The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have apprehended Ahmed al-Khabil, known as “Abu Khawla,” the commander of the Deir ez-Zor Military Council. This comes amidst reports that the SDF’s security arm, Asayish, is also besieging other leaders in the Khashman region of Hasakeh. Deir ez-zor is a constituent part of the SDF, but their relationship has been marked by tensions, occasionally escalating into conflicts. The latest bout of clashes recently de-escalated with the intervention of the International Coalition.
According to news outlets, on a recent Sunday, the SDF extended an invitation to Khabil and other frontline leaders associated with him for a meeting at the minister’s rest house in Hassakeh. While Khabil was apprehended during this meeting, other frontline commanders, as well as a group led by his brother, Sheikh Jalal al-Khabil, were put under siege.
Jalal Khabil, one of Abu Khawla’s aides, appeared in a video circulating on social media, where he was seen carrying a firearm within a vehicle. He discussed a situation where the SDF had cordoned off the council’s leaders following their invitation to the minister’s base in Hasakeh. He stated that Abu Khawla had been arrested upon attending the meeting with the SDF, clarifying that the council’s leaders were opting for resistance rather than surrender.
Khabil also urged members of his tribe, known as “al-Akidat,” in Deir ez-Zor to initiate attacks against SDF checkpoints and encircle them.
In another video, Abu Khawla’s brother, Adham al-Khabil, issued a warning to what he referred to as “ISIS militants zero.” He hinted at an escalation if the situation remained unresolved.
Campaign under the guise of ISIS
The arrest of Abu Khawla and the subsequent siege of the Deir ez-Zor Military Council’s top leaders by the SDF have yeet to be officially confirmed by the SDF, despite being widely reported by various media outlets.
Reports from sources such as journalist Ibn Ain al-Abidin from Deir ez-Zor suggest that the SDF has deployed military forces to the governorate and the areas where the Deir ez-Zor Military Council operates. This move follows the arrest and encirclement of the council’s frontline leaders. The SDF released a statement explaining their actions, stating, “In response to the wave of terrorist operations that have targeted residents, local dignitaries, and security forces by ISIS cells in the Deir ez-Zor region, our forces, in coordination with and supported by the international coalition forces, initiated a security operation in the Deir ez-Zor area at 8:00 PM this evening.”
Journalists from Deir ez-Zor have raised questions about the timing and motives behind the SDF’s operation, particularly given its alignment with the arrest of Abu Khawla and the subsequent siege of his leadership team in Hasakeh.
What to expect?
In the midst of these developments, Sada al-Sharqiya network reported that a tragic incident occurred on Monday night, resulting in the deaths of three members of the Deir ez-Zor Military Council. The fatalities stemmed from intense clashes that transpired in the village of al-Rabidah, situated in the al-Sur district to the north of Deir ez-Zor. These clashes pitted special groups linked with the SDF, albeit associated with a different faction, against the Deir ez-Zor Military Council.
The strategic maneuver by the SDF follows persistent speculation about a potential U.S.-orchestrated strategy aimed at countering Iranian-affiliated militias in Albu Kamal through the collaboration of local tribal members. This notion was put forth by Samer al-Ahmad, a researcher associated with the Omran Center for Strategic Studies.
Additionally, the SDF’s recent actions coincide with concerns among their leadership regarding the activation of a tribal role in this context. Reports have emerged suggesting that leaders of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) have expressed reluctance to partake in any efforts against Iranian forces.
In a related vein, journalist Zain al-Abidin highlighted a significant development: a majority of the key leaders within the Deir ez-Zor Military Council are currently in SDF custody. Some of these imprisoned leaders have reportedly issued appeals from their confinement, urging their fellow members to lay down their arms.
The journalist also remarked that as anticipated, there has been no observable involvement by the broader Akidat and al-Baggara tribes in support of Ahmed Khabil’s forces. This lack of support is likely attributed to Khabil’s checkered history within the region, which appears to have influenced this outcome.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.