Intensifying clashes between U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and one of its local affiliates in eastern Syria have left at least 28 people dead, according to local news reports.
The violence in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour erupted Monday after the SDF launched a campaign to target what it called “criminal elements,” a reference to some leaders within the Deir al-Zour Military Council, the SDF’s local affiliate.
The clashes have spread to several towns and villages in the restive province, where the Islamic State terror group ruled from 2014 until 2019, when the SDF, supported by a U.S.-led global coalition, ousted the militants.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has researchers on the ground, said the fighting in Deir al-Zour has killed more than 28 people and wounded many others.
Siyamend Ali, a media officer with the People’s Protection Units, a main group within the SDF, told VOA that the dead include five SDF fighters.
“The campaign aims at reinforcing security in Deir al-Zour because the province has been experiencing a growing level of instability, and unfortunately, there are some elements of the local military council that contribute to that instability,” he said.
The SDF said in a statement Wednesday that it had removed the commander of Deir al-Zour Military Council, Ahmed al-Khubail, better known as Abu Khawla, from his post.
The SDF said Abu Khawla, along with four other leaders from the local council, were dismissed over their involvement in “multiple crimes and violations” such as “drug trafficking and mismanaging of the security situation.”
The U.S.-backed group said that Abu Khawla was in “communication and coordination with external entities hostile to the revolution,” a tacit reference to the Syrian government and Iranian-backed militias.
The SDF is a Kurdish-led alliance that has been a major U.S. partner in the fight against IS militants. The group and its local affiliates are now in control of much of the territory that IS once controlled.
But the “negative role” of local military leaders has allowed IS remnants to step up their terror activity in the Arab-majority province, according to the SDF.
There are currently 900 U.S. troops in the region as part of a global coalition to assist and advise the SDF in its counter-IS operations, according to U.S. military officials.
The U.S.-led coalition against IS has not commented on the developments in Deir al-Zour.
Experts say that if the fighting between two U.S.-backed forces is not contained, IS and other elements in the region could take advantage of the situation.
“IS cells, the Syrian regime, Iran-backed militias will immediately benefit from the ensuing security chaos,” said Omar Abu Layla, director of Deir Ezzor 24, a news and research network focused on eastern Syria.
He told VOA that the United States and other members of the anti-IS coalition need to intervene not only to stop the current fighting but also to find a long-term solution to the power dynamics in eastern Syria.
“They need to bring and support legitimate local leaders who are not corrupt and who understand the tribal dynamics of this part of Syria,” said Abu Layla. “Otherwise, worse scenarios could emerge when it is too late.”
This story originated in VOA’s Kurdish Service.