Senior US officials try to 'de-escalate' tension in Syria's Deir Ezzor

Anti-ISIS mission faces new threat as ethnic tension flares in resource-rich region

US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters sit on their armoured vehicles, at al-Sabha town in the eastern countryside of Deir el-Zour, Syria. AP
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Senior US officials have met Kurdish forces and Arab leaders in Syria's oil- and wheat-rich Deir Ezzor province, the State Department said on Tuesday, as tension threatens to undermine the Washington-backed anti-ISIS mission there.

Ethan Goldrich, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, and Maj Gen Joel Vowell, who heads the anti-ISIS mission, met Arab tribal leaders and Syrian Democratic Forces commanders, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said.

They agreed to address local “grievances” and spoke of the “need for de-escalation” as well as the “need to avoid civilian deaths”, Mr Patel added.

An Arab tribal backlash against the rule of the Kurdish YPG militia has led to clashes, with more than 150 killed and dozens injured.

The militia forms the backbone of the US-backed SDF and the uprising is the biggest threat to their rule since they drove ISIS out of a large part of the country's north and east in 2019.

SDF members surrounded a stronghold of an Arab tribe in east Syria on Tuesday and demanded the surrender of its leader, sources on both sides told The National, as the militia sought to crush a nascent insurgency.

Mr “Goldrich and Maj Gen Vowell reiterated the importance of a strong US partnership with the SDF in the de-ISIS effort”, Mr Patel said.

Pentagon spokesman Brig Gen Pat Ryder said the US would continue working with the SDF and that defeating ISIS remained the only focus.

“We've had this conversation before on the critical role that the SDF has played, and continues to play, when it comes to the ISIS mission,” he told reporters.

“One only need look at their efforts as it relates to Al Hol and the detainee population there … We will continue to work with the SDF and other regional partners and the international community on the Defeat ISIS mission.”

Updated: September 06, 2023, 12:53 PM