SDF launches operation to penetrate into Deir ez-Zour

With the war in Syria seemingly reaching its final stages, the oil-rich province of Deir ez-Zour remains the most significant flashpoint. Although ISIS militants control much of the province, they have increasingly come under fire from the forces of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The SAA launched its offensive against ISIS  last month, finally reaching the city of Deir ez-Zour last week. The government forces have subsequently relieved the siege on the besieged Deir ez-Zour Military Airbase, securing the highway that links the city to Damascus.

Then on the 9th of September, the SDF announced it would be launching its own operations in the Deir ez-Zour Province. Dubbed “Jazira Storm”, the operations aim to push ISIS out of the Jazira region in Hasakah, as well as the northern parts of the Deir ez-Zour Province. Officials of the Deir ez-Zour Military Council, a faction within the SDF specifically in charge of the operations in the province, have told that they intent to capture the city of Deir ez-Zour itself, even if such action will bring the SDF in open conflict with the SAA which controls much of the city at present.

As they compete for influence in the province, both the SAA and the SDF have begun appealing to the local tribes to gain the upper hand. The mostly-Arab tribes of Deir ez-Zour make up the majority of the population here and they have immense influence on the local population, politics and economy. Moreover, these tribes are intensely familiar with the landscape. This means that without support from the tribes, victory in Deir ez-Zour will be impossible, or at least difficult and costly.

The Shammar and Shaitat tribes make the majority of the population here in the region. The Shammar tribe has mostly sided with the SDF. The Shaitat tribe, meanwhile, found itself divided. The tribe resisted ISIS’ attempts to co-opt them and paid the price for it. Many members of the tribe were massacred, the rest forced to accept ISIS rule or fleeing. A large number of them have since regroup and sided with the SAA, though a number of members continue to exist among the SDF and the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

It would appear that ISIS has also become aware of the attempts. There have been reports in recent days that the terrorist group has replaced foreign militants in high-ranking positions with local militants in a bid to retain local support. Whether this helps the group retain its flagging support, however, remains to be seen.