trend that was predicted by a number of security officials. With ISIS losing territory rapidly, its loyalists are resorting to insurgent tactics and terrorist attacks to destabilise liberated areas. Although the fact that the group is now targeting civilians who cannot fight back is a testament to its weakness, such attacks can still have serious ramifications. In staging such attacks, the militants not only reduce confidence towards the SDF that has liberated vast swathes of the Raqqa Province and are poised to capture the group’s de-facto capital of Raqqa City, they are fostering mistrust through the use of methods such as hiding among the IDPs.
Although the SDF has gained significant experience in open combat across different types of terrain, achieving robust counterinsurgency capabilities will be a wholly different challenge on the post-war environment.