Hassan Hassan writes: A senior commander of the Raqqa Revolutionaries’ Brigade, one of the SDF factions [in the newly-formed Syrian Democratic Forces], told the authors that uneven American support for the YPG enabled the Kurds to dictate terms to the rest of the factions. The main task of the new alliance “is to protect their areas only because the Kurds can’t cover all the region,” he said. “[The army] has only light weapons so it does not become too powerful.… The American support is what made [the Kurds] above the rest and impose their political goals.”
This reality was exemplified last month, when the Pentagon said that U.S. jets airdropped 50 tons of ammunition to Arab rebel forces in northern Raqqa. However, the Arab factions seemingly could not move the ammunition on their own, and it quickly ended up in Kurdish hands.
There are three reasons the subordinate role for Arab tribal fighters undercuts the alliance’s potential. First, the imbalance will undermine the military capabilities of the coalition to push against the Islamic State in Arab-dominated areas.
Second, the tribal fighters’ status as junior partners in the alliance will increasingly reduce their morale — as happened previously, when many U.S.-trained rebels abandoned the battlefield because they felt the program was aimless and disproportionally focused on counterterrorism. Tribal fighters say that U.S. support for the Kurds indicates it is less committed to tribes in the long term. They fear that nobody would come to their aid if the Islamic State returned to areas from which it had previously been expelled, as happened in Iraq over the years or in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor last year, when repeated appeals for help went unnoticed by the international community.
“Had it not been for the [international] coalition, ISIS would have reached Qamishli,” said a fighter from the Shammar tribe, which leads the Kurdish-Arab alliance’s al-Sanadid forces. “And the fact is that when ISIS wants, it could reach anywhere.”
Finally, there are widespread fears that as more areas are seized by the Kurdish-led alliance, incidents of ethnic cleansing will increase. Last month, Amnesty International released a report accusing the YPG of committing war crimes, including the forced displacement of Arab civilians and demolition of their houses. “Whenever the YPG enters an area, they displace its Arab residents,” the Shammari fighter said, referring to Arab towns in southern Hasakah. “Fifteen villages were leveled to the ground in Tal Hamees, Tel Brak, and Jazaa.” [Continue reading…]