SDF fighters targeted in Deir Ezzor

Elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Deir Ezzor (Reuters)

Elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Deir Ezzor (Reuters)


Deir Ezzor – Hussam al-Omar

“They look the same and dress the same. I do not know the exact parties responsible for the attacks, but because of them, I have lost so many friends.” With these words, Mohammed described the attackers who assassinated his fellow members in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). 

Thirty-year-old Mohammed Odeib, who is an SDF fighter from al-Sha’afa village in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, told Enab Baladi that the continued targeting of his fellow SDF members by “unknown” attackers is “worrying.” 

The security situation in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor is still unstable after more than two years since the Kurdish forces backed by the US-led International Coalition Forces (ICF) announced their control over the region and defeat of the Islamic State (IS).

Assassinations against employees working for the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), SDF fighters, or members of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), also known as Asayesh, have become recurrent and a “semi-regular and daily repeated scene,” residents of the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor told Enab Baladi. They mentioned that the perpetrators are mostly unknown masked men riding motorcycles.

Likely suspects 

Odeib has not pointed fingers at any side for the assassinations; however, he said that the Syrian regime, Iranian militias, and IS are “the most to benefit” from the security chaos in Deir Ezzor.

The SDF was formed by an alliance of factions from the Syrian opposition and other Kurdish armed groups, led by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) together with Syriac and Christian factions in November 2016. The SDF’s initial aim was to combat IS, which was notoriously famous for its brutal practices and threats of murder and elimination to those against its creeds and objectives.

Within six months of the ICF formation, the SDF made rapid progress in its fighting against IS and announced its control on several towns and villages surrounding al-Raqqa. The SDF controlled large areas of al-Raqqa before launching a direct attack on the once isolated city on 6 June 2017. Al-Raqqa, the former capital of IS’ caliphate, was taken over by 30,000 fighters from the SDF five months later.

On 23 March 2019, the SDF announced its control on IS’ last stronghold of al-Baghouz with the ICF’s help. The SDF entered the town of al-Baghouz in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor and held thousands of IS militants and their families in its camps and detention centers.

Nevertheless, IS’ traces and banners still exist alongside remnants of destruction and bombardment left by the battles that occurred in the region. The governorate of Deir Ezzor continues to witness skirmishes, aggression accusations, and arrests of undercover agents for the Syrian regime and Iranian militias that share the SDF its control over the governorate.

Despite the implementation of numerous security campaigns by the SDF and the ICF, assassinations continue to occur in the SDF-controlled areas.

The most recent of these assassinations took place on 5 April and led to the killing of an SDF fighter and four others’ injury by a detonated explosive device in Thiban town in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. On the same day, three SDF members were targeted in the same town by unidentified attackers riding a motorcycle.

On 4 April, another SDF element was killed on a security roadblock after being shot in al-Sha’afa village.

Moreover, eight elements of the SDF were killed or injured by an improvised explosive device detonated under their vehicle in al-Sour town, north of Deir Ezzor, on 22 March.

Seeking safety

Hadi al-Ashwi abandoned his role as an SDF fighter and rented a small vegetable shop on the outskirts of al-Basirah town in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. 

Al-Ashwi told Enab Baladi that many SDF elements joined the fighting during the battles against IS for fear of losing their lands and properties in the region’s conflict.

Another former fighter in the SDF, who requested his name be withheld for security reasons, told Enab Baladi that he is searching for a way out of Syria to go to Turkey and start a new life for fear of his own safety. 

The former fighter added that “a large number” of Deir Ezzor residents who fought alongside the SDF left Syria and moved to Turkey or Lebanon seeking employment. These people found no other alternative to make a living, especially within the dire economic and security situation in their region. 

According to a statement published by IS affiliate Amaq News Agency, IS claimed responsibility for 593 attacks, most of which were concentrated in eastern Syria, particularly in Deir Ezzor governorate. The IS attacks left 1,327 casualties killed or wounded, 901 of which belonged to the SDF.

The Kurdish-led SDF announces the arrest of sleeper cells linked to IS or the Syrian regime every now and then. Still, it does not enjoy locals’ confidence who sometimes accuse its members of corruption and repression.


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