Violence flares between US-backed Kurdish forces and Arab militias in NE Syria, despite SDF chief declaring 'end of fighting'

Violence flares between US-backed Kurdish forces and Arab militias in NE Syria, despite SDF chief declaring 'end of fighting'
Despite the SDF once again claiming an end of its military operations against former Arab allies, the group continues to besiege Arab areas, while local leaders continue to call for attacks against the Kurdish-led forces.
3 min read
10 September, 2023
The SDF are armed and backed by the US, which has a large base in northeast Syria [Getty]

Fighting between US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its former Arab tribal militia allies continued to rage in eastern Syria on Sunday, despite the SDF announcing an end to military operations two days earlier.

A 12-year-old girl was reportedly killed during an SDF raid on the town of Dhiban in Deir az-Zour province on Saturday night. The girl was apparently trying to return to her home in the town when killed by SDF gunfire, a local activist told The New Arab’s sister publication Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

SDF Commander-in-chief Mazloum Abdi had on Friday announced the end of the group's operations, claiming that his Kurdish-led forces had achieved its military objectives and so the fighting would end.

Abdi had also called for direct dialogue between himself and Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Hafil the leader of the Al-Akeidat tribe – one of the main tribal forces involved in the clashes in Deir az-Zour.

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Al-Hafil swiftly responded to Abdi’s comments by calling for tribal fighters to escalate attacks on the SDF, reportedly saying in a recorded message: "The march of the fight against the mercenaries of the SDF and their allies will continue until victory waves over our land."

He also urged the people of Deir az-Zour to "continue peaceful protests until our demands are met, which include managing the Arab component of our areas."

His calls were echoed by the military field commander of the Al-Aqaidat tribe, Muhammad Al-Bakheet Abu Ghamid, who repotedly called on all fighters to "resist the SDF", saying: "We urge you and implore you to continue fighting until our demands are met, to manage our land by ourselves and expel the occupying SDF militia". 

Though Abdi vowed for an end to SDF operations by Sunday, local sources report that the Al-Azba region in northern Deir al-Zour remains besieged by the SDF who continue to detain young men at checkpoints, despite the presence of the US-led international anti-Islamic State group coalition in the area.  

This comes at a time when civilians in the besieged areas are increasingly in need of water and food supplies.

The fighting began on 27 August when Kurdish-led SDF forces arrested Ahmad al-Khabil, also known as Abu Khawla, the Arab head of the Deir az-Zour Military Council, which was previously affiliated with the SDF.

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The SDF accused Khabil of communicating with the Assad regime, and of alleged drug trafficking and mismanagement leading to an uptick in IS activities.

Fighters loyal to Khabil, including the Al-Akeidat tribe, then retaliated with attacks on the SDF, leading to a full-scale escalation involving SDF offensives against Arab tribal positions, leading to fatalities on both sides and an unconfirmed number of civilian casualties.

Arab tribes deny involvement with the Assad regime and claim that the Kurdish-dominated SDF discriminates against them and will not cede power to them in Arab-majority areas of land held by the SDF.