Clashes between armed locals and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces threaten stability in eastern Syria. The clashes have occurred in villages near the Euphrates river. This area is near Deir Ezzor, but it is controlled by the US-backed SDF since ISIS was defeated in 2019.
ISIS used to control both sides of the river valley but now the eastern side is controlled by the SDF and the western side by the Syrian regime and Iranian-backed proxies.
This creates a complex situation, any instability can lead to a revival of ISIS or the insertion of Iranian elements or other elements.
On Thursday, the US-led coalition called for an end to the fighting, the first limited statement the coalition has made so far. "The violence in northeast Syria must cease," the coalition said in a statement, noting that the clashes would distract from the goal of defeating ISIS.
The complex story behind the clashes is the arrest of a member of the Deir Ezzor Military Council (DMC) by the SDF. The is itself backed by the SDF, but the composition of the local councils is rooted in Arab tribes in the area, whereas the SDF’s roots are in Kurdish fighters linked to the YPG. The US backed the formation of the SDF in 2015 in order to have an umbrella group that would mobilize anti-ISIS fighters. That meant recruiting beyond the Kurdish region of northeast Syria.When the SDF liberated Raqqa and other areas it came to control many areas that are a majority Arab and made up of tribes. Some tribes were anti-ISIS and some have connections down the Middle Euphrates River Valley all the way to Iraq. This is an interesting and unique area, far from government control historically.As such the people here are independent and have complex alliances and allegiances. The imposition of what they may see as outside control or arrests of members of powerful clans or tribes can lead to tensions.
Group effort to remove US forces from Syria
Damascus, Iran, Russia and Turkey all want to fan flames against the US and remove US forces from Syria. Iran’s foreign minister met with Syrian regime officials on Wednesday and said the US should leave Syria. In addition Turkey and Russia’s president are meeting soon.
The US also has tensions now with Turkish-backed Syrian rebels in Idlib because the US sanctions rebel groups for abuses. Some rebel groups have ties to those in Deir Ezzor who are now raising their guns against the SDF. They want to fan the flames here to get the SDF to leave. Some of them use Ankara’s rhetoric, calling the SDF “terrorists.”
Deir Ezzor24 says that clashes took place in a place called Daman and also al-Izbah and Abu Hamam. Reports say this is the region of the Shaitat tribe. Clashes included shooting and reports say some civilians were harmed. The clashes are now in their third day. US forces are nearby at Omar field and Conoco facilities.34 locals have been killed the group SOHR reported, although it is impossible to confirm this number.There are fears the clashes will grow into open conflict. This could destabilize an important strategic region. This area not only anchors stability in a swath of Syria, but it points like a knife toward Iraq and is a historic smuggling region for weapons entering Iraq and extremists; as well as Iranian movement of weapons from Iraq toward Lebanon. Fears grow that if the US is not focused here and the US-led coalition remains silent, a crisis will emerge and line of no return will be crossed.
This happens as there are also clashes in southern Syria between Druze protesters in Suwaida and the regime. In addition Jordan targeted a drug smuggling facility on Thursday near Suwaida. In addition Turkey continues to carry out drone strikes against the SDF. The US-led coalition has a new commander and this will be a test for him. The clashes come also after a rare US Congressional visit to an area of Turkish-occupied northern Syria.
US Rep. French Hill of Arkansas, Ben Cline of Virginia and Scott Fitzgerald of Wisconsin, went to Syria through a crossing north of Aleppo.
The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group called on Thursday for an end to clashes in northeast Syria, where the Kurdish-led force it backs has been locked in deadly fighting with Arab tribes.
"The violence in northeast Syria must cease," the coalition said in a statement, saying that "distractions" from fighting IS sleeper cells risked a resurgence of the group.