The Turkish Military has drastically escalated its drone strike campaign against the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and the Syrian Democratic Forces since July 15, 2022. While Turkish drones have been an ever present threat in the region since Turkey’s military invasion and occupation of Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad, both the number of strikes and their lethality greatly increased in the months of July and August, targeting both civilians and military officials in the SDF.
In terms of Turkish drone strikes, 2022 has been the deadliest year in North and East Syria. At least 49 people have been killed, and at least 106 more were wounded, of which 14 and 57 were civilians respectively. Notably, the attacks have targeted SDF personnel that were known to be closely coordinating with the Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and had developed strong relations with the US Military.
One such strike was conducted on July 22, when three SDF commanders, Roj Khabur, Jiyan Afrin, and Barin Botan were killed when a Turkish drone targeted and destroyed their vehicle on the Qamishli-Tirbespiye Road. Jiyan Afrin’s death was particularly noted by US Central Command, which commemorated her death on Twitter, describing her as a “critical SDF leader who led forces in combat vs ISIS since the height of the fight to defeat the vile ideology in NE Syria in 2017”, and offering condolences to the families of all three women.
Furthermore, the increase in civilian casualties has also been noteworthy. On August 6, a Turkish drone targeted a densely-populated Qamishli neighborhood, killing four people, three of whom were civilians, and two of whom were children. One of the dead was an SDF fighter.
The Shehba Region was targeted by a Turkish drone on August 24, with four civilians killed and five more wounded by the attack. The dead included a young Kurdish man who was due to be married later that day.
With Turkish drone strikes indiscriminately targeting the institutions, civilian population, and infrastructure of the already war-torn and economically unstable region, the SDF and AANES officials have stated that the consequences of this drone campaign will include ISIS taking advantage of the instability to plan more attacks against the SDF and its facilities, as well as the further displacement of the civilian population. Many settlements, especially those near the contact lines between Turkish-backed and SDF forces, have already been emptied by the Turkish drone and artillery attacks.