Fighting continued between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Deir Ezzor Military Council (DEMC), two US backed militias in east Syria, on Wednesday. The US military has urged an end to the tensions, ongoing for four days, which have left at least 40 people dead.
Clashes, which began Monday, have pitted the SDF against the Arab-led DEMC, its former ally, as well as some regional Arab tribesmen who have aligned with them.
Hostilities were sparked after the SDF arrested Abu Khawla, the head of the DEMC and a senior SDF commander. Khawla and four other militia leaders were accused of “multiple crimes and violations,” such as drug trafficking. Khawla and his fellow detainees have since been dismissed.
The SDF and the council agreed on Wednesday that Khawla will no longer command the DEMC over his “coordination with external entities hostile to the revolution,” a reference to his alleged contacts with the Damascus government.
The SDF surged forces into Deir Ezzor province as tensions were brewing over Khawla’s arrest. As Middle East Eye reported “armed Arab tribal fighters burnt [tires], ambushed vehicles and shelled SDF positions in towns across the province, as well as taking over several checkpoints and attacking SDF patrols.”
On Thursday, both sides were said to be bringing in reinforcements as clashes took place near the shared border with Iraq. Helicopters belonging to the US-led Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve could be seen flying over the locations of the previous day’s fighting, according to local news outlet DeirEzzor24.
Washington has about 900 troops and an undisclosed number of contractors embedded with the SDF. The US illegally occupies eastern Syria and controls roughly a third of the nation’s territory including most of the war-torn country’s oil and wheat resources.
The US-led coalition put out a statement urging an end to the fighting because it may allow the Islamic State (IS) to regain a foothold if Washington’s partner forces are increasingly divided.
The terrorist group took over large swathes of eastern Syria and western Iraq as a result of a failed regime change operation which saw the CIA arming and funding rebel groups including al Qaeda affiliates. The proxy war killed hundreds of thousands of people but failed in its attempt to overthrow the Syrian government.
IS has been all but destroyed by Damascus with its Iranian and Russian allies. The US occupation is instead designed to deprive Syria of vital resources amid Washington’s economic war.