Syria Exclusive: Escalating Tensions, Complex Dynamics, and Unpredictable Outcomes

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(August 27 – September 8, 2023)

By Rania Kisar
Updated: September 8, 2023


Following the visit of Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller and U.S. Central Command Commander General Michael Korella to Syria’s northeast on August 24, tensions have gripped the region, particularly along the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. 

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) wield authority over crucial territories, most notably the Omar oil and the Conoco gas fields, bearing critical infrastructure for maintaining regional stability. Furthermore, on the eastern side of the Euphrates, the SDF oversees vital supply routes essential for pro-Iranian militias to connect Syria and Iraq.

The roots of this conflict trace back to the arrest of Ahmed Al-Khabil Abu Khawla, leader of the local Der Ezour Military Council, and four other leaders. Accused of cooperating with Iranian militias, these arrests ignited intense clashes between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and local Sunni Arab tribes aligned with the Deir Ezzour Military Council (DMC)

Tragically, these clashes have resulted in the loss of more than 71 lives, including nine civilians. This crisis triggers concerns about regional stability and parallels subsequent conflicts erupting in Kirkuk. 

As this report is compiled, the situation remains unpredictable, even in the face of civilian appeals for a ceasefire. This turbulent landscape underscores the complex interplay of forces in Syria’s northeastern theater, casting shadows over the path to stability and peace.

Timeline of Events:

★ August 27, 2023: SDF arrests DMC commander in Al-Hasakah, sparking heavy Deir ez-Zur fighting.

★ August 28, 2023: 22 deaths, SDF-National Defense Forces tensions; Arab clan issues a 12-hour ultimatum.

★ August 29-30, 2023: Clashes escalate, Arab tribal forces retaliate, Kurdish forces respond with airstrikes and curfews.

★ August 31, 2023: Iranian-backed militants target oil well near Koniko gas field in Deir ez-Zur countryside, heightening security tensions; smoke seen rising from the targeted well.

★ September 1, 2023: Residents flee multiple towns to safer areas. Arab tribal forces control territories that trigger Kurdish reinforcements; in northwestern Syria, Arab tribes support Deir ez-Zur counterparts.

★ September 2, 2023: A Turkish drone targets an “SDF” car in Qamishli’s countryside, resulting in the death of an “SDF” leader and injuries to two others.

★ September 3, 2023: Deputy Assistant Secretary Goldrich and Major General Foyle of the Joint Task Force met “SDF” and tribal leaders in northeastern Syria, highlighting addressing grievances, curbing interference, and ending violence. The Joint Task Force supported “SDF,” called for peace in Deir Ezzor amid clashes, and countered clan advancements with “SDF” reinforcements in Raqqa. Northwestern Syrian Arab tribes vowed to confront Kurds in Aleppo and Manbij, forming a mobilization hub northeast of Aleppo with a “war tent” of over 10,000 people, aiming for this objective.

★ September 4, 2023

♦ Arab clans reject “SDF” truce, clashes escalate. 

Manbij Military Council counters attacks. 

♦ Tribal fighters targeted villages in Manbij to support Deir ez-Zor clans in clashes against SDF for the eighth day. 

♦ SDF reported 11 members killed in clashes with Deir ez-Zor Military Council and clans’ support.

♦ Residents of Deir Ezzor countryside expressed strong support for the Syrian Democratic Forces’ campaign against ISIS cells, criminals, and drug smugglers, rejecting attempts to disrupt security and stability.

♦ SDF gained control of Al-Shuhail in Deir ez-Zor as clan fighters withdrew to Al-Hawaij and Dhiban, Sheikh Al-Akidat Ibrahim al-Hafel’s stronghold.

Mazloum Al-Abdi, leader of the SDF, revealed armed groups supported by the Syrian regime’s entry into SDF-controlled areas, exposing the regime’s northeast Syria plans. He engaged with Deir ez-Zor tribal leaders for a peaceful clash resolution, highlighting Arab clans’ resistance to the regime’s return. Abdi noted supervised US moves, their call for peace, and air support. He dismissed the Iraq border operation and accused Turkey of instigating Manbij confrontations. 

♦ The American Humanitarian Euphrates Civilization Organization (HEUC), a non-profit focused on societal development and combating extremism in crisis areas, stated the Arab Tribes. The statement calls for an end to ongoing conflicts, explicitly praising the people of Deir ez-Zor for their resistance against SDF forces, commitment to Syrian unity, and rejection of the Assad regime and Iranian militias.

★ September 5-8, 2023:

In a volatile regional landscape, multiple actors are shaping the unfolding dynamics in Syria. SDF Commander Mazloum Abdi is pushing for dialogue with Arab tribes in Deir Ezzor and blaming the Assad regime for inciting unrest. He has pledged to address Arab clans’ concerns and rectify governance issues. Concurrently, U.S. forces have increased local engagement in Deir Ezzor to assess security and humanitarian conditions. Turkish troops are escalating attacks against the SDF in Al-Raqqa Governorate, prompting power outages in several villages. Turkiye’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan criticized U.S. support for the SDF and called for an end to what he views as oppressive policies against Arabs. Reports have also emerged that the SDF established a drone-manufacturing base in Al-Hasakah. Meanwhile, an Assad regime officer, Mahidi Aqab Al-Abdullah, has been seen fighting alongside local militants against the SDF. Violence in “Self-Administration” areas has surged, with 185 reported dead and injured in August.


English-subtitled video from Al Hadath:

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