KIZILTEPE-MARDIN — In October 2015, Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen and Christian military factions came together to form the Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria. In their first offensive against the Islamic State (IS), launched Nov. 16, they took control of the town of al-Hawl, south of Hasaka province, after having taken Baret Khatounieh, in Hasaka’s countryside, on Nov. 12. They now have their sights set in part on the city of al-Shaddadi, considered to be IS’ most important stronghold in the province, where the extremist group's forces receive military training. The objective of the battles raging south of Hasaka is to dislodge IS from the province and cut its supply route to Deir ez-Zor on one side and the al-Shaddadi-Iraq road on the other.
The forces' original factions consisted of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, Kurdish Women’s Protection Units, the Army of Revolutionaries, the Al-Sanadid Forces, Brigade Groups of al-Jazira, the Euphrates Volcano [joint] operations room, and the Syriac Military Council. Unlike the majority of military factions in the country, the Syrian Democratic Forces have more of a political character and view themselves as secular forces striving for democracy. They were assembled with US support as part of an overall plan to train opposition fighters. When Col. Patrick Ryder, the spokesman for US Central Command in the Middle East, announced Oct. 2 that weapons were airdropped to combatants in northeastern Syria to counter IS in the region, he was referring to these forces. Mere hours after the Syrian Democratic Forces’ formation, Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith said that an operation was underway to back Syrians who would be fighting IS.