The recent sequence of events in Syria precipitated by the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the northern borders with Turkey and Turkey's incursion against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has raised the question of the future status of the SDF territories. Will they return fully under Syrian government control? If so, when and how? Contingents of the Syrian army and its auxiliaries have deployed in some areas such as Ayn al-Arab (Kobani) on the grounds of deterring Turkish attacks, but the situation is more complicated in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, which has been divided in two along the Euphrates River between the SDF and the Syrian government and is not under imminent threat of a Turkish attack.
To learn more about the current situation in Deir az-Zor province, I interviewed on 17th October 2019 CE 'al-Sayyid', an auxiliary force commander associated with the Albu Saraya tribe of Deir az-Zor province. He is originally from Deir az-Zor city.
The interview is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: Can you give us a brief overview of the Albu Saraya formations in Deir az-Zor and their role in supporting the Syrian Arab Army?
A: Dear brother, we were many contingents fighting with the Syrian Arab Army in all of Syria, with the majority in Deir az-Zor, until Sheikh Muhanna al-Fayadh the sheikh of the Albu Saraya tribes came about. He was the commander of the formation and I was the military commander: we fought with the air intelligence branch and waged violent battles on all the hot fronts, and we brought forth martyrs and wounded. And we remained steadfast despite the oppressive siege from the insurgents: no food, no water, no electricity and little ammunition and equipment for a period of four years. Note that though Da'esh [Islamic State] was a strike force, it could not break our lines. This is all due to our holding firm in our land and honour.
Q: Did the Russians support the Albu Saraya formation?
A: The support was from the al-Bustan Association affiliated with the Syrian government.
Q: How has the situation been in Deir az-Zor generally along with the relations with the SDF?
A: The situation in Deir az-Zor dear brother has been very very bad. And the Americans have exploited the SDF for something remarkable: they cut off supplies from us from the other side, and they began tightening the noose on our people present in their areas. Then they have undertaken arrest campaigns that have come upon all the Arab tribes and clans under their control: even the free women have not been safe from their evil, and especially those present in the prisons among them.
Q: Has there been any advance recently for the army and auxiliary forces to the eastern areas in Deir az-Zor that have been under SDF control? Is there any agreement with the SDF regarding Deir az-Zor province?
A: There has been no agreement with the SDF. We crossed the [Euphrates] river to the SDF areas and there was a clash with them and we seized three villages on the banks of the river until the American coalition struck us through aircraft and we withdrew to the riverbed.
Q: Is the American withdrawal a victory for the Syrian state and the Syrian Arab Army?
A: The American withdrawal has been the fatal blow for the SDF and a victory for the Syrian Army.