Jordan-backed tribesmen
supporting FSA offensive

The Army of Free Tribes has been supporting the Southern Front in fighting around Daraa's Sanamayn.

Army of Free Tribes fighters. (Facebook/Army of Free Tribes)

BEIRUT – A Jordanian-backed tribal coalition in Daraa has provided military support to a new offensive by the Free Syrian Army-aligned Southern Front outside Sanamayn, one of the regime’s major lines of defense on the road linking the southern province to Damascus.


A collection of 12 rebel factions in southern Syria announced Thursday the beginning of a joint-operation to capture the artillery base in Jidyah, from which government forces regularly shell rebel positions outside Sanamayn.


As the rebels launched their attack, a faction of the Army of Free Tribes announced that it was fighting outside Sanamayn, where the regime has deployed its 7th as well as 9th Armored divisions.


“Very fierce clashes are taking place between the members of the battalion and the forces of the criminal regime on the outskirts of Sanamayn,” the Al-Badiya Hawks Battalion—which is part of the Amman-financed tribal coalition—said in a Facebook post.


The commander of the Al-Badiya Hawks went into more detail on the fighting in comments carried by the pro-rebel All4Syria outlet, saying that “his battalion had busied regime forces on the 9th Division Base front and targeted reinforcement that were leaving the town to support the Jidyah battle.”


Fighting around the Jidyah base so far has not gone favorably for the Southern Front, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting Friday morning that the rebels had suffered at least 12 casualties.


The Army of Free Tribes support serves as a potential boon for the Southern Front, which in recent months has been hit by a number of setbacks.


The FSA-linked alliance’s mid-summer offensive to seize Daraa city ground to a halt while reports emerged that it has lost support from foreign states that previously backed it.


On September 6, Al-Quds al-Arabi said that the US-run Military Operation Center (MOC) based in Jordan had “stopped all financial assistance to the Southern Front for the moment after it failed to take control of Daraa.”


The MOC, which is said to be directed by the CIA and a number of Washington’s allies in the region, had been supporting and supervising the FSA-affiliated Southern Front’s campaign in the Daraa province, according to reports.


Jordanian backing of Army of Free Tribes


The Army of Free Tribes—a collection of fighters are from tribes in Suweida, Daraa, Quneitra and southern rural Damascus—has publicly touted its links to Jordan.


In an interview Wednesday, the coalition’s leader, Rakkan al-Khdeir said that “Jordan has a big role” in supporting his group.


“It’s a neighboring, brotherly country and it has not been lacking with us,” he told Orient TV.


Three months ago, the spokesperson for the group—which was then named the Collective of Free Southern Tribesmen—said that it was “coordinating with neighboring states, especially Jordan, to confront ISIS.”


“[It] is funded by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” Mohammad Adan told Dubai-based Alaan.


He also said that the group was deployed in the Al-Lajat area along the eastern Syrian-Jordanian border, where it was fighting ISIS.


Meanwhile, the UAE-based AE24 online outlet on Friday cited sources in the Jordanian government who “made no secret of their country’s support for the [the Army of Tribes], which is considered the greatest defensive line for the Jordanian border.”


The sources said that Jordan has spoken many times about the necessity of supporting Syria’s tribes as they are “a great force in the confrontation with the terrorist organization ISIS.”


In March, Jordan announced that it was preparing to train tribesmen and Syrian rebels to battle ISIS and has since made a number of overtures to tribal groups in southern Syria.


On June 19, representatives of a number of tribal leaders in Syria officially rejected Jordan’s offer for support, however only a week later other tribal leaders voiced their acceptance of King Abdullah’s offer to arm and train tribal leaders.  


On July 8, British daily The Independent reported that a group of tribal chiefs in Syria had formed a new “Coalition of Syrian Tribes and Clans” that had held secret meetings with the General John Allen, the US point-man for the international coalition’s campaign against ISIS.


Army of Free Tribes ties with Southern Front


Although the Army of Free Tribes has fought alongside the Southern Front, the organizational and operational ties between the two rebel conglomerations remain murky.


The leader of the Army of Free Tribes and an officer in a rebel faction within the Southern Front discussed ties between the coalitions during a Wednesday interview with Orient TV.


“So far I believe that the Army of the Tribes [might be considered] part of the Southern Front,” Jaysh al-Yarmouk political bureau chief Bashar al-Zoabi told the rebel outlet.


He added that they were a “combat faction” and “not an army that is independent from the Southern Front,” but did not elaborate on the exact relations between the two groups.


However, the Army of Free Tribes president gave an even more vague answer, saying that “The Southern Front is part of the FSA and we are part of the FSA but the name has two aspects.”


Rakkan al-Khdeir stressed though that his group has “fought alongside the Southern Front in all places.” 


“We have taken part in the liberation of Brigade 52, the battle of Suweida airport and the battle of Daraa,” he said in references to the coalition’s offensives in the summer.


“We took part under our own name as the Gathering of the Tribes of the South. We and the Yarmouk Army were part of the same operations room.”


“We are a faction from the factions of the Southern Front and whatever the Southern Front agrees, we agree with, in war and peace.”

Army of Free Tribes fighters. (Facebook/Army of Free Tribes)

In an interview Wednesday, the coalition’s leader, Rakkan al-Khdeir said that “Jordan has a big role” in supporting his group.