Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front) sent on Tuesday a military convoy and dozens of its militants to the countryside of Manbij, northern Syria, disguised as members of Arab tribes.
A military source within the opposition told North Press that the HTS sent a military convoy consisting of about 20 4WD vehicles carrying more than 80 militants.
The source added that most of the militants hail from the governorates of Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa. The HTS sent them to the countryside of Manbij under the pretense of being members of tribes heading to Deir ez-Zor to fight the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The HTS’ reinforcements came in tandem with clashes between the SDF and gunmen in Deir ez-Zor, and attacks by Turkish-backed armed opposition factions, aka the Syrian National Army (SNA), since Sep. 1.
Earlier on Wednesday, Manbij Military Council (MMC), affiliated with the SDF, said their forces detected a positioning of the HTS in villages in the countryside of Manbij, northern Syria, after expelling their original citizens.
According to the source, the objective of sending its militants to this area is not to support the tribes but rather to reinforce its forces within the Ahrar Olan, a faction affiliated to the HTS, in the eastern countryside of Aleppo that run routes for smuggling and importing diesel to the region.
On Sept. 2, the HTS sent 75 militants of the group’s “Red Bands” faction to Manbij to back the tribes in the armed conflict against the SDF in the countryside of Deir ez-Zor.
Since the beginning of September, the northern and western countryside of Manbij have been attacked by the SNA, following the clashes that erupted between the SDF and gunmen affiliated with Syrian government forces and Iranian-backed militias in Deir ez-Zor Governorate, eastern Syria.
On Aug. 27, the SDF launched a military operation called “Security Reinforcement” with the support of the US-led Global Coalition on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, specifically in Deir ez-Zor, “to eradicate ISIS sleeper cells, pursue criminals responsible for perpetrating injustices against the local population, and to track down smugglers who exploit the populace’s livelihoods.”
On Aug. 30, the SDF announced the dismissal of commander of Deir ez-Zor Military Council, Ahmad al-Khabil, known as Abu Khawla, from duty, for his involvement “in multiple crimes and violations, including communication and coordination with external entities hostile to the revolution, committing criminal offenses and engaging in drug trafficking, mismanaging of the security situation, his negative role in increasing the activities of ISIS cells,” according to the SDF.
The operation led to the eruption of clashes between the SDF and gunmen affiliated with the dismissed leaders and with Nawaf al-Bashir, leader of al-Baggara tribe and a pro-Iranian figure whose groups are active in the western bank of the Euphrates which is under the control of the Syrian government forces and Iranian-backed militias.
The city of Manbij, east of Aleppo, is one of the most important industrial centers in northern Syria, as it is a transportation hub and sits on a commercial road linking the Autonomous Administration held areas with those of the Syrian government, in addition to opposition-held areas in northern Syria.
The SDF supported by the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS liberated Manbij from ISIS in 2016 following fierce battles.
Following its liberation from ISIS, the Arabs, Kurds, Circassians and Turkmen, who constitute the fabric of Manbij, established their own administration under the name of Democratic Civil Administration of Manbij and its Countryside to run the affairs of their region. Then, this administration joined the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).