In 2015, several ethnic militias and rebel groups in Syria joined forces to combat ISIS, forming the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). They received support from the United States and its allies. Members of the SDF were united in their opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. Later, Sunni Arab fighters from Bedouin tribes also joined their ranks.
Declaration of War
According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), on August 27, the Syrian Democratic Forces arrested Ahmed al-Khabil (known as Abu Khawla), the head of the Military Council of Deir ez-Zor. This armed Syrian group was closely associated with the Syrian Democratic Forces until recently. They accused al-Khabil, a member of one of the most influential tribes in the region, of corruption and drug trafficking. After his arrest, his followers launched attacks against the Syrian Democratic Forces in hopes of driving them out of Deir ez-Zor.
Zain al-Abideen, who resides in Deir ez-Zor, often provides analysis on the situation there. Initially, the population had no issue with al-Khabil’s arrest because he was locally disliked and considered corrupt. However, the situation rapidly changed after a member of the al-Khabil tribe, Bakir, confronted the Syrian Democratic Forces.
As reported by the American news outlet The Monitor, the al-Akidat tribe announced that they had retaken control of the town of al-Dhibat, their stronghold in Deir ez-Zor, from Syrian Democratic Forces fighters on the previous Saturday. Initially hesitant, the al-Buqara tribe also joined the fight, with its members attacking positions held by the Syrian Democratic Forces in various areas, including al-Kasrah west of Deir ez-Zor.
The situation is indeed complicated, as most members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Deir ez-Zor are from local Arab tribes. Since the conflict began, members of these Arab tribes have been urging their relatives in the Syrian Democratic Forces to defect. However, other Arab tribes remain loyal to the Syrian Democratic Forces. A militia known as the “Guardians of the Jazira,” composed of members from the al-Jabour tribe, has joined the fight alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces.
At the beginning of the current week, two American mediators met with leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces and local tribal leaders. During the meeting, the Syrian Democratic Forces stated that they had nothing to offer the tribes, despite the significant support they received from many of these tribes in the fight against ISIS.
These Arab tribes are resisting the Syrian Democratic Forces, seeking to end the Kurdish-led forces’ dominance and become the primary points of contact for the Americans—an advantage that comes with its privileges. Simultaneously, the Kurds are trying to push Ibrahim al-Haffal towards areas under the control of the Syrian government. This is a strategy to ensure that they remain the sole interlocutors with the Americans. As a result, the crisis is marked by complex dynamics, leaving the outcome uncertain.