Syria Military Brief: North-East Syria – 31 May 2021

Protests against the SDF have continued to mount in recent weeks amid rising popular anger towards Kurdish-led authorities following a series of security operations and price hikes. Protests in Deir Ezzor followed a number of SDF arrest campaigns, while wider-scale unrest followed as a result of SDF plans to raise the price of fuel—culminating in the torching of an SDF regional headquarters in Al-Shaddadah. Although the price hikes were ultimately rescinded, the unrest underscores the growing anger among the region’s Arab residents and the mounting challenges to SDF authority. As popular frustrations grow, attacks and bombings against the SDF by presumed ISIS cells continue.

ISIS Activity

    • Anti-SDF attacks: Suspected ISIS cells launched at least 10 armed attacks and five IED strikes against the SDF in Hasakah, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor provinces, killing 19 SDF members and wounding several others (1.5-31.5).
    • Anti-regime attacks: Armed groups believed to be ISIS cells carried out three armed attacks and three IED strikes against regime elements in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor provinces, killing at least 8 regime soldiers and allied militia fighters (1.5-31.5).
    • Oil tanker blast: An IED blast struck an oil tanker belonging to Hussam Al-Qaterji Company on the al-Hamrat Road, east of Raqqa (21.5).
    • Threats against civilians: Suspected ISIS operatives disbursed paper leaflets in the town of Mansoura, west of Raqqa, threatening any civilians who cooperate with the SDF (20.5).

Russian & Regime Activity

    • Russian patrols: Russian military police conducted a number of patrols over the last month, including a patrol west of Ras al-Ain (16.5) and in al-Malakiyah (3.5, 13.5) in Hasakah province. Russian forces also carried out a joint patrol with Turkish forces in Ad-Darbaisyah in northern Hasakah province (23.5).

SDF Activity

    • Drug bust: The SDF found 50 kg of Afghan hashish hidden inside an oil tanker belonging to the Hussam Al-Qaterji Company during an inspection, as it entered SDF territory along with 70 other tankers through the al-Hawra crossing in the western Raqqa countryside (25.5).
    • SDF raids: The SDF launched a campaign of raids on a number of houses in the town of al-Karamah, east of Raqqa (23.5). Weeks earlier, the SDF arrested more than 30 people during security raids in the Wadi al-Ajij area, north of Deir Ezzor, and in the town of Al-Susah, east of Deir Ezzor (11.5, 12.5).
    • Assassination sparks response: The SDF imposed a curfew and launched a campaign of raids on a number of houses, against the backdrop of the killing of an SDF commander in the town of Sweidan, east of Deir Ezzor (3.5).
    • Prisoner release: Internal Security Forces of the SDF released 12 prisoners from Jdeideh, east of Raqqa, after tribal mediation (6.5).
    • Anti-smuggler operations: The SDF raided sites around the Latta river crossing in the town of Dhiban in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, confiscating motorcycles belonging to smugglers who operate between regime and SDF areas (6.5).
    • Politician arrest: The SDF arrested an official from the Deir Ezzor Civil Council from his office in the Ma’amil area, north of Deir Ezzor (22.5).
    • Forced conscription: The SDF issued a list of teachers wanted for conscription in the city of Raqqa (19.5).

Political & Humanitarian Developments

    • Oil price unrest: The oil price hikes prompted protests in the Al-Shaddadah area, south of Hasakah, as well as shop closures and calls for a general strike in the cities of al-Malikiyah, Qamishli, Rmelan and Al-Maabadah (18.5). The SDF shot five protestors in Al-Shaddadah, causing residents to respond by burning the local SDF headquarters and temporarily evicting their forces from the town. One person was killed and four injured as well when the SDF dispersed another demonstration in the Al-Nashwa neighborhood of Hasakah (19.5). The unrest triggered a series of SDF raids the following day in the city of Al-Shaddadah, south of Hasakah (21.5).
    • Arrests spark protest: Anti-SDF protests erupted among members of the al-Baqara tribe in the town of Al Kasrah, west of Deir Ezzor, following the arrest of an influential Deir Ezzor Civil Council member (27.5). The protests drove out local SDF units, and resulted in the capture of the top SDF military official in the region, who was later released following mediation by members of the Deir Ezzor Military Council. Previously, the residents of al-Gharb, south of Hasakah, expelled SDF troops from a local checkpoint and closed off public roads with burning plastic tires, in protest against the arrest of 10 young people from the village (12.5).
    • Opposition to election: Residents in the city of Tabqa, west of Raqqa, protested in opposition to the presidential elections (23.5). At the request of the SDF, a number of tribal leaders from the city of Raqqa also issued a statement rejecting the elections (25.5).
    • Gas price hikes: The Self Administration raised the price of a liter of heating oil from 75 pounds to 250 pounds, premium diesel from 150 pounds to 400 pounds, gasoline from 210 pounds to 410 pounds, and gas cylinders from 2,500 pounds to 8,000 pounds (17.5). The decision was revered the following week, following widespread protests and civil unrest triggered by the price hike (21.5).
    • Presidential campaign events: Supporters of president Bashar al-Assad erected several tents in the Dibsi Afnan, west of Raqqa, in support of his re-election campaign (17.5). Cells affiliated with the regime also disbursed flyers across the SDF-controlled eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, calling for people to support Assad (25.5). Flyers bore the signature of the “Popular Resistance in the Eastern Region”.
    • Pipeline blast: A group calling itself the Al-Sharqiya Brigades targeted a gas pipeline in the al-Hajeef area north of Deir Ezzor (18.5).
    • Grain price increase: The Self Administration set the price of wheat at 1,150 pounds per kilo, and barley price at 850 pounds per kilo (21.5).
    • Coronavirus: Over the last month (1.5-13.5), the Self Administration recorded 4,048 new cases of the coronavirus across northeast Syria and counted 474 new deaths.
    • Al-Hol developments: The bodies of two men were found dead in the first section of the al-Hol camp, east of Hasakah (8.5, 9.5). The same week, more than 30 tents were burned in the foreign women’s section, although no casualties were reported (10.5). Violence would continue later into the month with the killing of two Iraqi sisters (22.5), while camp administrators issued several lists of residents from the Deir Ezzor countryside, in preparation to release them from the camp (10.5, 17.5).