Clashes between the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) and various Arab tribes affiliated with the Deir ez-Zor Military Council (DMC) have been ongoing since Sunday, which has led to condemnation from the United States.
Tribal forces have reportedly blockaded roads and have utilized guerilla tactics against the SDF, targeting supply lines and military convoys, which has severely hampered the SDF’s movement to combat heavy regions. Militants have also reportedly taken control of 24 villages from the SDF, according to the Turkish state media outlet Anadolu Ajansi. Furthermore, it is reported that Arab forces have forced the SDF into the countryside following Arab forces capturing a great deal of settlements in Deir ez-Zor, limiting the SDF to desert terrain and US military bases.
Turkish-backed Arab militias have also reportedly crossed the border and engaged Syrian Defense Forces.
Arab militias have also targeted and burned SDF-controlled oil wells within al-Izba, which is located in eastern Deir ez-Zor, according to the Syrian Arab News Agency, a Syrian state media outlet.
United States forces have condemned the clashes, claiming the clashes may make the region susceptible to a resurgence of Islamic State forces.
“Distractions from this critical work create instability and increase the risk of Daesh resurgence,” the US military said. “The violence in northeast Syria must cease, and the effort must return to creating peace and stability in northeast Syria, free from the threat of Daesh (ISIS).”
Those Lost in the Clashes:
45 people have lost their lives in the clashes, which consists of five civilians, which includes two girls and a woman, 25 Arab fighters, and 11 SDF fighters. Four people were killed in a raid by an SDF patrol in Daman town, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based human rights organization that was founded in 2006.
The clashes have contributed to Syria’s highest death toll in over a year due to the civil war, which has plagued the country for 12 years. 440 people lost their lives in August, including 164 children, 34 civilians killed, and 274 fighters of various armed groups in the country.
The clashes came after the arrest of Ahmad Al Khabil, who is also known as Abu Khawla and is the leader of the DMC. It is not clear why Al Khabil was arrested; however, the SDF released a statement on Monday in which they claimed to have launched “an operation to bolster security” against criminals “involved in drug trafficking and benefiting from arms smuggling.
Clashes have reportedly spilled over into northern Syria, where Turkish backed forces have engaged the Kurdish-led People’s Defense Units (YPG) and the Assad regime’s forces. The Russian air force stationed in Syria has also reportedly launched an airstrike against Arab forces while they were en route to Manbij, a city located in Syria’s northern Aleppo province.
Negotiations have begun between the SDF and fighters loyal to Al Khabil, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
The Groups in Question:
The SDF was originally formed in 2015 and was built upon alliances negotiated by the Kurdish-led People’s Defense Units (YPG) and the Women’s Defense Units (YPJ) with primarily Kurdish, Arab, and Assyrian forces. The SDF’s primary opponents are various Arab and Islamic nationalists, which include the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Syrian National Army, and the Turkish Armed Forces.
The SDF utilizes various local militias consisting of both civilian and military forces to minimize any Arab discontent that may come with Kurdish occupation. These forces enforce various peacekeeping measures in their designated regions.
The DMC is one of several other groups affiliated with the SDF; they are responsible for maintaining security in Arab-majority areas of the Deir ez-Zor province and fought alongside other SDF forces to remove the Islamic State from north-eastern Syria in 2016.
Both the SDF and the DMC enjoy military and financial support from the US.
“What’s happening today is a settling of scores,” Omar Abu Layla, who leads the DeirEzzor24 media platform, told AFP. “Corrupt commanders felt they were in danger after Abu Khawla was arrested and have tried to turn it into a tribal and Arab issue in order to protect themselves.”
Clashes are expected to continue until either the SDF releases Al Khabil or manages to suppress DMC forces and restore order to the province.
The Syrian civil war has killed over half a million people since it broke out in 2011, which has seen both major world powers intercede as well as the rise and fall of Islamic Jihadist groups.