Albin Szakola

New rebel force battling ISIS
in northeast Syria

The Syrian Elite Forces is the military wing of former opposition chief Ahmad Jarba's "Syria's Tomorrow" party.

The Syrian Elite Forces makes its first public announcement. (YouTube/Syria

BEIRUT – A recently-formed fighting force loyal to Ahmad Jarba, the former head of the opposition Syria National Coalition, has been battling ISIS in the desert north of Deir Ezzor.


The Syrian Elite Forces—which promotes itself as the military wing of Jarba’s “Syria’s Tomorrow” (Al-Ghad al-Souri) party—touted Wednesday that it repelled an ISIS surprise attack on the village of Malihat al-Tharu, which is located west of Shaddadi, a former ISIS-stronghold seized by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in March 2016.


Neither Kurdish nor pro-rebel outlets covered the fighting, however the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the little-known military unit had killed five ISIS fighters.


The Syrian Elite Forces first publicly announced their presence in a video statement released April 18 in which it claimed that it “liberated” the villages of Abu Khashab, Malihat al-Tharu, Raajan and Umm Madfaa, all of which are situated around the Maliha oil field approximately 60 kilometers north of Deir Ezzor.


Although Jarba’s armed group said it seized the remote area from ISIS, the SDF had already taken Umm Madfa and nearby positions in March, indicating that the US-backed group allowed the Syrian Elite Forces to establish an operation presence within its zone of control.


The fighting strength and composition of the Syrian Elite Forces remains unknown, along with many other aspects of the mysterious unit, however a pro-rebel outlet claimed that members of the Shaitat tribe brutally suppressed by ISIS are part of the group.


Zaman al-Wasl reported in mid-April that Jarba shipped vehicles and equipment from Iraqi Kurdistan to Shaitat fighters in northeast Syria.


Syrian Elite Forces coordination with SDF


While the Syrian Elite Forces ostensibly works alongside the SDF, the two groups are not formally allied.


A Kurdish politician in the Syrian Democratic Council—the umbrella political organization for the SDF—said the “formation of the Syrian Elite Forces comes in coordination with the forces in control of the region,” a reference to the SDF.


Abdul Salam Ahmed told Al-Akhbar that Jarba’s opposition party and the Syrian Democratic Council were also coordinating, adding that there was a possibility both organizations might ally in the future.


Meanwhile, SDF spokesperson Talal Sello told the Lebanese daily that “the presence of the [Syrian] Elite Forces is welcome since they share our goal of fighting terror.”


The Syrian Elite Forces is not taking part in the SDF’s wide-scale offensive against ISIS north of Raqqa, according to local Kurdish outlet Xeber 24, however this could be explained by the fact the group does not appear to have any operational presence in the flashpoint region outside ISIS’s de-facto capital.


In its first statement, the Syrian Elite Forces stressed the importance of the “cohesion of Kurdish-Arab fabric,” although the group has made no specific public mention of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) or the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that exerts de-facto autonomy in northern Syria.


Interestingly, the president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani—who is at odds with the PYD—dispatched a personal representative to March 11 founding conference for the “Syria’s Tomorrow” party that controls the Syrian Elite Forces.


Jarba’s “Syria’s Tomorrow” and regional players


The Syrian Elite Forces brands itself as a group independent of foreign influence, although its parent organization, Syria’s Tomorrow, is backed by regional players.


“The Syrian Elite Forces aims to restore our national decision after the dispersion of the Free Syrian Army due to erroneous bets and blatant foreign interference,” the group said April 18 in a broadside against other rebels.


However, Jarba’s party, which was formed in a mid-March conference in Cairo, counts on the support of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.


The opening conference for Syria’s Tomorrow was attended Mohammad Dahlan—a former Palestinian Authority official now living in exile in Dubai where he reportedly advises Mohammed bin Zayed on security matters—as well as by representatives of a number of foreign figures, including top Lebanese anti-Assad politicians and the Iraqi Kurdish regional government.  


NOW English news desk editor Albin Szakola tweets @AlbinSzakola

The Syrian Elite Forces makes its first public announcement. (YouTube/Syria's Tomorrow)

Zaman al-Wasl reported in mid-April that Jarba shipped vehicles and equipment from Iraqi Kurdistan to Shaitat fighters in northeast Syria.