The National Defence Forces (NDF) has centres (marakiz) in various provinces of Syria, including the eastern province of Deir az-Zor. The NDF functions as a volunteer auxiliary force for the Syrian army. To learn more about the history of the NDF in Deir az-Zor, I conducted an interview on 6 July 2019 with Yaser Matrod, a media official of the NDF- Deir az-Zor centre. The interview is slightly condensed and edited for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
The NDF centre in Deir az-Zor.
Q: When was the NDF in Deir az-Zor formed and what was its origin?
A: The NDF in Deir az-Zor was formed at the beginning of 2013 and they are of the sons of Deir az-Zor province. Before 2013, in the beginning of work in 2011 we were fighting within contingents affiliated with the military intelligence [al-Amn al-Askari].
Q: In which battles has the NDF of Deir az-Zor participated and how many martyrs has it offered?
A: The NDF participated in all the battles that occurred in this city. Among them, the battles it has participated in:
1. Jabal al-Tharda
2. Haql al-Tayyim
4. al-Jafra and al-Mrei'iya
5. Hawijat Qati'
6. Hawijat Saqr
7. al-Hawiqa neighbourhood
12. Tallat al-Hujaif
13. Mashfa al-Qalab and al-Corniche
14. The city's neighbourhoods during the liberation
15. Breaking the siege of Deir az-Zor province.
We have in Deir az-Zor 420 martyrs and 80 missing: therefore the total number 500.
Q: This number is only in the NDF of Deir az-Zor? The number of martyrs that is.
A: Correct, correct. This is the number of martyrs of the NDF only.
Q: What are the responsibilities of the NDF- Deir az-Zor centre currently? Operations, and the role of the NDF. With which forces do you cooperate?
A: The responsibilities of the NDF: military protection with the Syrian Arab Army until now, as it covers most of the points beginning from the borders with Iraq the Albukamal area in the east until the last point of the administrative borders of Deir az-Zor province in the Tibni region in the west. Note that the river section opposite the aforementioned areas, the Kurdish forces like SDF are present and the American forces and forces affiliated with them. And we work in security with the security forces to regulate civilian matters and help the people.
Q: How do you assess the security situation in Deir az-Zor currently? There are no problems of Da'esh [Islamic State] cells for example? Are there problems with the Kurdish forces on the Euphrates river? And how is the services situation regarding electricity and water and these aspects?
A: Sometimes there is exchange of fire between us and the Kurdish forces. And there are areas under the control of Da'esh but Da'esh are hidden and not out in the open within the Kurdish lands. At the intersection of the river, there is sometimes exchange of fire. Regarding the services situation, the water has returned, the electricity has returned. There has been improvement in the return of the inhabitants after the liberation of the city. And regarding the desert, there have been some attacks by sleeper cells coming from the Tanf area and areas surrounding it. And units of the Syrian Arab Army and the NDF have resisted them and swept the area. And more than 3 months ago, the NDF was entrusted with the assignment of strengthening the points in the al-Bishri area until now. And we are now preparing for a new assignment: sweeping the badiya again.
Q: Can you finally tell me a little about the biography of the heroic leader of the NDF in Deir az-Zor? His role in the battles, and his leadership of the NDF in Deir az-Zor. According to my knowledge the heroic leader of the NDF Feras Jahaam is responsible for everything in the NDF from financing, arming and training members. This is according to what I know.
A: Your information is correct. Feras Jahaam- the leader of the NDF- is of the sons of the province of Deir az-Zor. And he is well-known since before the war on Syria- well-known among the people.As they say, all know him as a friend, a beloved brother. During the battle, he only deals with us as a brother: a brother who deals with his brothers. When the fighting member enters the battleground, he enters and is assured that he is behind him. Because the fighting member knows that when he enters the battleground, and, God forbid, if he is wounded by gunfire, he knows that there are behind him people who will pay their blood and offer themselves and expose themselves to risk of death in order that he should get out of the battleground. For this reason most of the people of Deir az-Zor have joined the NDF.
Q: Since the liberation of the province from the terrorists of Da'esh, many of the youth of the province have enlisted in the ranks of the NDF?
A: True. After the opening of the route, large number of youth have joined the NDF. Of course they have enlisted on the basis of what they have heard: they have heard that during the fight, the leader of the NDF does not abandon any member at all. And you know that as a son of the city and the province itself and from the same city and not being of another province, he has stood beside the sons of their areas.