Over 100 jihadist training camps identified in Iraq and Syria

Map of jihadist training camps in Iraq and Syria. Made by Caleb Weiss & Bill Roggio for The Long War Journal.

The number of training camps operated by jihadists inside Iraq and Syria continues to rise. The Long War Journal has identified more than 100 in the two countries. While not all of these facilities may be currently operational, the proliferation of camps by the Islamic State, the Al Nusrah Front, and other groups poses a regional and global threat.

Since the beginning of 2012, a total of 117 camps have been identified as being operational at one point in time. Of those, 85 have been found in Syria, and 32 in Iraq; 11 are used to indoctrinate and train children.

Some of the jihadist training facilities may no longer be in operation due to changes in fortunes on the battlefield (lost territory, airstrikes, etc.). At least 16 are thought to be closed and 15 to 22 have been hit in Coalition airstrikes. It is unclear if these camps have been destroyed or if they reopened in the same location or elsewhere. It is also likely that there are training sites that have not been advertised.

Information on the camps has been obtained from jihadist videos and images, news accounts, and US military press releases that note airstrikes against the training facilities.

Since Feb. 6, The Long War Journal has identified 37 new training camps. Of these, 25 are located in Syria while the other 12 are in Iraq.

The Islamic State has operated 57 camps (30 in Iraq, 27 in Syria). The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has operated 23 camps inside Syria. Allied jihadist groups have run 37 other camps (35 in Syria and two in Iraq); 11 of those camps are run by jihadist groups from the Caucasus, four by Uzbek jihadist groups, two by ethnic Uighurs, and jihadists from Gaza, Morocco, and Kazakhstan each run one camp.

In the past, al Qaeda has used its network of training facilities to train fighters to battle in local insurgencies, identify potential recruits for attacks against the West, and support a host of allied jihadist groups.

List of new camps:

Sixteen of the camps that have been recently identified belong to the Islamic State, the al Qaeda splinter group that now controls significant portions of land in Iraq and Syria. These facilities include:

The Abu Musab al Zarqawi camp. It is located in Iraq’s Ninewa province and is named after the founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State’s predecessor, Abu Musab al Zarqawi. The Islamic State also has camps named after Zarqawi in Kirkuk, Damascus, and in Mosul.

On Feb. 26, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, the US military command for the airstrikes against the Islamic State, reported that its aircraft hit an Islamic State training camp in Al Qaim in Iraq’s Anbar province.

On Feb. 26, a Twitter account belonging to a female Islamic State member posted photos showing her and other female recruits at a camp for women in Raqqah. The female recruits were learning how to handle handguns and AK-47 assault rifles in the photos.

On March 27, the Islamic State released photos showing a training camp for snipers in the Damascus countryside in Syria. The photos show several snipers training in ghille suits and with SVD sniper rifles.

On April 2, the Islamic State released pictures from Aleppo province showing a relatively large-scale camp. More than a few dozen recruits were shown to be taking part in physical training, weapons training, and learning military tactics. One picture shows recruits learning to how to properly handle machine guns on a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees tarp.

On Apr. 10, photos were released from the Damascus suburb of Qaboun showing an Islamic State training camp there. Around a dozen recruits were shown to be taking part in physical exercises.

The Islamic State showcased a graduating class from the “Abu Musab al Zarqawi camp” in Iraq’s Salahadin province on Apr. 14. The camp is named after the founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the Islamic State. The jihadist group runs other camps named after Zarqawi in Damascus, Syria, and in the Kirkuk and Ninewa provinces of Iraq.

On Apr. 24, the jihadist group highlighted a training camp in its Dijla (Tigris) Province, which is south of its Ninewa province. The camp, named the Al Karar camp, recruits were shown learning how covertly take down enemies with knives, navigate in the Tigris, and learning basic weapons training.

The jihadist group showcased a training camp in Iraq’s Ninewa province on Apr. 30 in a photo set. The photos showed around two dozen recruits taking part in physical exercises, weapons training, and how to navigate a river. Several teenagers appear to be taking part in the training. The camp is named after a jihadist known as Abu Ahmed al Jabouri.

The Islamic State showcased a training camp for Russian speaking fighters somewhere in Anbar province on May 10, 2015. The fighters, according to Joanna Paraszczuk, were being trained to form “death squads” for suicide missions. These fighters are said to have fought in the Apr 26 battle near Lake Thar Thar that left over 100 Iraqi soldiers dead. Umar Shishani’s right hand man, Abu Jihad, as well as a Dagestani preacher make an appearance in the video. The video was produced by the Russian-language Al Furat Media.

On May 17, 2015, the “Ahl al Azm camp” in the Damascus countryside was showcased. More than a dozen recruits were shown undergoing weapons training and the use of technicals.

The Islamic State highlighted a training camp in Hamah province in a video in late May. The camp was featured in a video showing combat operations in the region between Raqqah and Salamiyah. The training camp was again shown in a separate photo report on June 17, 2015.

The Islamic State showcased the the Abdallah bin Omar training facility and school on June 8, 2015. The video featured children learning Arabic, Quran, and taking part in military training. Adults were also shown in classes and taking part in military training, including forced-entry techniques and learning how to clear buildings. Camp is located in the Islamic State’s Wilayat al Jazeera and is probably near Tal Afar.

The Nazar al ‘Asaafi camp in Kirkuk was showcased on June 11, 2015. More than two dozen recruits were shown training with Ak-47’s, technicals, as well as training in water and in wooded areas. the leader of camp was identified as Abu Muhammad.

In the Islamic State’s video to commemorate the one year anniversary of capturing Mosul, a training camp somewhere in Ninewa province was shown. The camp, named Al Jazeera, featured rudimentary physical training structures. Recruits were also shown to how to manufacture IED’s. This facility may be called the “Abu Takah al Ansari” camp.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry said that the air force struck the Abu Musab al Zarqawi camp in Hit on June 17, 2015. The Ministry went on to say that at least 45 militants were killed, including the Tunisian emir and another Chechen commander of the camp. These numbers cannot be independently verified by The Long War Journal.

Six camps were also identified as belonging to the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria. These camps include:

In a video released on Feb. 13, the jihadist group highlighted its gains in Syria. As part of the video, a training camp was shown in the Damascus area. The camp was unnamed, however Al Nusrah said it was training “commandos” in the video.

The Al Nusrah Front showcased the Mullah Omar camp in Hama on Feb. 18, 2015. The photos showed more than a dozen recruits taking part in weapons training. The camp is named after the leader of the Taliban, whom al Qaeda has declared its bayah (loyalty) to.

Russian-speaking Twitter accounts showcased a camp ran by Nusrah in Daraa on March 11, 2015. The accounts are linked to the Chechen-led Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, the Syrian branch of the al Qaeda-affiliated Caucasus Emirate.

On Apr. 13, Al Nusrah’s Twitter account for its operations in Hama released photos from a training camp in the Hama countryside. The photos show around a dozen recruits taking part in weapons training in an open field.

On Apr. 29, Al Nusrah’s Twitter account for its operations in the Qalamoon mountains released photos from one of its training camps there. More than 50 recruits were shown in the pictures and were featured learning how to conduct infantry tactics and how to use a US-made M113 armored personnel carrier.

Al Nusrah showcased the “Al Mukhtar Camp” in Daraa on May 17, 2015. Photos from the camp showcased over 70 recruits participating in physical and weapons training.

Nine camps have been identified as belonging to jihadist groups allied to the Al Nusrah Front in Syria. These include:

On Feb. 11, Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar released photos from one of its training camps in Aleppo province. The photos showcased more than two dozen recruits undergoing physical training.

In a now deleted video on YouTube, the Islamic Front highlighted a joint-training camp for Liwa al Haqq and Ahrar al Sham, a powerful al Qaeda ally in Syria. The video’s description said the camp is for “mujahideen in Liwa al Haqq and mujahideen in Ahrar al Sham”. The two groups merged on Dec. 8, 2014. The video featured a speech from Abdullah Azzam, the co-founder of al Qaeda and mentor of Osama bin Laden.

In a video released on March 8, 2015, a rudimentary camp ran by the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) was shown. The camp is likely in Idlib province. The TIP in Syria operates alongside Al Nusrah in Idlib and also likely in Aleppo province.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an al Qaeda-affiliated group that operates throughout the Middle East, released photos of a training camp for its “Marwan Hadid Brigade” camp in Syria. The camp is likely near Al Qusayr in Homs province and is named after Majid bin Muhammad al Majid, a Saudi who led the Abdullah Azzam Brigades before his capture and subsequent death. The group is named after the co-founder of al Qaeda and mentor to Usama bin Laden.

Jaish al Islam, a group in the Islamic Front coalition, runs a camp in the Damascus countryside called the Ali bin Abi Talib camp. This camp was promoted on Mar. 12 on YouTube and Twitter. The camp is named after Ali, a follower and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and one of the Caliphs of the Rashidun Caliphate.

Ahrar al Sham, a powerful al Qaeda-ally in the Islamic Front coalition, was identified to be running a training camp in Homs province. Accounts related to the group in Homs released several images of the “Hama al Riyaah camp” in which several recruits were shown undergoing physical and weapons training exercises.

The Imam Bukhari Jamaat, a group largely comprised of Uzbeks, released a video of a training camp possibly in Idlib on Apr. 11. The video showed around two dozen recruits learning how to properly handle weapons and how to properly administer first aid to wounded fighters, and , training in hand-to-hand combat. The Imam Bukhari Jamaat is allied to the Al Nusrah Front, Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, and Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad. The group swears bayah (allegiance) to Mullah Muhammad Omar of the Taliban and runs two other camps in Aleppo.

Jaish al Islam, another powerful al Qaeda-allied group in the Islamic Front coalition, showcased another training camp it runs in Syria on Apr. 21. The camp, which showed dozens of recruits, is likely in the Damascus countryside.

On May 8, 2015, Ahrar al Sham released a video showing a training camp in northern Homs province. The recruits shown in the video underwent physical, weapons, and martial arts training. One scene showed recruits learning how to clear buildings. The video also included a short audio statement from Abdullah Azzam.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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17 Comments

  • mike merlo says:

    Thanks. Excellent Information!

  • M3fd2002 says:

    Are there any reliable estimstes about the number of trainees are graduating monthly? I would anticipate that the Islamic State is planning something significant for Ramadan.

  • joe shoemaker says:

    Love the map – appreciate the time involved.

    But all the information you provided keep me informed, sure not getting in media, except from a few good reporters but this is raw info and data (especially on drones). Congress is AWOL on allowing the secret killing machine with direct congressional authority.

    Keep up the work – invaluable.

    jls

  • Jeff Edelman says:

    Sounds like more than 100 good reasons not to return with any bombs remaining to the aircraft carrier.

  • Tony says:

    I am very skeptical of a claim made in this article. The idea that a training camp of any type can be operated by an insurgent group in the al-Qusayr region seems impossible. Forces allied with the government have had that region locked down for almost 2 years now as of this month. The army, Hezbollah, Iranian militias, NDF and so forth would absolutely crush any ‘training camp’ in that area.

    Either the claim made is blatantly false, or the insurgent group lied about the camp to mislead analysts.

  • Oberron says:

    One million people packed into Raqqah, two million in Mosul, and they have a large body of recruits. With the seven million strong Dulaimi Tribe swearing loyalty along with tribal allies, IS won’t lack for fighters. If its Central Corridor Offensive succeeds in punching through and encircling Tiyas and taking Assad’s remaining gas supplies, they can finish off Deir Ezzor.

    IS is also continuing its Azaz Offensive and cut all fuel transport from its fields to FSA areas and food transport as well. They even cut Assad out as well. Indicating they no longer need the money. Given they hold Jarabulus as their MSR and it has a train connection to Turkey, not surprising. the Road Network is also better at Jarabulus Crossing. Helping FSA to take it and Manbij would have done more than taking Tall Abyad and removed the defense industry IS built up in Manbij. But apparently Obama Administration can’t read maps.

    Ah well, just have to hope the next crop of Presidential Candidates have more sense.

    Overall, it looks like IS is trying to finish off the last of Assad’s gas supplies then either punch through to Homs City or cut it off by road.

    • boval4466 says:

      We can only hope that the next president has more going for them. I have never understood having a airforce like the US’s, and only attacking piecemeal! Its been time to send in Heavy Bombers to Raqqa! Its the capital for Daesh, so why is it still on the map??!! They’re using chemical weapons, so off should come the gloves, no??

  • ted says:

    soooo we have all the camps “identified” – any reason they are not just hiles in the ground today?

  • Dan says:

    If you include the US funded jihadist training camps in Jordan and Turkey I think the numbers will rise significantly.

    Why is it that we ignore those establishments in our statistical capture? The same types of people, the same type of training, and the same outcome – those who ultimately we will end up fighting – do not differ from the camps established by AQ and or IS.

  • Caleb Weiss says:

    Tony,

    The map is a provincial map, so markers are placed in relation to province. In other markers, the markers are placed where the jihadist group or press release gave a more exact location. This is seen with Kobane, where CENTCOM said they struck a training camp there back in October. Now obviously, that camp is no longer operational but it still has to be marked.

    Al Qusayr is marked due to the Abdullah Azzam Brigades being known to operate there. It is unlikely the training camp is there, but it is likely somewhere in that region of Homs.

  • Gunner says:

    maybe longwarjournal should take over the US drone program?

  • Paul W. Grasmehr says:

    Great job on putting this info together. Is a similar analysis being worked up on the myriad of groups in Libya?

  • Tony says:

    Caleb,

    I’ll have to take your explanation for what it is, but I still don’t buy the claim that any insurgent group operates there. That area was militarily conquered and then locked down and mercilessly swept over by government allied forces. They still invest a lot of forces in that particular area. Any insurgent group operating there would even starve to death if the government allied forces didn’t want to go after them. And the adjoining area into Lebanon is controlled by non-jihadist forces. Only further down into the Qalamoun is the adjoining area into Lebanon somewhat controlled by Nusra/Islamic State.

    I’m not claiming to be an expert in this, and you definitely have more overall knowledge about the theater than me, but Internet media has always tended to make jihadists out to be stronger than they actually are, and it irks me that they are reported to have a presence in an area they most likely do not.

  • mike says:

    Verify these camps are real. Then one night cluster bomb all of them with extreme prejudice. Smash their entire training apparatus beyond repair. Those ISIS who live will think twice about their mission. The more idiots they send to the front untrained, the faster we can cull these monsters. ISIS must be defeated from within, it must implode with no troops, no money, no oil, no leadership and no territory and become a shambles unable to attract anyone to their cause and Islamic embarrassment. This is a war of ideology. This ideology must be purged from humanity. But defeating an ideology is much more difficult then defeating an army. You press to hard they go back underground just as Bush has done and 1/2 the Republican guard melted into the population. You can’t fight a one-sided war then it just becomes a Guerilla war. You keep them pressed hard enough but give them room to fight then we draw them out and blow them up. Let them all come and step into the meat grinder. When no more will come then you wear them out of existence by combat and execution. The minute you agree to support ISIS you are a co-conspirator to premeditated murder and other atrocities. There should be military summary executions and otherwise killed in combat. What territory is being controlled is less important then the numbers of ISIS killed. This is a war of attrition, what matters is head count of the dead.

  • Joe says:

    Are the drones gassed up?

  • herb says:

    This is so reminiscent of what I watched happening just across the Cambodian border in ’70. This is especially true of the hot gas cloud of disinformation manufactured to cover the black op that was to become the champion genocidist of the killing fields. Really, it is like they are using the dusty yellowed procedure manuals. I’m 70 now. Not inconceivable that some of the senior covert people now we’re there then. This sort of precanned chois is practically a commodity now.

  • tuffsnotenuff says:

    So ??? Western Syria is a Safe Zone for ISIS, Nusrah, Muslim Brotherhood.

    The hits are reported by CENTCOM daily. Adding up everything for May there were 20 hits a day. And most of that in Syria went to support Kurds at Kobani and in the east.

    Not one hit in western Syria in May.

    That’s compared to 800 hits a day during the Oil Raid in 2003.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis