Battle of Tell Abyad (2016)

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Battle of Tell Abyad
Part of the Syrian Civil War and
the American-led intervention in Syria
Rojava Kurdisch kontrollierte Gebiete.jpg
Situation in Northern Syria (June 2015)
Date27 February – 1 March 2016
(3 days) (First phase)
3–8 March 2016
(5 days) (Second phase)

SDF victory

  • The SDF repels the assault

Syrian Democratic Forces

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Commanders and leaders
Khaled Daham al Bashir [1]
(Deir Ezzor tribal leader)
Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria Laila Mustafa
(Head of City Council)[2]
Units involved

Syrian Democratic Forces

Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria Asayish & Kurdish militia[5]

Military of ISIL

Unknown 400+[8]
Casualties and losses

47+ killed[9] (47 YPG/YPJ killed)[10]

300 killed (ISIL claim)
120–291 killed[9][11][12][13]
15–23 civilians killed[9][10]

The Battle of Tel Abyad was a raid by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on the YPG-held town of Tell Abyad at the end of February 2016, during the Syrian Civil War.


In July 2015, Tel Abyad, previously held by IS, was captured by YPG militias linking together the Kurdish Kobanî and Jazira Canton. Since then the majority-Arab town has been absorbed into the Kobane Canton.


According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a month before the battle's beginning a large number of ISIL sleeper agents disguised as civilians and SDF or YPG fighters entered Tell Abyad. Most of them were so-called "Caliphate Cubs" or ISIL units of child soldiers.[6][7]

On 27 February 2016, at around 23:00 local time (9 pm GMT),[4] over a hundred Islamic State militants attacked the YPG controlled town of Tell Abyad (Gire Spi in Kurdish), a key crossing along the Syrian-Turkish border, just hours after a general ceasefire in Syria took effect. According to YPG military spokesperson Redur Xelil, the attack was not to re-take Tal Abyad but to cut the Kurdish Cantons in half and do as much damage possible, reminiscent to the Kobanî massacre.[12]

The battle began when ISIL fighters infiltrated the suburbs of Tel Abyad, storming dozens of homes in the villages of Hamam Turkman and Ain al-Arous, and executing 23 civilians. A YPG spokesman claimed that some of the ISIL attackers had crossed from Turkey to attack the town. Turkey quickly denied this claim. Russian Lt. Gen. Sergei Kuralenko the head of Russia’s reconciliation monitoring center in Latakia, said that the assault on Tal Abyad involved up to 100 armed militants with heavy artillery support from Turkish territory.[14] Other YPG sources claimed that Turkey had supplied ISIL fighters with both modern western equipment and information.[8]

The two pronged offensive was launched against the Kurdish positions in the East of the city, with ISIS using car bombs to attack checkpoints and mortar fire originating in Raqqa. The SDF headquarters in Tel Abyad was targeted and 5 other villages; Sharghrat, Kantari, Nastleh, Ghuwera and Qantrah were attacked.[2][15] As ISIL overran large parts of the city, they also encircled a YPG headquarters near the Syrian-Turkish borders, where they captured Khaled Daham al Bashir. Khaled, who had fought ISIL with the Free Syrian Army in Deir ez-Zor before, was the cousin of Raghib al Bashir, head of al-Baqara tribe in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate. After his capture, he and three other SDF fighters were executed, with images of his beheading being posted by ISIL on his personal Facebook account.[1]

During the battle ISIS fighters captured roughly 70% of the town (according to Turkish military officials) as well as the National Hospital and administrative buildings of Tal Abyad.[4] Kurdish officials stated they were successful in repelling the attack and holding the town with the support of ten U.S Combined Joint Task Force airstrikes, and heavy reinforcements from mostly local Arab fighters from Jaysh al-Thuwar, also part of the "Self-Defense Forces".

The offensive ended on 1 March, when the attack was repelled. According to the YPG, the bodies of 140 ISIS fighters were left behind.[10] This toll was later raised to 291.[12] The SDF gave their death toll as 43, mostly YPG fighters, and 23 civilians killed.[10] The SOHR gave a differing death toll, in which 140 ISIS fighters died attacking the town along with 47 YPG and 15 civilians.[9]

Mehmet Yuksel, a representative of the Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party to the United States argued that Ankara hired the attackers from Syrian refugee camps in Turkey.[citation needed]

In response to the attack, the SDF launched "Revenge of Êlîn and Cûdî" (named after two Kurdish children in the Tel Abyad attack) on 3 March, the fourth major offensive against ISIL forces to the south[16] that successfully reclaimed, with little resistance, open ISIL territory, hamlets and villages in southeastern Tell Abyad District, northern Deir ez-Zor District and western Al-Hasakah District. The two-pronged operation concluded sometime after SDF forces converged at Muqman in Deir ez-Zor District in 8 March, moving the Kurdish frontline closer towards the ISIL stronghold of Raqqa and the besieged city of Deir ez-Zor.


  1. ^ a b "The death of a Deir Ezzor tribal leader in ISIS attack on Tel Abyad town yesterday". Archived from the original on 15 April 2016. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Life returns to Syria's Tel Abyad after western-backed forces repel ISIS offensive – ARA News". ARA News. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  3. ^ a b "YPG: Islamic State Attacked Gire Spi / Tel Abyad From Turkey And Raqqa". Retrieved 8 March 2016.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ a b c "Fierce fighting rages as IS attacks Kurds near Turkish border". Middle East Eye. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  5. ^ "More than 70 "Islamic state" members killed during YPG's regaining control of Tal Abyad town". SOHR. Archived from the original on 12 March 2016. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  6. ^ a b c "By "Caliphate Cubs and the costume of Self-Defense", "Islamic State" carry out Tal Abyad military operations". SOHR. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  8. ^ a b "Sanitäter bei der YPG in Syrien. Ein Deutscher im Kampf gegen den IS". Tagesschau (in German). Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d "Death Toll from IS Offensive in Northern Syria Rises to 202, SOHR Says". Retrieved 2 March 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d "43 Kurdish YPG fighters killed in Syria in battle with Islamic State". Reuters. 2 March 2016. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  11. ^ "More than 120 "Islamic State" members killed during their failed attack on Tal Abyad area in the countryside of Raqqa". SOHR. Archived from the original on 14 March 2016. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  12. ^ a b c "'Turkey tries to expel Kurds from Tel Abyad crossing to help ISIS export its oil to black market': Kurdish official". ARA News. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  13. ^ 'Turkey tries to expel Kurds from Tel Abyad crossing to help ISIS export its oil to black market': Kurdish official – ARA News
  14. ^ "Russia Reports Turkish Shelling of Syrian Territory as Cease-fire Takes Hold". Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  15. ^ "ISIS takes advantage of Syria ceasefire, attacks Kurds north Raqqa – ARA News". ARA News. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  16. ^ Rojava Weekly News Briefing – Support Kurds in Syria – SKS

Coordinates: 36°41′50″N 38°57′18″E / 36.6973°N 38.9551°E / 36.6973; 38.9551