The following research is based on information gathered by Flashpoint analysts and data collections. For November’s report, click here.
ISIS operations in December were increasingly dominated by Iraq, Afghanistan, and Nigeria—claims of responsibility in these countries now constitute more than 70% of the overall total (123)—with Syria and Mozambique playing notable supporting roles.
ISIS militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to expand their campaign of violence, focusing very heavily in December on the Afghan capital Kabul. Meanwhile, there was a notable absence of activity in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad and surrounding Nangarhar Province.
The drumbeat of operations claimed by ISIS in Syria has continued from last month, dipping only slightly, from 17 to 15 in December. All of the attacks claimed in December were confined to Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zour Province, but it does appear that the resumption of official ISIS activity in Syria (after a noticeable lull in the fall) is more than just a propaganda narrative.
Militants loyal to ISIS in Mozambique have once again played an outsized role in the operations officially claimed by the group, while Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) fighters affiliated with ISIS appear to have suffered setbacks following the arrival of Ugandan soldiers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo).
ISIS targets overall
ISIS targets by city
The list of specific locations targeted most frequently in December was topped by the Afghan capital Kabul (11%), the Nigerian border town of Mallamfatori (6%), Iraq’s Al-Azim District (5%), the Daquq area in the southern part of Iraq’s Kirkuk Province (3%), Iraq’s Al-Riyad District in Kirkuk Province (2%), the Iraqi town of Miqdadiyah (2%), and the Hamrin Mountains area of northern Iraq (2%).
ISIS attacks by country
Afghanistan and Pakistan
The overwhelming focus of ISIS operations in the Afghanistan/Pakistan area during December 2021 was the Afghan capital Kabul, which accounted for 46% of all attacks claimed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad–a longtime major hub for ISIS–was the location of only 6% of ISIS attacks in AFPAK during December, and greater Nangarhar Province merely 17%. Compare this to November 2021, where Jalalabad accounted for 43% of all ISIS attacks in AFPAK and at least 60% took place in Nangarhar Province. Likewise in October, Jalalabad accounted for almost 52% and Nangarhar Province 59%.
ISIS claimed 26 individual attacks in Afghanistan for the period of December 2021—once again making it second only to Iraq as the country with the most claimed ISIS attacks worldwide.
At least 73% of ISIS attacks in Afghanistan during December explicitly targeted rival Taliban militants. As noted in our report last month, despite the prevalence of attacks in Kabul, the geographic range appears to be slowly spreading out across Afghanistan, with a handful of attacks recorded in Kunar, Farah, Takhar, Logar, and Kunduz Provinces (a total of 7 provinces for the month). This appears to be greater provincial diversity than perhaps in the entire history of ISIS in Afghanistan.
Pakistan was the location for at least 3 ISIS attacks in December 2021 across the northwestern part of the country, including in the city of Rawalpindi.
Iraq and Syria
Although it remains as the country with the most recorded individual ISIS attacks, we have cited in several recent monthly reports a downward statistical trend in Iraq.
In December, ISIS claimed a total of 38 attacks compared to 31 in November. However, this is the first upward trend in months. In July, ISIS claimed 65 attacks in Iraq vs. 63 in August with the downward trends continuing in September (49) and again in October (40). Despite the month-over-month increase, the 38 attacks in December is a marked drop from July (65) and August (63).
Meanwhile, the total number of operations claimed by ISIS in Syria accelerated from 4 in September and 2 in October to 17 in November. Nearly a quarter of individually claimed ISIS attacks in Syria in November took place in the northeastern Hasakah Province. This is almost as many attacks as the combined total of official ISIS operations in Hasakah for the previous six-month period (May-October).
In Iraq, ISIS operations have been dominant in Diyala and Kirkuk Provinces (accounting for a total of 79%), while Anbar and Saladin Provinces–once key havens of ISIS activity–continue to drift downwards, constituting only a combined total of 23% of ISIS operations in Iraq. Iraq’s western Anbar Province is noticeably languishing, with only 2 recorded attacks during the entire month. The percentage share of Anbar Province has been cut in half every month since October.
At least a third of all ISIS attacks in Nigeria during December 2021 took place in the far northeastern border town of Mallamfatori, adjacent to Chad and Niger–including mortar attacks, IEDs, armed assaults, and even a suicide car bombing. The town of Mallamfatori was attacked at least 27 times by ISIS militants over the second half of 2021. Mallamfatori was the fourth most frequently attacked location worldwide by ISIS in the last six months, behind Kabul, Jalalabad, and Iraq’s Al-Azim District.
Once again, there was a slight decrease in the overall number of ISIS operations in Nigeria (24 versus 25 in November). However, as we predicted last month, the death of alleged ISWAP leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi and his alleged successor, Malam Bako, does not appear to have had any palpable impact on the group’s operations.
Central and Eastern Africa
Although unclear at this point whether it is a case of correlation or causation, since the recent introduction of Ugandan troops into the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), there has been a sharp drop in the number of claimed ISIS attacks in the region–from 11 in November to 3 in December. The arrival of Ugandan soldiers has been a controversial subject among some Congolese, but there are at least some initial positive (albeit circumstantial) signs.
Farther south in Mozambique, though there were only a total of 6 ISIS attacks claimed, this still placed Mozambique behind Syria and ahead of Pakistan and Egypt in the tally of official ISIS operations.
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