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Syria tribesmen join SDF in battle against ISIL

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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Al-Daham tribal leaders announce in January the joining of forces between al-Sanadeed and the Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant'. [Photo courtesy of the Syrian Democratic Forces]

Al-Sanadeed, one of northern Syria's largest tribal forces, has recently joined the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their fight against the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).

By joining the ranks of the Arab-Kurd opposition alliance, the people and major tribes of northern Syria are demonstrating they are united against ISIL, military officials said.

"Al-Sanadeed forces are military forces consisting of tribesmen, particularly from the Shammar tribe, numbering 4,500 full time fighters and an equal number of civilians who could be called up if the need arises," said al-Sanadeed military commander Bandar al-Hamidi al-Daham.

"They were established in 2013 for the purpose of self-defence against the threat posed by the proliferation of ISIL," he told Diyaruna.

These forces control the areas of Tel Kojar, Tel Hamis and a number of other areas of al-Hasakeh province, al-Daham said.

"They are currently operating under the umbrella of the SDF, which is necessary for the sake of unifying efforts and forces with the aim of eradicating the group," he added.

The group has "excellent" relations with the various other SDF factions, he said, including the Kurdish and Assyrian forces.

United against ISIL

"Al-Sanadeed joining forces with the SDF is a very important development that marks a turning point in the war against ISIL," said Wahid al-Khalaf, a native of the newly liberated al-Raqa village of Khalaf al-Bek, who is taking part in Operation Wrath of the Euphrates.

It is significant as it directly refutes ISIL's claim that there is discord between Arabs and Kurds, he told Diyaruna, noting that the group sought to woo Arab tribes to its side under the guise of protecting them from the Kurds.

That the tribes stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the SDF, which includes all ethnic components, is a "major blow to the group" that undermines its attempts to sow divisions, he added.

"Unifying the forces that are fighting ISIL under the umbrella of a joint operations room is necessary and vital for the co-ordination of the operation to liberate al-Raqa region," al-Khalaf said.

"The area is vast and requires the effort of all the region’s people to fully cover and protect it," he added.

The tribes joining the SDF and the tribal leaders’ support of these forces should "reassure the region’s Arab component", al-Khalaf said, as this confirms Arabs are not excluded from the operation, and "will not be excluded in the future".

This support will accelerate and facilitate the evacuation of citizens from areas that could potentially become combat zones during the liberation operations, he said.

As they push into ISIL-controlled areas , SDF fighters have been evacuating most civilians to ensure their safety and have set up temporary shelters until the military operations are concluded and mines and explosives have been cleared.

Many tribes joining SDF

Many of the region’s tribes have followed in the footsteps of the Shammar, announcing they stand by the SDF, including tribes within the Syrian Elite Forces, the military arm of al-Ghad al-Souri (Syria's Tomorrow), said Mohammed al-Abdullah, a Syrian journalist who lives in Cairo.

Al-Raqa tribes have announced their full support for the SDF and have called on the region’s youth to join its ranks to fight ISIL.

This came following a January 16th meeting headed by al-Walda tribal leader Sheikh Saeed Mahmoud al-Dabsa. Al-Walda is one of the largest tribes in al-Raqa.

"The support of the tribes in the battle against ISIL is crucial, as these tribes have a presence in most of the areas controlled by the group," he said.

Also, their presence is not confined to Syria but extends to Iraq, and Mosul specifically, he said, as is the case with al-Daham tribe.

The rallying of the people of northern Syria around the SDF under a "unified military umbrella will boost support for the SDF for the purpose of eradicating ISIL", al-Abdullah said.

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