SYRIA/UNITED STATES: When the U.S. military targeted Islamic State commander Maher al-Agal with a drone strike in northern Syria in July, there was little chance that they would miss their shot.
With Islamic State’s last battle-hardened forces holed up in secretive niches and caverns in remote areas, the United States is now appealing to the aid of local tribesmen to avenge the atrocities unleashed by the group when it ruled over vast swathes of Syria and Iraq.
Sheitaat tribesmen situated in Syria were greatly distressed and severely angered by the atrocious killings carried out in their clan by members of the militant group, which is also known as Daesh.
Still thirsty for revenge even after eight years, these tribesmen have been unable to quell their thirst and consequently, had planted a tracking device on the motorbike Agal was riding when he was killed, one of his trackers said.
The tribesman, whose account was confirmed by a Western intelligence officer in the region, said tribal relatives in contact with the Islamic State commander’s immediate family had secretly been keeping tabs on him for months in northern Syria.
“I exacted revenge in blood for those of my tribe whom Daesh crucified, executed and beheaded without mercy,” the person, who declined to be identified for security reasons, told Reuters by phone from Syria. “It has healed the burning in our hearts.”
In one of its bloodiest terror acts, the Islamic State has the blood of more than 900 members of the Sheitaat tribe in three towns in Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zor region in 2014 when they rebelled against jihadist extremism.
The Islamic State, which is a militant extremist group, is merely a part of a larger group that ruled over a third of Syria and Iraq in a Caliphate declared in 2014. The IS is a haven for hundreds of fighters who are still camped in desolate areas which lie beyond the full control of both the U.S. led coalition and the Russia, Iran-backed Syrian army.
As a result of the historical trajectory of a brutal relationship with the IS, the Arab tribesmen in Syria are seeking alternative measures to track these murderous hoodlums and destroy them for good.
In the picture now emerges the U.S, which has constructed a growing network of these tribal spies to gather intel and input on the group’s whereabouts and agenda, according to three Western intelligence sources and sic tribal sources.
“These networks of informants are working with the Americans who are planting them everywhere,” said Yasser al Kassab, a tribal chief from the town of Gharanij in the Deir al-Zor area.
“Informants from the same tribe are tipping off about their cousins in Islamic State,” he said.
While many of these informants receive monetary compensation in exchange for human intelligence, many informants are driven by revenge for past atrocities committed by the group at the height of its power, according to sources familiar with intelligence operations.
The U.S.-financed tribal networks have penetrated Islamic State sleeper cells and compiled data on recruits, who include fellow tribesmen in some cases, five tribal sources said. The three Western intelligence officers and a regional security official corroborated their accounts.
Many of the spies come from the Sheitaat tribe, an offshoot of Syria’s biggest tribe, the Akaidat, who fought with U.S.-backed forces to drive the Islamic State from swathes of northeast Syria, taking the city of Raqqa after a long battle in 2017.
“They want revenge so they resort to cooperating with their relatives to leak information and give locations of leaders of IS. They use the tribal links,” said Samer al Ahmad, an expert on jihadist groups who comes from the region.
The U.S. military, stationed in Syria has about 900 troops in the north-eastern part, said that Agal was one of Daesh’s top five leaders and had been responsible for planning and executing many of the IS networks outside Iraq and Syria.
When asked about the role of local tribesmen in Syria, a U.S. military official said that in the premeditated operation against Agal, the targeting was almost entirely based on human intelligence.
“This is something that required a deep network in the region,” said the official, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak publicly about the matter.
In the past few years, with many of the prime IS leaders and foreign commanders either targeted, injured or killed, Syrians have become increasingly significant in its leadership, making the militants more vulnerable to penetration by fellow Syrians keen to settle scores, Western and regional intelligence sources and three senior tribal figures said.