In the recent months, the Syrian regime has taken advantage of several developments in the northeast of the country to increase the incitement against the U.S. forces in Syria and encourage popular resistance against them.The region in question is under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), comprising mostly Kurdish troops and supported by the U.S.-led international coalition for fighting ISIS.
One significant development was a contract signed in late July 2020 by the SDF with an American oil company, Delta Crescent Energy LLC, to develop and export crude oil in northeastern Syria, which is the part of the country richest in oil and natural gas. This contract, reportedly signed with the knowledge and encouragement of the U.S., intensified tensions between the SDF and the local Arab tribes, and exacerbated the latter's sense of discrimination, since the is sector is managed mostly by Kurds and the revenues are not distributed equally. Tensions soared even further following a series of assassinations of Arab tribal leaders in the Deir Al-Zor area, which is controlled by the Kurds but has an Arab majority.
Against the backdrop of these events, the Syrian regime organized protests and rallies by Arab tribes loyal to it, calling for popular resistance against the U.S. forces and the SDF. Concurrently, there were reports of clashes between regime forces and U.S. forces in a village in the Al-Hasakah governorate in northeastern Syria, and of rockets fired at U.S. bases by unknown elements. Moreover, reports of attacks on the SDF have become routine; many of these attacks have been claimed by a group called "Popular Resistance in the Eastern Region - Eastern Euphrates," although the credibility of its announcements is highly questionable.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has frequently referred to the possibility of popular resistance against the U.S. forces in Syria. He recently told a Russian news agency that, if the U.S. forces do not withdraw, popular resistance against them will be a natural response. In the past he stressed that such resistance would cause the Americans significant losses and that his regime would provide it with every support.
U.S. troops in northeastern Syria (Source: Syriahr.com, July 29, 2020)
This report reviews the calls for popular resistance against the U.S. forces in Syria and the recent attacks that have been carried out against them, as well as against the SDF.
Assad: If The Americans Don't Withdraw There Will Be Popular Resistance Against Them
In an interview with a Russian news agency, Assad said, in response to a question about ending the military presence of the U.S. and Turkey in Syria: "This is occupation, and in this situation we must do two things: first, remove their pretext for continuing this occupation, namely the [presence of] the terrorists, in this case ISIS. Most of the world already knows today that ISIS was created by the Americans. They support it and give it missions, and it is like any [other] U.S. force. This pretext must be removed, and that is why eliminating the terrorists in Syria is the first priority for us. Then, if the Americans and Turks [still] do not leave, the natural option will be to wage popular resistance. That is the only means, for negotiations will not cause them to leave, nor will international law, which does not exist [for them]. Therefore there is no means except popular resistance, which is what happened in Iraq. What caused the Americans to leave [Iraq] in 2007? Only the popular resistance there."
Assad made similar remarks to a Chinese channel on December 16, 2019: "If they [the Americans] remain, the events that happened in Iraq will happen [in Syria as well]. The U.S. presence in Syria will trigger military resistance that will surely inflict losses on the Americans, and they will leave..." In a November 15, 2020 interview with Russian news agencies he repeated this claim, and added: "Let us remind [the Americans what happened] in Iraq and Afghanistan. Syria is no exception in this context."
In other interviews Assad referred to the support his regime would extend to the popular resistance against the U.S. In a March 5, 2020 interview on Russia24 he said that "it is the state’s national and constitutional duty to support any action against any occupying power," and in an October 31, 2019 interview on Syrian television he said that "the natural role of the state…is to prepare the ground and provide all necessary backing to the popular resistance against the occupier."
Tribal Leaders: The U.S. Presence In Syria Will Not Last Long
Capitalizing on the feelings of rage towards the SDF and the international coalition among the Arab tribes in northeastern Syria, the Syrian regime hurried to encourage popular resistance against the U.S. On August 9, 2020, a forum of the Akidat Tribe in Deir Al-Zor, with the implicit support of the regime, declared "the launching of popular resistance against the [American] occupier, his servants and his mercenaries, who will [from now on] be considered a legitimate target for the resistance." The forum also decided on the establishment of the "Akidat Army" to liberate all of the Syrian territories in coordination with the regime's armed forces. According to the Lebanese Al-Akhbar daily, which supports the Syrian regime, the regime's support for this resistance means that it will necessarily supply these tribe members with weapons.
The Sada Al-Sharqieh Facebook page, which opposes the Assad regime, reported on August 12 that representatives of the Akidat tribe had held a meeting in Deir Al-Zor with Iranian figures and commanders of Iran-backed militias, in which the Iranians expressed their willingness to support the people of northeastern Syria in expelling the SDF from the area and bringing it back under the regime's control." However, Syrian opposition websites clarify that the overwhelming majority of the Akidat tribe, including its top leadership, do not support the regime, and therefore the tribal meetings reported by the regime's media are meaningless. The tribe's general leader, Ibrahim Al-Hafl, said that the tribe's primary mode of operation vis-à-vis the SDF and the international coalition is holding non-violent protests. Moreover, no operations by the "Akidat Army" have been reported so far.
At the same time, other pro-regime tribal elements in northeastern Syria have expressed support for popular resistance against the U.S. forces. The head of the pro-regime Council of Tribal Leaders and Dignitaries, Sheikh Mizar Al-Musalat, said at an anti-U.S. protest in the city of Al-Hasakah on August 18: "We say today to the American occupier: Your presence on this soil will not last long and you will be defeated, sooner or later." The leader of the Baggara Al-Jabal tribe, 'Abd Al-Wahhab Al-'Issa, said to the Americans: "Your presence on this soil will not continue, for it is sacred [soil] and it will be purged by the heroes of the Arab Syrian army and the popular resistance."  The leader of the Al-Bulil-Shammar tribe in Deir Al-Zor, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Shammari, said on the margins of a conference of pro-regime tribes in Aleppo on August 20: "We all agree on popular resistance to expel the occupation that has looted the valuable resources of this homeland… and we are determined [to carry out] a tribal uprising in the eastern region and to defend the land and our honor…" The Mukhtar of the Amirat tribe in Al-Raqqa, Hassan Al-Ghamaz, said that the Syrian tribes were "committed to the uprising against the American and Turkish occupiers, [aimed at] liberating the land at any cost."
Rocket Attacks On U.S. Bases; Daily Attacks On SDF
The escalation of the threats against the U.S. forces and the SDF was accompanied by reports on attacks against them. On August 6, 2020, the Iranian Al-Alam channel reported that unknown elements had fired a rocket at a U.S. base in the town of Al-Shaddadi in southern Al-Hasakah. The oppositionist website Euphrates Post claimed that the attack had caused a fire in the base, but an oppositionist Facebook page, Euphrates Eye, claimed that the explosions heard at the base were the result of military exercises held there.
On August 17, a source in the regime army reported an incident at a checkpoint in Tal Al-Dhahab, in the Al-Hasakah area. According to the source, U.S. troops had fired on the forces manning the checkpoint after the latter denied them passage, and, half an hour later, two U.S. helicopters fired on the checkpoint, killing a Syrian soldier and wounding two. The international coalition said in response that the patrol had been given safe passage but had nevertheless been fired on by "individuals in the vicinity of the checkpoint." They added that the troops had returned fire in self-defense but that no airstrike had occurred.
The checkpoint near Al-Hasakah in the wake of clashes between Syrian and U.S. forces (Source: Rudaw.net, August 17, 2020)
The next day, on August 18, it was reported that rockets fired by unknown elements had fallen in the Conoco gas field near a U.S. base east of Deir Al-Zor. The spokesman of the international coalition, Myles Caggins, said that three small rockets had fallen near the base but had caused no casualties or damage. Prior to this incident it was reported that Syrian regime forces and their allies had fired indiscriminately at SDF positions near the U.S. base in the Conoco field area.
Furthermore, in the recent weeks the regime's news agencies have been reporting almost daily on attacks against the SDF by unknown elements. On September 22, for example, they reported that five SDF troops had been killed in several attacks in the Deir Al-Zor and Al-Hasakah areas. On September 24 it was reported that three SDF troops had been killed in attacks in the Deir Al-Zor and Al-Raqqah areas, and reports on September 28 claimed that six SDF troops had been killed in the areas of Al-Raqqah, Al-Hasakah and Deir Al-Zor.
Pro-Regime Group Threatens U.S., Reports Attacks Against Its Forces
Against the backdrop of these events, on August 11 a Facebook page called "Popular Resistance in the Eastern Region - Eastern Euphrates" declared the establishment of an eponymous resistance group that will undertake "armed action and ceaseless jihad" against the U.S. forces, the SDF and their supporters until northeastern Syria returns to the control of the Syrian regime. As part of its frequent threats against the U.S., on September 21 this page posted a low-quality video showing the launch of a rocket at the U.S. base in Al-Tanf on the border between Syria, Iraq and Jordan. The video threatens that Syria will become a graveyard for the Americans if they do not withdraw.
The page, which many believe is operated by the Syrian regime, has posted claims of responsibility for several attacks on the SDF forces, although the authenticity of these claims is questionable. On several occasions it has also reported on attacks against U.S. forces. For example, on August 23 it claimed that the group had attacked a U.S. convoy in an unnamed location, destroying two vehicles and killing their passengers. On October 3 it claimed that a sniper had killed a U.S. soldier named John Henry in the vicinity of the town of Rmelan in the Al-Hasakah governorate. However, these attacks were not reported in any other media and seem to have been invented for propaganda purposes.
 On popular resistance to the presence of U.S. forces in Syria, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 8803 - Syrian Media Threatens Escalation Of Resistance Against U.S. Forces In Country: America’s Policy "Will Not Cause People To Take To The Streets; It Will Cause The Missiles To Emerge From The Depots" – June 17, 2020; Inquiry & Analysis No. 1504 - Assad Regime Encourages Attacks On U.S. Forces In Northern Syria: They Can Choose To Leave On Their Own Feet, Or In Coffins – March 11, 2020; Special Dispatch No. 7451 - Syrian Threats Against The U.S. Presence In Syria Continue: U.S. Troops, Bases Are In Our Sights And Will Pay A Heavy Price – May 2, 2018; Special Dispatch No. 7402 - Syrian Regime: We Will Expel U.S. Forces From Syria By Means Of Popular Resistance – March 28, 2018.
 Al-Monitor.com, July 30, 2020.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 8, 2020.
 The most prominent of these incidents was the August 2, 2020 attack on two leaders of the Akidat Tribe, Sheikh Mutashar al-Hafl and Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Hafl, in which the former was killed and the latter wounded. Locals held the SDF and the international coalition responsible for the lack of security in the area. Facebook.com/all4syria.org, August 5, 2020; Syriahr.com, August 4, 2020.
 Sana.sy, October 8, 2020.
 Sana.sy, December 16, 2019.
 Sana.sy, November 15, 2019.
 Sana.sy, October 31, 2019.
 Sana.sy, August 9, 2020.
 Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), August 10, 2020.
 Facebook.com/SadaAlSharqie, August 12, 2020.
 Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), August 12, 2020.
 Arabic.sputniknews.com, September 10, 2020.
 Sana.sy, August 18, 2020.
 Al-Watan (Syria), August 20, 2020.
 Alalamtv.net, August 6, 2020.
 Facebook.com/EuphratsPost, August 5, 2020.
 Facebook.com/euphratesey, August 5, 2020.
 Sana.sy, August 17, 2020.
 Twitter.com/OIRSpox, August 17, 2020.
 Sana.sy, August 18, 2020.
 Arabic.rt.com, August 18, 2020.
 Syriahr.com, August 18, 2020.
 Sana.sy, September 22, 2020.
 Sana.sy, September 24, 2020.
 Sana.sy, September 28, 2020.
 Facebook.com/592452021426268, August 11, 2020.
 Facebook.com/592452021426268, September 21, 2020.
 Facebook.com/592452021426268, August 23, 2020.
 Facebook.com/592452021426268, October 3, 2020.
 For more on this group, see MEMRI JTTM report, Pro-Syrian Regime Group Releases Video Threatening U.S. Base In Al-Tanf; Urges Popular Resistance To U.S. Presence In Syria, September 25, 2020.