Yurtugh Tactical: Profiling the Anti-Chinese Uyghur Training Group in Syria

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 2

Yurtugh Tactical promotional image via Lucas Weber on Twitter

The rise of tactical groups dates to 2017 and 2018, when the first videos and photos of Malhama Tactical in Syria began to circulate. In those same years, other tactical groups began operating in Syria, but escaped the scrutiny of analysts because they were not present on social networks, did not have websites, and avoided spreading propaganda. Malhama Tactical, on the other hand, produced extensive propaganda and offered various services, such as the sale of weapons and training videos, and appeared more like a professional contractor than a full-fledged jihadist tactical group, despite still conducting military and special operations together with other jihadist groups (Akhbar al-Aan, May 5). [1]

Some tactical groups are fully aligned and loyal to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), such as “Saliq Tariq Tactical” and the Turkish-led Fursan Tactical, while others are linked to other jihadist groups, such as Albanian Tactical, which is aligned with Xhemati Alban. The most recent tactical group to emerge, Muhojir Tactical, is also aligned with Liwa al-Muhajireen wal Ansar (LMA) and Tavhid va Jihod Uzbek (KTJ) (Terrorism Monitor, December 2). However, Yurtugh Tactical is arguably of greater analytical importance than these other tactical groups because it has remained independent of the others and its propaganda has remained active and consistent for several years.

What is Yurtugh Tactical?

Yurtugh Tactical [2] is composed of Uyghur fighters, and was founded in 2018 by highly specialized and trained veteran fighters, who, according to their spokesperson, were Uyghurs “deprived of military knowledge by the Chinese regime” and “realized that our people were far behind in the military field.” Their main objective is to provide accurate military knowledge to the Uyghur population and lay the foundation for a future “East Turkistan” state. Despite sharing goals of the al-Qaeda-aligned Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) to “liberate East Turkistan from Chinese occupation,” Yurtugh Tactical’s spokesman emphasized that they are not aligned or linked to the TIP and that Yurtugh Tactical is completely independent.

The group’s name refers exclusively to the military term, “Yurtugh,” which signifies a special military unit of the army of the Turkish Kanate Kara-Khanid dynasty. [3] The spokesman also specified that the group was not inspired by Malhama Tactical, did not attend its training camps, and currently has no relationship with it. Yurtugh Tactical, which operates particularly in Idlib, Syria, does have relations with other tactical groupings in addition to HTS, such as the “al-Fathul al-Mubeen Operation Room” [4]. The Yurtugh Tactical spokesman also clarified that the claim that its members are “contractors” is incorrect because they do not receive money for the training they offer, and they do not charge for what they do; all their operations are focused solely on “liberating our land from the Chinese occupiers” [5].

Yurtugh Tactical Propaganda

Since August 2021, Yurtugh Tactical has started to spread its propaganda on various messaging apps and social networks, as well as on the battlefield. [6] In 2022, Yurtugh Tactical released videos, posters, and photos in ultra-high definition. These included 15 HD training videos showing pistol training courses, shooting in raised and lowered positions, unblocking malfunctioning or jammed rifles, exercises to improve speed in hitting targets, two-weapon shooting exercises, 50 and 75-meter pistol shooting exercises, night shooting exercises, and reloading a weapon with a wounded limb.

However, the longest and most important video was published on September 25 in cooperation with Albanian Tactical and subtitled in English (only two videos to date have been published with subtitles). Entitled “Training of the Day,” the video was filmed in Idlib and showed a team leader and four fighters first explaining the four basic rules of firearms safety and then showing different types of training, modalities, contexts, and weapons (Yurtugh Media, September 25, 2022). Members of Yurtugh Tactical also appeared in a seven minute TIP video entitled “Shooting Competition” but they were only supervisors (Islam Awazi, October 25, 2022).

Besides these productions, Yurtugh Tactical published 15 online posters of high-quality graphics and design and over 80 photographs either individually or in photo streams. They have depicted moments of preparation, study, and training with different types of weapons, and/or have displayed their tactical and military weapons and equipment. This shows the equipment that members use and demonstrates that Yurtugh Tactical has constant activity.


Yurtugh Tactical members are well trained, and above all, extremely motivated— ideologically and religiously. For example, in many videos, they often repeat that they fight and make sacrifices for the love of Allah and the Uyghur cause. Even if they operate independently, by operating in the Syrian jihadist milieu, they are weaving ties with other jihadist groups, and not just tactical ones. This could provide them with logistical support and help if they decide to ever change their theater of operations. For now, however, the Syrian theater proves to be a “safe haven” for foreign tactical and jihadist groups. Even if Yurtugh Tactical’s objectives for “liberating” East Turkistan appear too idealistic, the wide dissemination of their media products remains influential among Uyghur and other jihadist supporters and fighters.



[1] Since December 2021, Malhama Tactical has left its training camps operational, but it no longer produces propaganda, as reported to this author by its spokesman. Interview with Muzamjir al-Sham, August 2, 2022. See https://danielegarofalo.substack.com/p/al-qaeda-syrian-jihadism-and-foreign.

[2] Much of the information in this analysis is derived from an analysis of Yurtugh Tactical’s publications and propaganda and the author’s interview with the group’s spokesperson in December 2022.

[3] The Kara-khanid Khanate was a Turkish Khanate that ruled Central Asia between 999 A.D. and 1213 A.D. The Khanate comprised present-day eastern Uzbekistan, western Tajikistan, southern Kazakhstan, southern Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, and the ancient Uyghur Khanate.

[4] The “operations room” is a military council that was formed in 2019 and consists of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, the Turkish-backed National Liberation Front, Jaysh al-Izza, and recently also Ahrar al-Sham. In general, groups that are not integrated with HTS but are aligned with it or abide by its military rules always engage with the operations room. (North Press Agency, June 9, 2022 – Levant 24, July 19, 2021).

[5] Funding comes from donations and the sale and repair of weapons and military equipment.

[6] For all propaganda and videos in more detail, see Eyes on Jihadism. Monitoring Jihadist Propaganda: https://danielegarofalo.substack.com/