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SDF meets Arab tribes to discourage them from joining Syria regime army

Image of Syrian troops [file photo]
Syrian troops [file photo]

The leader of the Kurdish-led militia the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has held a meeting with senior members of the Arab tribes in northern Syria to discourage tribal members defecting to the Syrian Arab Army.

General Mazloum Abdi, whose real name is Ferhat Abdi Şahin, held the meeting yesterday with the Board of Notables warning them not to leave the SDF and ally with the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad.

In an earlier meeting between Syria’s national security chief Ali Mamlouk and the Arab tribal leaders in the northern Syrian city of Qamishli, Mamlouk called on the tribes’ children and members to leave the SDF and defect to the regime’s military.

Abdi stated that he is continuously making efforts to protect stability and diversity in northern Syria and that his forces are improving the situation for all ethnic groups in the area while fighting against “Turkish aggression, ethnic cleansing, and demographic change.”

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These meetings indicate a split between the SDF and the Assad regime less than two months since the Kurdish-led militia agreed to work under and in cooperation with the Syrian military following Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring in north-east Syria.

This third military incursion by Turkey into Syria launched on 9 October aimed to both push back the US-backed Kurdish militias such as the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and the SDF from the Turkish-Syrian border and establish a 32-kilometre-deep safe zone to house around two million Syrian refugees.

Syrian children are seen on the mud covered road between tents at a refugee camp, where Syrian refugees live, after heavy rain at winter season in northeastern Idlib, Syria on 2 December 2019. [Muhammed Abdullah - Anadolu Agency]

Syrian children are seen on the mud covered road between tents at a refugee camp, where Syrian refugees live, after heavy rain at winter season in northeastern Idlib, Syria on 2 December 2019 [Muhammed Abdullah/Anadolu Agency]

The incursion was the reason the Syrian regime allied with the SDF, formerly rivals in the nine-year Syrian war.

Two weeks into the operation’s launch and after the capture of much of the former YPG/SDF territory, a deal was struck between Turkey and Russia, halting the operation.

The terms of their agreement, which some have called a success for Turkey and others insufficient, enabled Russian military police and Syrian regime border guards to enter parts of the planned safe zone to “facilitate the removal of YPG elements and weapons to the depth of 30 kilometres.”

READ: Opposition to Turkey’s operation is opposition to Sunni power in the Middle East

Despite the alliance between the Assad regime and the SDF against the Turkish forces, splits quickly started to appear starting with General Mazloum’s rejection of a proposal by Syria’s Defence Ministry to disband the SDF and integrate into the Syrian Arab Army in late October.

A major part of the SDF’s survival, therefore, is to maintain the support and friendship of local Arab tribes in the area, which make up a significant amount of the SDF’s military force despite it being a Kurdish-led group.

As the situation in north-eastern Syria progresses and new developments are made regarding Turkey’s planned safe zone and the presence of US and Russian forces in the area, relations between the Syrian regime and the SDF along with the other Kurdish militias are seen to be an increasingly significant factor in the complex power struggle within the region.

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