SDF fighter in Manbij suburb. Photo: ARA News
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QAMISHLO – More than 100 fighters from the Sheitaat tribe split from the FSA-group elite forces northwest of Deir ez-Zor province in eastern Syria after tribal disputes, and joined the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), local sources reported on Thursday.
“The defection took place in the past 2 weeks due to tribal issues between fighters in the elite forces since the majority of fighters are from al-Sheitaat tribe which clashed with ISIS in the northern western countryside of Deir ez-Zor,” according to the SOHR.
The Islamic State group (ISIS) massacred over 700 Sheitaat members in August 2014, after the tribe rose up against the ISIS self-declared Caliphate.
Parts of the Sheitaat tribe have joined the Assad regime’s National Defence Forces, while others have joined the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition in southern Hasakah and northern Deir ez-Zor. Moreover, a new FSA group called the Elite Forces, that are not part of the SDF, have been engaged in clashes with ISIS on the outskirts of Shaddadi city in Hasakah province.
The US-led coalition denied in a statement any link with this new small group of FSA fighters.
Speaking to ARA News, Coalition spokesman U.S. Army Colonel Christopher Garver said: “In northern Syria the [US-led] Coalition is partnered with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a group that includes Syrian Arabs, Turkmen, Kurdish, Christian and Assyrian fighters. The SDF also includes the Syrian Arab Coalition.”
“The US-led Coalition has quietly, but strenuously, courted tribal groups that live inside ISIS-controlled areas of eastern Syria to turn against the Islamic State,” Nicholas Heras, a Washington-based Middle East researcher at the Centre for a New American Security, told ARA News.
“The Sheitaat are a target audience for this recruitment campaign. These Sheitaat defections to the SDF make sense in that the Syrian Democratic Forces coalition is a rising power in eastern Syria, it is slowly but steadily incorporating more Arab tribal fighters, and it has strong U.S. military support,” Heras said.
“The SDF is increasingly viewed by anti-ISIS Arab tribal groups as a battering ram to bust down the Islamic State strongholds in eastern Syria. More and more, the SDF is becoming a coalition of components, such as the Syrian Arab Coalition that is constituent to but a part of the SDF, and which can mobilize fighters from skeptical identity groups, such as Arab tribes, to combat ISIS,” he said.
Abu Ali (27), the pseudonym of an Arab SDF fighter originally from Raqqa, told ARA News that many Arabs from Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa are joining the SDF forces.
“They just want to liberate their province and country from ISIS,” he said.
The Arab fighters receive training from Americans with light weapons and also get support from US advisors on the ground as part of the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC)–an SDF faction. Recently, 158 Arab fighters, mostly from the Jibouri tribe, finished their training in the Shaddadi area and joined the SDF forces.
“For some skeptical groups, such as the Sheitaat, where once the Assad regime was viewed as a comparatively more trustworthy partner than the Americans to defeat ISIS, the successes of the SDF, backed by Coalition airpower and Special Forces, are becoming more attractive,” analyst Heras told ARA News.
Kurdish official Perwin Yusuf Mohammed in the local administration of Hasakah said it is possible that the SDF will move into Deir ez-Zor in the future.
“We work as Syrians to liberate areas from the chauvinist regime and ISIS,” she told ARA News. “For the SDF, if they have the opportunity they will liberate all areas from ISIS.”
Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg
Source: ARA News