Category Syria

121 SDF killed, hundreds of boys missing

Latest update on the counts coming from the attack Gweiran prison:

See: Watchdog says 100s of boys missing from Kurdish Syria prison

The count of casualties from the attack on Gweiran prison by ISIL is 40 Kurdish fighters, 77 prison employees and 4 civilians. SDF says that ISIL lost 374 “detainees and attackers.” I assume that means that this figure includes a large number of the people that were already in the prison at the start of the operation. Actual ISIL losses were probably less.

Meanwhile, they are reporting hundreds of boys from the prison are missing. New ISIL recruits?

We did cap the latest leader of ISIL this week. I believe this the second leader of ISIL we have gotten rid of in addition to the leader of Al Queda in Iraq. In my book America’s Modern Wars, we did briefly discuss decapitating insurgencies (pages 151-153). We did not come up with a clear answer. We only had about dozen cases to look at, and of the four we examined in depth, in all cases the insurgency still won. Our conclusions were (page 153): “Now this is not to say we should not go after insurgent leadership when we have the chance. We obviously should. But, it is to stress that you should be careful about giving ‘decapitation’ too much importance as a strategic answer to your counterinsurgent problem.” and “Still, if you have the means to try decapitation, it is important to do so in such a way that you do not kill civilians or give them propaganda tools that they can use. In the end, if you are losing the propaganda war while you are trying to decapitate, then you are working against yourself.”  

I do sometimes fear that the U.S. is using decapitation to show we are “combatting the insurgency” as opposed to actually combatting the insurgency.

120 SDF Killed !!!

Just saw this news report: US-allied Syria force says it foiled major IS comeback plot

They are saying that the prison overrun by the Islamic State in northeastern Syria is now fully under its control.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) say that more than 120 of their fighters and prison workers died in the ten-day standoff at Gweiran prison. More than 120 of their people killed, as reported by SDF! This is a degree of losses rarely seen by a counterinsurgent force. It is stunning.

The SDF also claims that 374 ISIL militants, including the initial attackers, were also killed. So, I was pretty rattled when I realized that ISIL was organizing a company-level attack. So, was this a battalion-level attack?

My previous posts on the subject:

In Case We Forget | Mystics & Statistics (

More on the revived ISIL | Mystics & Statistics (

The Revival of ISIL | Mystics & Statistics (

Among many of the subjects that I wanted to address in our various insurgency studies (see Modern American Wars), before all funding stopped (because the U.S. was so good at combating insurgencies?), was an analysis of the early stages of an insurgency; how they started and developed in their first few years. This appears to be an insurgency that is revitalizing itself. Suspect it is only going to get worse. 

The Revival of ISIL

I have already discussed events in Syria and Iraq a couple of times. See:

In Case We Forget | Mystics & Statistics (

More on the revived ISIL | Mystics & Statistics (

This still does not seem to be getting a lot of attention. The LA TImes (of all people) just put out an article worth looking at:

A few highlights:

  1. Two trucks attacked the prison.
  2. The fight lasted a week. It ended Wednesday.
  3. U.S. and UK forces involved.
  4. 1,600 prisoners gave themselves up. How many escaped? There were something like 3,500 prisoners there.
    1. “Some 800 Islamic State prisoners managed to escape, Amaq said Saturday.” Amaq is a news outlet affiliated with the Islamic State.
  5. The SDF has 10,000 fighters?
  6. 30 SDF were killed.
  7. Perhaps as many as 10,000 ISIL fighters survived after 2019.
  8. “This is just completely off the charts compared to the scale of the operations ISIS has engaged in for well over two years.” – yes, exactly. This is why I am blogging about this.

Now, for the Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC) on 27-29 September 2022 I have two conference rooms reserved, one is larger than the other. On day 2 of the conference, I do have the larger conference room (amusingly named the “Pike and Gallows Conference Center”) scheduled for “Analysis of Unconventional Warfare.” I do have a shortage of presentations on “unconventional warfare” (or COIN or Irregular Warfare or whatever is the terminology of the day). I do think the subject does need to be further examined, especially in light of how successful we were in Afghanistan.

P.S. ISIL, ISIS, Daesh and Islamic State are all the same people.


More on the revived ISIL

I have still not seen anything on the U.S. news about the resurgent ISIL, but it is on the French news.

Heavy fighting continues for 3rd day to stop ISIS prison break attempt in Syria (

A few points that get my attention:

  1. It appears that ISIL was executing prison guards.
  2. The U.S. is conducting airstrikes to support the SDF (Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces).
  3. U.S. forces in Bradley fighting vehicles were seen about 300 meters from the fighting location.
  4. The SDF say that 22 of their fighters have died and 17 injured. This is a lop-sided wounded-to-killed ratio, but note point one above (executed guards).
  5. The SDF claims that 45 ISIL members were killed and 110 escaped detainees were captured. How many escaped detainees were not captured? There were nearly 3,500 people held in the prison.
  6. Why is ISIL continued to fight after three days? Why not attack and withdraw? What are they gaining by continuing the fight?


P.S. I still don’t know why people call it ISIS? Even google translate gives the translation as “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” Try it: الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام

In Case We Forget

This AP news report caught my attention: Islamic State gunmen mount deadly attacks in Syria, Iraq: dozens killed

The points that stand out to me:

1. “In Iraq, IS gunmen attacked an army barracks [at 3 a.m.] in a mountainous area north of Badhdad early Friday, killing 11 soldiers as they slept…”


2. “In Syria, more than 100 IS fighters using heavy machine guns and vehicles rigged with explosives attacked the Gweiran Prison in the northeastern city of Hassakeh…”

     a. “…seven U.S. backed Kurdish fighters were killed and several others were wounded. At least 23 IS attackers were also among the dead…”

     b. This is a company-sized attack by an insurgency “defeated” “in March 2019” !!!

     c. “The complex attack was mounted on Thursday evening…prisoners inside the facility rioted simultaneously…”

     d. “…more than 100 militants who escaped were arrested…” So, how many escaped ???

     e. “…at least 23 Kurdish security forces and prison guards were killed in the clashes, alongside 39 militants and five civilians…” (unconfirmed and unofficial)

    f. “…the inmates are mostly in control of the prison, while Kurdish forces attempt to wrestle it back…” (unconfirmed and unofficial).


Another recent article adds:

  1. “….killed at least 23 Kurdish secuirty forces and set ‘dozens of IS fighters’ free… (unconfirmed and unofficial)

And this is worth watching (VOA). It is only three and half minutes long:

  1. They note that there are more than10,000 Islamic State prisoners being held in Syria (at 2:45 see. “One of the most worrisome problems…”)

Old Questions

We have over a thousand posts on this blog. Always interesting to go back and look a few of these older ones.

We had one blog post that simply asked on 9 November, 2016, after Donald Trump had been elected: What was going to be his foreign policy/national security policy. The old post is here: Questions | Mystics & Statistics (

The answers are:

1D (Afghanistan: Decrease U.S. effort)

2B (Iraq: Decrease U.S. effort)

3B (Syria: Decrease U.S. effort)

4C (Ukraine: Keep the same)

5C (Russia: Try to tone it down)

6D (NATO: Force our NATO allies to contribute more)

7B (Georgia: Continue working with them: Partnership for Peace)

8A (Iran: Cancel current deal and try to renegotiate)

9A (Yemen: Keep the same (remain disengaged))

10? (War on Terror)

11A (Defense Budget: Increase defense budget)

12? (East Asia)

13A (Trade: TTP cancelled)

14D (Oil and Climate Change: Interest and funding for clean energy declined)


It was followed-up on by this post on 14 December 2016: Questions II | Mystics & Statistics (

Mortality Rates of the Coronavirus by Country

In my morbid fascination with casualty rates it is hard for me not look at the statistics on the coronavirus and not calculate morbidity rates. Here are the stats:


World Wide…………………82,548…….2,810……………3.41%


S. Korea……………………..1,766…………13……………0.74%




Hong Kong……………………..92……………2……………2.17

United States…………………..60











Cruise ships…………………705……………4………………0.57

Other countries……………..117


Data is from Johns Hopkins CSSE as of 9:03.03 this morning. It is here: Johns Hopkins CSSE

Now, it is suspected that the number of cases are underreported. There are people that get sick and recover that are never reported. Don’t know how many this is. Suspect that the population of unreported cases exceeds the population of reported cases. Have no data to support that suspicion.

A few takeaways are:

  1. Mortality rate worldwide is around 3.49%
    1. If the number of unreported cases is equal to the number of reported cases, then the real mortality rate is half that.
  2. Mortality rate is China is 3.50%
  3. Mortality rate in South Korea is 0.74%.
    1. This is a significant difference
    2. It may be a result of better health care
    3. It may be a result of early detection and quick treatment
    4. It may be a result of better statistical collection on number of cases.
    5. Is probably a combination of all three.
    6. The point it, it is less than 1% with a significant number of cases. So this is the standard that is achievable.
  4. Mortality rate of Italy is 2.65%
    1. Italian health care is good…so…
    2. Does this mean that there are still a lot of unreported cases out there?
      1. So Italy may have over a 1,000 cases?
  5. Mortality rate of Iran is 10.61%
    1. Now the Iranian health care system may not be as good as S.Korea and Italy…but….
    2. This strongly indicates that there is a large number of unreported cases.
      1. Maybe also over a 1,000 cases?
  6. Just for reference the mortality rate of the flu is something like 0.1%.


While S. Korea and Italy are tragic and concerning, what really scares me is the uncontrolled outbreak in Iran. If there are over a thousand cases and it is not locked down and controlled, then it can spread, both in Iran and out of Iran. Iran’s neighbor to the west in Iraq (which reports 6 cases). Iraq is a country that is not always in good order. To their west is Syria, which is in civil war. What happens if the coronavirus arrives in a country in civil war. What containment is there? What government run health care is there?

To the east of Iran is Afghanistan (which reports 1 case) and Pakistan (which reports 2 cases). What happens if it spreads there? Afghanistan is in civil war as are parts of Pakistan. Are the Taliban really going to implement thorough and complete containment and provide proper healthcare?

So while the virus may be able to be contained in places like S. Korea and Italy, is it going to be contained in places like Iran, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan? Will this then become a permanent source of further transmission of the virus to the rest of the world, generating periodic outbreaks elsewhere and forcing systematic containment efforts for years to come?

Are Russia And Iran Planning More Proxy Attacks On U.S. Forces And Their Allies In Syria?

Members of the Liwa al-Baqir Syrian Arab militia, which is backed by Iran and Russia. [Navvar Şaban (N.Oliver)/Twitter]

Over at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Jennifer Cafarella, Matti Suomenaro, and Catherine Harris have published an analysis predicting that Iran and Russia are preparing to attack U.S. forces and those of its Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) allies in eastern Syria. By using tribal militia proxies and Russian mercenary troops to inflict U.S. casualties and stoke political conflict among the Syrian factions, Cafarella, et al, assert that Russia and Iran are seeking to compel the U.S. to withdraw its forces from Syria and break up the coalition that defeated Daesh.

If true, this effort would represent an escalation of a strategic gambit that led to a day-long battle between tribal militias loyal to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, Syrian government troops, and Russian mercenaries and U.S. allied Kurdish and SDF fighters along with their U.S. Marine and Special Operations Forces (SOF) advisors in February in the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor. This resulted in a major defeat of the pro-Assad forces, which suffered hundreds of casualties–including dozens of Russians–from U.S. air and ground-based fires.

To support their contention, Cafarella, et al, offer a pattern of circumstantial evidence that does not quite amount to a definitive conclusion. ISW has a clear policy preference to promote: “The U.S. must commit to defending its partners and presence in Eastern Syria in order to prevent the resurgence of ISIS and deny key resources to Iran, Russia, and Assad.” It has criticized the U.S.’s failure to hold Russia culpable for the February attack in Deir Ezzor as “weak,” thereby undermining its policy in Syria and the Middle East in the face of Russian “hybrid” warfare efforts.

Yet, there is circumstantial evidence that the February battle in Deir Ezzor was the result of deliberate Russian government policy. ISW has identified Russian and Iranian intent to separate SDF from U.S. support to isolate and weaken it. President Assad has publicly made clear his intent to restore his rule over all of Syria. And U.S. President Donald Trump has yet to indicate that he has changed his intent to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

Russian and Iranian sponsorship and support for further aggressive action by pro-regime forces and proxies against U.S. troops and their Syrian allies could easily raise tensions dramatically with the U.S. Since it is difficult to see Russian and Iranian proxies succeeding with new Deir Ezzor-style attacks, they might be tempted to try to shoot down a U.S. aircraft or attempt a surprise raid on a U.S. firebase instead. Should Syrian regime or Russian mercenary forces manage to kill or wound U.S. troops, or bring down a U.S. manned aircraft, the military and political repercussions could be significant.

Despite the desire of President Trump to curtail U.S. involvement in Syria, there is real potential for the conflict to mushroom.

U.S. and Russian Troops Fight

Just wanted to post up this article by The National Interest….as they linked to our blog in the article: Did U.S. and Russian Troops Fight Their Bloodiest Battle Since World War I in February

We had no idea they were linking to us….I just noticed a few hits from their site, so decided to check. Our link is on the first line of the second page, under “ill-judged attack”:

Details Of U.S. Engagement With Russian Mercenaries In Syria Remain Murky

UNDISCLOSED LOCATION, SYRIA (May 15, 2017)— U.S. Marines fortify a machine gun pit around their M777-A2 Howitzer in Syria, May 15, 2017. The unit has been conducting 24-hour all-weather fire support for Coalition’s local partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces, as part of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. CJTF-OIR is the global coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Matthew Callahan)

Last week, the New York Times published an article by Thomas Gibbons-Neff that provided a detailed account of the fighting between U.S-advised Kurdish and Syrian militia forces and Russian mercenaries and Syrian and Arab fighters near the city of Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria on 7 February 2018. Gibbons-Neff stated the account was based on newly obtained documents and interviews with U.S. military personnel.

While Gibbons-Neff’s reporting fills in some details about the action, it differs in some respects to previous reporting, particularly a detailed account by Christoph Reuter, based on interviews from participants and witnesses in Syria, published previously in Spiegel Online.

  • According to Gibbons-Neff, the U.S. observed a buildup of combat forces supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Deir Ezzor, south of the Euphrates River, which separated them from U.S.-backed Kurdish and Free Syrian militia forces and U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) and U.S. Marine Corps elements providing advice and assistance north of the river.
  • The pro-regime forces included “some Syrian government soldiers and militias, but American military and intelligence officials have said a majority were private Russian paramilitary mercenaries — and most likely a part of the Wagner Group, a company often used by the Kremlin to carry out objectives that officials do not want to be connected to the Russian government.”
  • After obtaining assurances from the Russian military chain-of-command in Syria that the forces were not theirs, Secretary of Defense James Mattis ordered “for the force, then, to be annihilated.”
  • Gibbons-Neff’s account focuses on the fighting that took place on the night of 7-8 February in the vicinity of a U.S. combat outpost located near a Conoco gas plant north of the Euphrates. While the article mentions the presence of allied Kurdish and Syrian militia fighters, it implies that the target of the pro-regime force was the U.S. outpost. It does not specify exactly where the pro-regime forces concentrated or the direction they advanced.
  • This is in contrast to Reuter’s Spiegel Online account, which reported a more complex operation. This included an initial probe across a bridge northwest of the Conoco plant on the morning of 7 February by pro-regime forces that included no Russians, which was repelled by warning shots from American forces.
  • After dark that evening, this pro-regime force attempted to cross the Euphrates again across a bridge to the southeast of the Conoco plant at the same time another pro-regime force advanced along the north bank of the Euphrates toward the U.S./Kurdish/Syrian forces from the town of Tabiya, southeast of the Conoco plant. According to Reuter, U.S. forces engaged both of these pro-regime advances north of the Euphrates.
  • While the Spiegel Online article advanced the claim that Russian mercenary forces were not leading the pro-regime attacks and that the casualties they suffered were due to U.S. collateral fire, Gibbons-Neff’s account makes the case that the Russians comprised at least a substantial part of at least one of the forces advancing on the U.S./Kurdish/Syrian bases and encampments in Deir Ezzor.
  • Based on documents it obtained, the Times asserts that 200-300 “pro-regime” personnel were killed out of an overall force of 500. Gibbons-Neff did not attempt to parse out the Russian share of these, but did mention that accounts in Russian media have risen from four dead as initially reported, to later claims of “perhaps dozens” of killed and wounded. U.S. government sources continue to assert that most of the casualties were Russian.
  • It is this figure of 200-300 killed that I have both found problematic in the past. A total of 200-300 killed and wounded overall seems far more likely, with approximately 100 dead and 100-200 wounded out of the much larger overall force of Russian mercenaries, Syrian government troops, and tribal militia fighters involved in the fighting.

Motivation for the Operation Remains Unclear

While the details of the engagement remain ambiguous, the identity of those responsible for directing the attacks and the motivations for doing so are hazy as well. In late February, CNN and the Washington Post reported that U.S. intelligence had detected communications between Yevgeny Prigozhin—a Russian businessman with reported ties to President Vladimir Putin, the Ministry of Defense, and Russian mercenaries—and Russian and Syrian officials in the weeks leading up to the attack. One such intercept alleges that Prigozhin informed a Syrian official in January that he had secured permission from an unidentified Russian minister to move forward with a “fast and strong” initiative in Syria in early February.

Prigozhin was one of 13 individuals and three companies indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller on 16 February 2018 for funding and guiding a Russian government effort to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

If the Deir Ezzor operation was indeed a clandestine operation sanctioned by the Russian government, the motivation remains mysterious. Gibbons-Neff’s account implies that the operation was a direct assault on a U.S. military position by a heavily-armed and equipped combat force, an action that all involved surely understood beforehand would provoke a U.S. military reaction. Even if the attack was instead aimed at taking the Conoco gas plant or forcing the Kurdish and Free Syrian forces out of Deir Ezzor, the attackers surely must have known the presence of U.S. military forces would elicit the same response.

Rueter’s account of a more complex operations suggests that the attack was a probe to test the U.S. response to armed action aimed at the U.S.’s Kurdish and Free Syrian proxy forces. If so, it was done very clumsily. The build-up of pro-regime forces telegraphed the effort in advance and the force itself seems to have been tailored for combat rather than reconnaissance. The fact that the U.S. government inquired with the Russian military leadership in Syria in advance about the provenance of the force build-up should have been a warning that any attempt at surprise had been compromised.

Whether the operation was simply intended to obtain a tactical advantage or to probe the resolution of U.S. involvement in Syria, the outcome bears all the hallmarks of a major miscalculation. Russian “hybrid warfare” tactics sustained a decisive reverse, while the effectiveness of U.S. military capabilities received a decided boost. Russian and U.S. forces and their proxies continue to spar using information operations, particularly electronic warfare, but they have not directly engaged each other since. The impact of this may be short-lived however, depending on whether or not U.S. President Donald J. Trump carries through with his intention announced in early April to withdraw U.S. forces from eastern Syria.