Iraq News

SDF officers fear Russia militias will disrupt anti-ISIS operations

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

A Russian soldier sits atop a military vehicle in Syria's north-eastern al-Hasakeh province on January 20th. [Delil Souleiman/AFP]

A Russian soldier sits atop a military vehicle in Syria's north-eastern al-Hasakeh province on January 20th. [Delil Souleiman/AFP]

Russia's efforts to recruit local youth into militias in areas east of the Euphrates river in Syria are likely to cause further friction in the region, a local activist and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said.

Adding a new crop of militias to the mix will further complicate the situation, they said, and will disrupt the efforts of the SDF and international coalition to eliminate "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) remnants in eastern Syria.

Russia has been setting up a network of militias in Amuda, Tal Tamr, Ain Issa and al-Darbasiyah in rural al-Hasakeh, SDF officer Farhad Khoja told Diyaruna.

Recruitment and training operations are already under way in a camp on the grounds of the Qamishli airport, which is under Russian control, he said.

Dozens of unemployed local youth who do not want to or are not able to leave the area have been recruited into these militias, he said, even though the salaries offered are fairly low.

Through its actions, Russia is "further inflaming tensions in the region", he said, pointing out that the presence of additional armed groups might spark clashes and that social rifts may widen as a result of conflicting loyalties.

Russia seeks to expand

Russia has been seeking to expand its influence in Syria by establishing affiliated militias in several regions, Aleppo activist Ahmed al-Salem told Diyaruna.

Under the supervision of Russian military police, militias have been formed in Aleppo, Daraa and Quneitra provinces, and recently in rural Damascus, he said.

In Aleppo, Russian military police are supporting armed groups such as al-Berri militia and al-Assasna, he said, amid reports of a new Russian plan to merge all aligned fighters in Aleppo under a single militia.

Russian military police also have launched a wide-scale recruitment campaign in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, to attract former opposition fighters, al-Salem said.

Though these former opposition fighters were included in the settlement agreement, he explained, their names have appeared on the Syrian regime's wanted lists, and the Russians have been exploiting their vulnerability.

Some Russian-backed militias are deployed in Daraa and Quneitra, he said, while a large number of militiamen have been moved to battlefronts in eastern rural Idlib province.

Here they are fighting alongside al-Nimr force, led by pro-Russian Brig. Gen. Suheil al-Hassan, and the pro-regime Liwa al-Quds.

But these militias are not likely to attract more than 1,000 fighters, "at the most", said Riad Darar, co-chair of the SDF's political wing in the autonomous administration of north and east Syria.

The recruits are "mercenaries with no combat doctrine, and therefore are of no military value at all compared to the SDF, for example, which boasts more than 80,000 fighters", he said.

Furthermore, he added, Russian forces have failed to recruit youth from area tribes, despite their best efforts.

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