Clashes between US allies in east Syria kill 22, says war monitor

Gunfights between the Kurdish-led SDF and an affiliated Arab group broke out after the arrest of the group's leader

Ahmad Al Khabil, leader of the Deir Ezzor Military Council, was arrested by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Photo: SDF
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Twenty-two people have been killed in clashes between two US-backed groups in eastern Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Tuesday.

Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces clashed with the Deir Ezzor Military Council, one of several Arab groups affiliated with the Kurdish-majority SDF.

Both groups were US allies in the fight against ISIS, during which the SDF carved out a semi-autonomous administration in north and north-east Syria.

The clashes came two days after the SDF apprehended the leader of the Deir Ezzor Military Council, Ahmad Al Khabil, who is known as Abu Khawla, the Observatory said from Britain.

After his arrest, gunmen reportedly attacked SDF positions.

Three SDF members and 16 “local fighters” were killed, as well as three civilians including two children, the Observatory said.

It was not immediately clear why Mr Al Khabil had been detained, AFP reported, but it quoted an SDF statement in which it said that it had launched “an operation to bolster security” against criminals “involved in drug trafficking and benefitting from arms smuggling”.

The council led by Mr Al Khabil is responsible for security in parts of Deir Ezzor province, in line with the SDF strategy of ruling through local civilian and military councils.

“What's happening today is a settling of scores,” Omar Abu Layla, an activist who leads the DeirEzzor24 media platform, told AFP.

“Corrupt commanders felt they were in danger after Abu Khawla was arrested and have tried to turn it into a tribal and Arab issue in order to protect themselves.”

Updated: August 30, 2023, 4:57 AM