North-east Syria has been rattled in recent weeks by two separate destabilizing armed conflicts. The first concerns the ongoing fight between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and dissident tribal groups in Deir Ezzor, which broke out in late August after the SDF arrested former Deir Ezzor Military Council chief, Abu Khawla. Despite ongoing mediation efforts by the US-led International Coalition and repeated declarations by the SDF claiming that hostilities have in fact come to an end, Deir Ezzor witnessed a notable escalation in clashes towards the end of September. In the past week alone, tribal forces resumed widespread anti-SDF attacks in several towns in rural eastern Deir Ezzor, striking SDF positions before withdrawing into the desert. The second bout of hostilities took place in Hasakeh city, where regime troops clashed with pro-regime National Defense Forces (NDF) militia fighters loyal to a Shia commander. Following months of rising tensions, the regime removed the commander, sparking a series of fierce clashes between regular regime forces and the NDF. After besieging the NDF headquarters in central Hasakeh, regular army units succeeded in killing the NDF commander and arresting dozens of his fighters.
Military Situation in North-East Syria
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Deir Ezzor Tribal Conflict
After a period of sporadic, low-intensity clashes between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and dissident Arab tribal groups in Deir Ezzor, the ongoing conflict escalated again in late September with a series of bloody anti-SDF attacks by tribal forces. Altogether, the most recent escalation resulted in the deaths of at least 15 SDF members and four tribal fighters.
The US-led International Coalition convened a meeting south of Deir Ezzor, bringing together leaders of the SDF and Deir Ezzor Military Council. At the summit, coalition representatives emphasized the need to focus on improved service provision and development projects in Deir Ezzor province. This is not the first time that the US-led International Coalition has attempted to oversee negotiations to bring an end to the current round of hostilities. The latest armed escalation followed a period of unsuccessful coalition-mediated negotiations between the two parties that yielded little progress. A hardline position by the SDF is likely to further exacerbate the already tense situation in the weeks ahead.
NDF-Regime Clashes in Hasakeh
For nearly two months, tensions have been rising between the regime’s National Defense Forces (NDF) militia in Hasakeh—led by a pro-regime Shia commander with close links to Iran––and local tribal elements. While Hasakeh province is mostly under SDF control, the regime maintains a small foothold in several neighborhoods in the heart of the city.
At the urging of Russian officials, the regime sent a delegation to investigate the dispute and opted to replace Hasakeh’s NDF commander, who responded defiantly. Regular regime forces encircled his forces and clashes with the mutinous NDF fighters. Following a day-long siege of the NDF headquarters on 21st September, the leader was killed while dozens of NDF fighters were arrested. The regime has already instated a replacement to lead Hasakeh’s NDF militia.
ISIS attacks targeting the SDF decreased in recent weeks: six recorded armed attacks and five IED blasts claimed the lives of nine troops and left at least six others injured. Attacks were recorded across Deir Ezzor, Hasakeh and Raqqa provinces. Meanwhile, three pro-regime fighters were killed in an armed attack southwest of Deir Ezzor.
In the context of the SDF’s battles against Arab tribes and subsequent raids against rebelling areas, a number of civilians were killed and injured across Deir Ezzor province. In one incident, a civilian was struck by an SDF sniper northeast of Deir Ezzor. A child was also killed by SDF soldiers while crossing the Euphrates River.
The SDF also launched a series of wide-ranging crackdowns and arrest campaigns across Deir Ezzor. In conjunction with these raids, the SDF imposed curfews on a number of towns in eastern Deir Ezzor, restricting local residents’ freedom of movement. In addition, despite persistent anger over the SDF’s continued practice of compulsory military recruitment, the group embarked on a major campaign to detain young men for service in Tabqa.
A low-intensity campaign of drone strikes and shelling by Turkey and the Syrian National Army (SNA) continued to target SDF vehicles and military sites across north-east Syria, with most attacks concentrated in the northern border region of Hasakeh province. A senior SDF commander was also killed by a Turkish airstrike that targeted his car in northern Hasakeh.
Political & Humanitarian Developments
In response to the Self Administration’s decision to raise fuel prices across its area of control in north-east Syria, demonstrators took to the streets in Ma’bada, al-Jawadiyah and Qamishli in Hasakeh province.
The SDF arrested 12 women and seven children after they attempted to escape al-Hol camp in a van belonging to an ISIS cell operating in the east of Hasakeh. Following the escape attempt, the SDF launched a campaign of raids across all sections of the camp. One Iraqi camp resident died in al-Hol last month, amid ongoing medical supply shortages and difficult humanitarian conditions. The Self Administration, meanwhile, repatriated 174 Iraqi families from al-Hol, working with Iraqi authorities to transfer them to Iraq’s Nineveh province. Later in September, authorities prepared a second list of 80 families ahead of their anticipated transfer to Nineveh.
Meanwhile, a 13 year-old was injured in a landmine explosion near Tal Tamr.
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