BEIRUT - A rebel faction closely allied with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has dissolved an affiliated tribal group following weeks of rising tension between the Kurds and the tribal fighting force in northern Syria.
“No support has been acquired for the Army of Tribes, the resources in its possession are lacking… and it has failed to carry out the tasks appointed to it,” the Raqqa Rebels Brigade announced in a statement outlining its decision to dissolve the tribal faction.
“All of these factors have made the Army of Tribes constitute a burden on the Raqqa Rebels Front, hampering its fundamental mission of liberating Raqqa from the ISIS gang and moving forward to achieve the goals of our great Revolution.”
The rebel group added that it had not only decided to dissolve the Army of Tribes, but also seize all of its weapons, equipment and vehicles.
The Army of Tribes was established in October 2015 as an affiliate of the Raqqa Rebels Front, an ally of the Kurdish YPG and a member of the recently created Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
However, since its creation tensions have simmered between the tribal group and the Kurdish forces, posing a challenge to the unity of the SDF and its objective of liberating Raqqa province.
The United States backs the SDF, which is dominated by the 30,000-strong YPG and also includes smaller local Arab and Assyrian militias in northern Syria.
The alliance stresses that its main goal is to fight ISIS, while its second, more vague, objective is to build a “democratic Syria.” So far, it has made no mention of fighting Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
While the SDF has set its sights on capturing ISIS’ de-facto capital of Raqqa, growing tension between Kurds and Arabs in areas of the province already seized by YPG-led forces threaten to de-rail the anti-ISIS campaign.
Rebel factions have accused the YPG of ethnically cleansing Arabs after wresting control of non-Kurdish populated areas of northern Syria from ISIS, while international human rights groups—including Amnesty International—have said that the Kurdish militia is forcibly displacing Arabs in Raqqa province.
The YPG as well as the main Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria have flatly denied the accusations of ethnic cleansing and forcible displacement of Arabs.
Kurdish-Army of Tribes tensions
Tensions between the YPG and Arab groups worsened in mid-December, after unconfirmed reports emerged that the YPG had engaged in a firefight with Army of Tribes members in northern Syria.
On December 15, the Collective of Raqqa Tribes, a political body affiliated with the Army of Tribes, warned the YPG against “entering the Arab areas where our fighters are present.”
The group further called on the Kurdish militia to “hand over” the flashpoint Tal Abyad, a strategic Raqqa border area populated by ethnic Arabs and Turkmen that the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) has joined to its Democratic Self-Rule Administration.
“We also call on the YPG in the Tel Abyad area to hand it over to the people for them to administer in all ways,” it said.
The YPG, for its part, denied its fighters had taken part in the purported fighting in the village of Al-Mahra outside Tal Abyad, while the Army of Tribes said only that “criminals” had attacked it, without explicitly accusing the Kurds.
In a statement issued a week later, the leader of the Army of Tribes pleaded for international support for his group in its fight against ISIS, but made no mention of its tense ties with the YPG.
“We call on the international coalition and the great powers to stand at our side and provide the necessary weapons to the Raqqa Rebels Front, which includes the Raqqa Rebels Brigade and the Army of Tribes,” Sheikh Obeid Khalil al-Khalaf al-Hassan said in a video released December 24.
Reading out a statement by the Raqqa Tribes Shura Council, which reportedly represents both groups politically, Hassan said that that increased weapons supplies would be needed “for the battle to liberate Raqqa from the ISIS mercenaries.”
The Army of Tribes leader also stressed that the both groups were “innocent” of all actions taken by ISIS, and called on people from the province to demonstrate and prepare themselves for action against the extremist organization.
NOW's English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Ullin Hope translated the Arabic-language source material.