The Syrian government has orchestrated the infiltration of armed groups into Kurdish-controlled areas of the country, Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) Commander-in-Chief Mazloum Abdi, told Al Arabiya on Monday.
Abdi contended that the recent unrest in Deir ez-Zor, compromising violent clashes between Arab tribal clans and the SDF, was part of a wider strategy orchestrated by Damascus, to assert control over the area.
Meanwhile, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad admitted at a conference on Monday that the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) had indeed intervened in the unrest in Deir ez-Zor. Mekdad simultaneously accused the United States of occupying the region: the SDF is the boots-on-the ground in the US-led Global Coalition against Daesh/ISIS.
Syrian state news reported that the Arab tribal groups were lauding a “heroic struggle” against the SDF in Dier ez-Zor, “side by side” with the Syrian army.
Allegations of external actors fuelling sectarian tensions in SDF-held areas
Tensions in Deir ez-Zor escalated last week when the SDF dismissed General Commander Ahmed Al-Khubail, known as Abu Khawla, from the Arab-majority Deir ez-Zor Military Council for alleged corruption including drug trafficking. Khawla’s supporters in the armed council retaliated, mobilising a rebellion against the SDF.
While the ensuing violence has largely been portrayed as a Kurdish-Arab conflict, Turkey, the Syrian government, and Iran have been accused of strategically fuelling sectarian tensions in the SDF-held areas.
Turkey stands accused of framing the escalating violence as an ethnic conflict in order to launch simultaneous attacks against Kurdish forces. Over the past three days, Turkish forces and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) have intensified shelling and attacks on villages along the lines of contact in Manbij (Minbic), Ain Issa (Ayn Issa), and Tel Tamir (Tal Tamr), targeting SDF military positions.
During Monday’s interview, Abdi said that in Manbij, Turkey had pitted the armed groups against SDF forces. Abdi also mentioned that there had been a simultaneous withdrawal of the Syrian army from areas on the outskirts of Manbij.
Erdoğan voices support for armed groups as AFAD sacks turn up in the conflict in Deir ez-Zor
On Monday evening Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the groups rising against the SDF were waging an “honourable struggle”, echoing the Syrian foreign minister’s remarks of allegiance.
“Arab tribes are the real owners of these places,” Erdoğan told reporters returning from a trip to Russia on his presidential plane, and called on the US to stop “ostensibly supporting” Kurdish forces in Syria, in the name of fighting Islamic State (ISIS).
Meanwhile, a video released by jihadist groups attacking Manbij showed sacks bearing the AFAD logo, Turkey’s national disaster relief agency operating under the Turkish Ministry of Interior, further fuelling allegations of Turkish support for these groups. AFAD had already been the subject of severe criticism for an inadequate response to devastating earthquakes that racked southeastern Turkey and northern Syria in February.
🔴 Turkey's disaster relief agency, AFAD, already criticised for inadequate earthquake response, now faces scrutiny for potential indirect support to jihadists in Manbij (Minbic).#AFAD | #JihadistGroups | #Manbij | #SDF pic.twitter.com/1mzuRV2CpN
— MedyaNews (@medyanews_) September 5, 2023
Arab tribes reluctant to embrace Syrian regime’s return, says SDF commander
In a move that undermines the Turkish narrative of ethnic conflict, SDF Commander Abdi revealed that the SDF had established communication with tribal leaders in Deir ez-Zor. These leaders, he said, had expressed a desire for a peaceful solution to the ongoing crisis. He also underlined the reluctance of Arab tribes in the region to welcome the return of the Syrian regime.
Abdi also revealed that the SDF had received air support from the US-led Global Coalition in its efforts to combat militants, allegedly sent by Damascus, who had entered Deir ez-Zor from the western bank of the Euphrates.