U.S. military officials are calling for the end of the escalating civil war in Syria, given concerns that the war could lead to the resurgence of terrorist group ISIS.
Critics are accusing some regional leaders, including those in Iran, of leaning on “ethnic” tensions to drive the fighting further.
“Operation Inherent Resolve continues to closely monitor events in northeast Syria,” said a statement released Thursday from Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.
Using the Arabic acronym “Daesh” to refer to ISIS, the statement continued, “We remain focused on working with the Syrian Defense Forces to ensure the enduring defeat of Daesh, in support of regional security and stability. Distractions from this critical work create instability and increase the risk of Daesh resurgence.”
“The violence in northeast Syria must cease, and the effort returned to creating peace and stability in northeast Syria, free from the threat of Daesh,” it added.
After fighting broke out between rival groups in East Syria on Monday, 40 were left dead and dozens more were wounded. Fighting continued on Thursday, after clashes began along the border with Iraq as both sides look to bring in reinforcements.
The Associated Press reported that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) dismissed Ahmad Khbeil, better known as Abu Khawla, and arrested him on several charges related to “multiple crimes and violations,” including drug trafficking.
Khawla was also removed over “coordination with external entities hostile to the revolution,” an apparent reference to his alleged contacts with the Syrian government in Damascus and its Iranian and Russian allies.
A news outlet associated with Khawla issued a statement Sunday claiming that Kurdish security forces shut down the office and detained journalists. While the claims could not be independently verified, they show a growing divide between various factions within the SDF.
Both Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi have leaned on ethnic tensions between Arabs and Kurds to further divide the group, and create conflict among the U.S.-backed coalition. The clashes have pitted members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces against its former ally the Arab-led Deir el-Zour Military Council and some regional Arab tribesmen who had sided with them.
“The Assad government and Iran want to portray the violence in ethnic terms, Kurd vs. Arab, to exacerbate the situation, which is both problematic and inaccurate,” Sinam Sherkany Mohamad, Chief of Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council in Washington, D.C., told Fox News. “This is not an ethnic issue.”
“[Khawla’s forces] will play into the hands of ISIS and empower ISIS forces operating in the region to attack the SDF as well,” she insisted. “This is a dangerous situation, which could spiral out of control and destabilize the only region of Syria that is safe and stable,” referring to the area Deir ez-Zour, where the SDF has established its various bases.
David Adesnik, senior fellow specializing in Syria at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, argued that the conflict exposes Assad’s desperation to drive the U.S. out of the region, as “there is less violence now than at the height of the war, but the deprivation is greater than ever” with “regime insiders” plundering the country for “everything” they can get their hands on.
“The protests should remind us that Assad’s supposed victory in the Syrian civil war is a hollow one,” Adesnik argued. “The regime survives thanks to narco-trafficking, Iranian oil and the Russian air force.”
Adesnik added, “The U.S. military is right to be concerned. …The situation is explosive, and it’s not just ISIS that could benefit from divisions in the Coalition’s ranks — Iran, the Assad regime, and their proxies are actively working to worsen the situation.
“They want U.S. troops out of northeast Syria, even if means sowing chaos that hurts the local population more than anyone,” he concluded.
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