During the Syrian civil war, a number of units have arisen that receive some kind of Russian backing. One of these units is the ISIS Hunters (Sa'idu Da'esh), about which little concrete information exists. Here, I will provide a brief overview of the ISIS Hunters, drawing in part on the testimony of someone I know in the formation.
The ISIS Hunters formation was set up around two years ago (i.e. early 2017), as the Syrian government and its allies began their major push through the eastern deserts towards Deir az-Zor province. As its name suggests, the group was set up with the intention of fighting the Islamic State in particular. Importantly, the ISIS Hunters is not affiliated with the V Corps collection of formations set up with the backing and oversight of the Russian military. Instead, the ISIS Hunters is its own independent formation outside that framework. In addition, it should be noted that the ISIS Hunters is a volunteer force by nature, and serving in the formation is not tantamount to regular military service in the Syrian armed forces.
Recruits for the ISIS Hunters come from a variety of areas, including the coastal region, north Hama countryside (e.g. the town of Suqaylabiyah) and the southeastern Hama countryside (e.g. Salmiya). However, recruitment into the ISIS Hunters is not simply open to anyone. Instead, recruitment is selective on account of the harshness of the training courses, which require the fighter to be familiar with all combat specialities.
The ISIS Hunters has fought in the following regions:
- Deir az-Zor
- Sha'er (gas field region Homs desert)
- Aqeiberat (Hama countryside)
- Jazal (oil region in Homs desert)
- Ghouta (Damascus region)
- The desert areas generally
Members of the ISIS Hunters
Nadhim Mikhail Shahada, field commander of the ISIS Hunters, in Deir az-Zor. Notice the Russian flag armpatch.
Approximately, the ISIS Hunters has at least 30 'martyrs' from Syrian fighters. A number of these 'martyrs' were killed in U.S. strikes in February 2018 in an incident in Deir az-Zor involving conflict with the Syrian government and its allies. Russians were also killed in this incident, but the person I know in the ISIS Hunters declined to give any further information on this matter.
Currently, the ISIS Hunters is undertaking assignments, but here also, no further information could be attained regarding the nature of these assignments.
Update 22 June 2020: in an exclusive report, the outlet Suwayda' 24 identifies a company called 'al-Siyad' as being involved in recruitment of Syrian fighters to perform missions in Libya in support of Khalifa Haftar's forces. The report notes that the person behind that company (Fawaz Mikha'il Gergis/Mikha'il Fawaz Gergis) has links with the Russian forces in Syria and was involved in the creation of the ISIS Hunters.
The information in Suwayda' 24 report is correct and matches with what I had noted earlier in the year on Twitter about the ISIS Hunters' involvement in Libya- based on information I had received from someone who had been involved in the formation.
For further evidence of the 'al-Siyad' company and its role in the creation of the ISIS Hunters, see the below from June 2017:
The al-Siyad company which recently opened its main office in the town of al-Suqaylabiya continues to receive all requests of individuals desiring to serve the homeland and are capable of participating in pre-emptive attack assignments, assault and holding in order to liberate all the Syrian lands and public and private installations from the terrorists.
The company offers the one contracted with it military regularization [taswiya], health and social insurances and all the attendant recompenses. The company is licensed to operate per law 55/2013. Office address: al-Siyad company in al-Suqaylabiya: al-Suqaylabiya opposite the al-Karaj/Abara al-Naji. Landline: 6788087 033. First mobile: 0951293824. Second mobile: 0938519412. Visit our main page on Facebook in Arabic: [ISIS Hunters page]. Visit our main page on Facebook in English: [ISIS Hunters page].'
I will add here as a note that despite the announcement's promise of taswiya, testimony I have obtained from people who have been involved in ISIS Hunters indicates that there has been no taswiya for personnel.
Also note that this is not the only formation whose founder is tied to a company and has links with Russian forces outside the V Corps framework. Liwa al-Areen for example works with the Russians and its leader is the director of a company called 'al-Nasir company to represent the companies and persons and public relations and tourism.' See below.