A rebel tribal group financed by Amman has emerged in southern Syria as the groups seeks to roll back ISIS’ threat to the region.
Dubai based Al-Aan TV published a report on Monday profiling the Collective of Free Southern Tribesmen, a newly re-named rebel conglomeration that is fighting ISIS in southern Syria’s Al-Lajat Plain.
The Collective on September 4 publicly announced that it was beginning an offensive against ISIS in Al-Lajat, which is located on the northeastern edge of the Daraa province near the Druze-populated Suweida region.
Originally called The Free Men of the South, 80% of the group’s fighters are from tribes in Suweida, Daraa, Quneitra and southern rural Damascus, according to the group’s spokesperson Mohammad Adnan.
Adnan told Al-Aan that the group now has 3,000 fighters, is made up of Syrian Army defectors, and is commanded inside Syrian by Captain Hussam al-Karahisha.
“The Collective’s fighters are deployed in southern Syria and they are fully prepared to wage and direct the fiercest of battles against both the regime and ISIS.”
Coordinating with Jordan
The tribal group has publicly touted its ties with Jordan, with spokesperson Mohammad Adan going into details on the link.
“The Collective of Free Southern Tribesmen is coordinating with neighboring states, especially Jordan, to confront ISIS… in southern Syria, and to make war upon it and uproot it from the areas where it is present,” he told Al-Aan.
“The Collective is funded by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and businessman Sheikh Rakkan al-Khudeir.”
“The Collective’s fighters are deployed in the Al-Lajat area and along the eastern Syrian-Jordanian border,” he also said.
“The Collective of Free Southern Tribesmen coordinates and communicates with Free Syrian Army factions; it participates with them in joint operations rooms during battles.”
Jordan in March announced that it was preparing to train tribesmen and Syrian rebels to battle ISIS and has since made a number of overtures to tribal groups in southern Syria.
On June 19, representatives of a number of tribal leaders in Syria officially rejected Jordan’s offer for support, however only a week later other tribal leaders voiced their acceptance of King Abdullah’s offer to arm and train tribal leaders.
British daily The Independent reported on July 8 that a group of tribal chiefs in Syria had formed a new “Coalition of Syrian Tribes and Clans” that held secret meetings with the General John Allen, the US point-man for the international coalition’s campaign against ISIS.
Ongoing battle with ISIS
“The battle to uproot ISIS from the Al-Lajat area to the northeast of Daraa Province is ongoing,” the spokesperson for the Collective of Free Southern Tribesmen said in his Monday interview.
Al-Aan cited an official statement from the collective as saying that clashes are currently centered on the village Housh Hamad, where ISIS has a strong presence.
“The village’s surroundings have been cleansed but the ruggedness of area [coupled with] the group’s possession of modern weaponry and [the fact that] it is supported by regime warplanes has made the task difficult.”
“ISIS members are being pursued on foot without vehicles and with light to mid-range weaponry only.”
The battle is important because it opens the road to the regime’s Khalkhala Airbase as well as the road to the Syrian Desert and Deir Ezzor, Al-Aan added.