Arab tribal fighters continue to wage a low-intensity insurgency against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in north-east Syria, regularly striking SDF checkpoints and military sites across the eastern and southern Deir Ezzor countryside. Many tribal attacks are aimed principally at securing ammunition and supplies, with Arab fighters subsequently withdrawing into the surrounding desert rather than trying to hold territory. Even so, the SDF still maintains firm control over the north-east. So far, negotiations between representatives of the SDF and tribal leaders have not resulted in tangible progress.
Military Situation in North-East Syria
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Deir Ezzor Tribal Conflict
While the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) still exercises effective control over all territory in Deir Ezzor following September’s tribal uprisings, sporadic attacks by dissident tribal forces continue. These groups and their supporters are also demanding several political and legal reforms, including the release of prisoners and improved humanitarian conditions across the region.
The SDF has continued to regularly conduct wide-ranging arrest campaigns across north-east Syria, rounding up hundreds of young men and boys––including some under the age of 16––and forcing them into compulsory military service. Notably, forcible conscription of women is widespread in some areas of Hasakeh province and around Kobani while the SDF only targets men for conscription in Deir Ezzor and Raqqa.
The first half of November witnessed a string of attacks by Iranian-backed militias against bases used by members of the US-led International Coalition in Hasakeh and Deir Ezzor. Several of these missile strikes originated from Iraqi territory. While regime forces have not actively participated in attacks, they have passively supported the campaign as a part of its larger objective to expel coalition troops from the north-east. In response to attacks, the International Coalition launched targeted airstrikes against a range of Iranian-backed militia sites.
Extremist activity appears to be on the rise again in the north-east. In November, ISIS launched six armed attacks and three IEDs in Deir Ezzor, Hasakeh and Raqqa, killing 12 SDF fighters. While ISIS conducted comparatively few attacks against regime forces across the month, these attacks resulted in significant casualties. In a single devastating ambush on a regime patrol, ISIS fighters killed at least 21 soldiers. Altogether, just two armed ambushes and two explosions resulted in 27 deaths among the regime’s ranks.
Russian & Regime Activity
Russian forces have resumed a years-long aerial campaign against ISIS in the central Badia, striking targets in western Deir Ezzor, western Raqqa and in the far eastern Homs countryside. The return of Russian warplanes to the region has not reduced ISIS activity.
Political & Humanitarian Developments
The spread of Leishmaniasis among children continues to be a major concern, with the disease’s prevalence linked to unsanitary water and pollution from oil-refining waste in local river systems. Despite the work of specialized medical organizations aimed at treating the disease, a lack of funding continues to impede preventive measures such as spraying pesticides in rural areas.
Due to years of war, displacement and underfunding of schools, disastrously low literacy levels have become the norm in many parts of north-east Syria. As many as two-thirds of women and girls in rural Deir Ezzor may be unable to read or write, pushing many into positions of dependency and spurring a rise in early child marriage across the region.
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