SDF bulldozers digging trenches and fortification near Qara Qozaq in Aleppo eastern countryside
With the change of powers-control in north Syria, Syrian Democratic Forces SDF trying to improve its defense in Euphrates River eastern bank in an unprecedented way amid the arrival of more YPG fighters from Tal Rifaat and its countryside to Manbij and east Euphrates areas in fear of possible Turkish military operation against PYD and its affiliated armed groups in Manbij.
Underground tunnels and fortifications with unprecedented reinforcement
Syrian Democratic Forces SDF new fortification is digging a very complicated network of underground tunnels on the whole eastern bank of Euphrates River under SDF control starting from al-Shyoukh area in the north and end in Bajaq village in Sarrin countryside in the south stretching around 20-25 km.
An SDF source who prefers to stay anonymous told NSO that SDF is trying to create headquarters and military points underground in all hills in the eastern bank of Euphrates River, the source said that each point contains 3-4 rooms under 3-4m underground, each room connected to at least 10 tunnels connecting the central point to fortified points on the hill or mountains, each tunnel is at least 500m long.
NSO obtained photos showing SDF bulldozers near Qara Qozaq village on the eastern bank of Euphrates River digging tunnels and pillars in addition to dirt barriers.
NSO reporter said the area where SDF is doing all the fortification contains many camps and bases where it trains fighters such as Kharous camp where 700 fighters are being trained and will graduate in the next few days.
The area also contains al-Deikan village camp which contains 500 fighters in addition to al-Barkal Mountains camp in Ayn al-Arab-Kobane countryside, the camp is considered one of the biggest SDF camps in the area, it is located 15km away from Qara Qozaq strategic bridge which connect Euphrates River western and eastern banks, the camp contains hundreds of fighters but the exact number is unknown because there is no road passing by it as SDF paved a special road where civilians are not allowed to enter.
The reporter added that SDF held military training courses for 700 fighters every 3 months, adding that the fighters always sent to fortification SDF is digging in the east Euphrates from Tal Abyad in north Raqqa to Qara Qozaq Bridge and SDF-held areas in the north and south Manbij countryside.
NSO reporter said SDF have been sending continuous reinforcement lately, adding that the road to the eastern areas has been witnessing an increasing movement of KIA and Hyundai cars and vans in addition to pick-up trucks carrying weapons and fighters.
The reinforcement sent by SDF go to different area, some area sent to al-Barkal mountains to go through a training course for experienced fighters and other military training courses, some fighters are sent to al-Shoyoukh area on frontlines with Euphrates Shield groups in northeast Aleppo, al-Shoyoukh area was captured by SDF-affiliated YPG on 2015 and it destroyed it houses and displaced all civilians, the rest of the reinforcements are sent to frontlines in north and west Manbij city where the number of fighters there is around 1000.
Sources said SDF didn’t send reinforcement to frontlines with Assad regime in south Manbij which is controlled by SDF-affiliated Jund al-Haramin who are on terms with SDF to not fight against FSA groups.
Local sources told NSO that part of SDF fighters are stationed in grain silos near Sarrin village - known as “the Iranian Company” because Iran built it when the regime was controlling the area- where SDF built dorms for fighters in addition to commander offices.
The chief commander of grain silos site is called Haval Dalil who is a commander from Qandail Mountains in addition to another commander called “Haval Besi”, both commanders are in control of digging and fortification personally, a part of the SDF forces are also stationed in al-Jalbye area on Sarrin-Tal Abyad highway 35km away from Qara Qozaq Bridge.
SDF newly-fortified points are in east Euphrates in addition to nearby bases while checkpoints between Manbij city and Qara Qozaq Bridge which is the only bridge connecting this area to other SDF-held areas, local activists believe that this reinforcement is a sign of possible SDF withdrew from areas in the west Euphrates to the eastern areas especially with the Turkish officials statements on possible military operation on Manbij whether if SDF withdrew or not.
Meetings with Americans and Arab clans
The news of handing Manbij city to Turkish forces and FSA groups especially after capturing Efrin city and the continued Turkish statements of possible military operations in SDF-held areas starting from Manbij city.
A local source told NSO that these fortification and reinforcement are amid meetings between SDF commanders and clans allied with to discuss the possibility of a Turkish military operation and procedures could be taken, the sources also said these meetings while US army commanders in the city trying to calm the locals that Turks won’t enter Manbij.
NSO obtained names of some clans figures who attended meetings with SDF such as “Aqeel al-Bakouri” who was among the people who attacked protests in the city when the Syrian Revolution started, in addition to Abu Salah Quayshi, Mat'aeb al-Shalash, Meslet al-Hafni and Alioi al-Masytef, sources said that SDF demanded these local figures to urge locals to protest against the Turkish intervention.
In addition to that, an American delegation visited the Culture Center in Manbij city and met many pro-PYD Arab figures, both sides discussed the current situation in Manbij city but a source close to who attended the meetings said they discussed a possible withdraw of Kurdish forces from the city.
Among the people who attended the meeting is Farouq al-Mashi who is one of al-Bobana clan’s leaders which is the biggest clan in Manbij in addition to the head of the National Democratic Union Ibrahim al-Qaftan who accompanied the American delegation while visiting the city and talking with the locals.
The American delegation also visited Manbij City Military Council, the delegation’s members said they don’t have any information about withdrawing from the area and that they only know the orders but they received no order so far.
A local source told NSO that SDF could hand over the city to regime forces like it did before in other area but it is trying to maintain its relationship with the USA according to what the source said, Manbij and its countryside has 2 US military points in al-Sabet airbase where US forces have vehicles and soldiers in addition to another point in a school in Jada Saghira village where the personnel are trained for de-mining, this base also contains commanders and personnel from other countries while local sources said Coalition forces set-up an intense monitoring points there.
Meanwhile, SDF denied the rumours saying it may hand over Manbij to the regime or withdrew from it and considered these rumours aim to weaken the locals’ spirits and insisted on staying in the city.
SDF trying to lure clans in the villages its forces displaced locals
SDF has been trying to reach a deal with the locals of Arab villages who were displaced after SDF captured, villages such as Kharous, Keik Dada and al-Shyoukh area where SDF destroyed houses and displaced civilians and built bases which pushed the majority of the locals to join Euphrates Shield groups.
SDF started negotiations with al-Shoyoukh area locals through the head of the Executive Office of Self-Administration in Ayn al-Arab Anoar al-Meslem and other Kurdish figures such as the head of Keitkan Kurdish tribe Najeeb Basrawi which is the biggest clan in Ayn al-Arab, in addition to the co-chief of the Legislative Council of Manbij city Farouq al-Mashi while members of al-Nayef family attended the meeting because they are the biggest clan of the area including Husayn al-Nayef whose house in al-Sareb neighborhood in Manbij city hosted the negotiations.
SDF representatives told the locals that they can return to their areas if they handed over their weapons and that their sons leave Turkish-backed groups of Olive Branch or Euphrates Shield operations.
These efforts were stopped lately due to the tension between SDF authorities in Manbij city and some pro-regime clans, the clans are trying to held protest under orders from Assad to demand US forces out of Manbij, some protests were faced with force from SDF-affiliated groups causing injuries among protesters and arresting prominent tribal figures.