25,000 Syrian rebels back Turkish force in Syria, says FSA commander

Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army fighters are seen at a training camp in Azaz, Syria January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army fighters are seen at a training camp in Azaz, Syria January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Around 25,000 Free Syrian Army rebels are joining the Turkish military operation in northern Syria with the goal of recapturing Arab towns and villages seized by the YPG Kurdish militia almost two years ago, a rebel commander said on Sunday.

Major Yasser Abdul Rahim, who is also the commander of Failaq al Sham, a main FSA rebel group in the operations room of the campaign, said the rebels did not seek to enter the mainly Kurdish city of Afrin but encircle it and expel the YPG.

“We have no interest in entering the city only the military targets inside the city and the villages around it. We aim to encircle the city and ensure the militias are evicted. We won’t fight in the city as we have no problem with civilians,” he said.

A main goal of the military operation was to recapture Tel Rifaat, a town southeast of Afrin, and a string of Arab villages the YPG captured from rebels in February 2016, driving out tens of thousands of inhabitants, Abdul Rahim said.

“The task of the Free Syrian Army is first to regain sixteen Arab towns and villages occupied by the foreign militias (YPG) with the help of the Russian air force,” Abdul Rahim told Reuters in a phone interview from inside Syria.

The fighting forced at least 150,000 residents of these villages to flee to Azaz. They are sheltering in camps at the Turkish border and rebels say they have not been allowed to go back to their homes.

The mainly Arab rebels accuse the Syrian Kurdish militia of forcibly displacing Arabs from the villages in what they say is a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing. The YPG denies these allegations.

Tel Rifaat and nearby areas including the Menigh air base fell to the YPG as the rebels were trying to fend off a major assault by Syrian government forces backed by the Russian air force and Iranian-backed militias.

It was a prelude to the rebels’ defeat in eastern Aleppo – their biggest single setback of the civil war.

Turkish troops have targeted these YPG-held Arab villages in artillery and aerial attacks on the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia it aims to sweep from its border, rebels said.

The rebels taking part in the assault are mainly the same factions that took part in the Turkey-backed operation launched in 2016 to drive Islamic State from the border and to prevent further expansion of YPG influence.

  • Danny Farah

    Turkey this is Syria why are you there if you don’t have an eye on capturing that land and keeping it? Erdogan is using the runaway syrians to fight the kurds. nice!

  • Niemals

    Next we will be hearing accusations that NATO invaded Syria….

  • Niemals

    Putin’s own propaganda machine – the so called ‘CrossTalk’ is trying to protect Erdogan relationship with Russia.
    U.S. is ‘Obstructing Syria’, Erdogan do it too, however not according to this show; https://www.rt.com/shows/crosstalk/416379-isis-syria-us-military/

    They are asking “What justification exists for the US to maintain military forces there?”
    The should ask ‘What justification exists for Turkey (A NATO member) to invade Syria with the Russian support?”

  • Niemals

    Hundreds of “Leopard 2” tanks have been delivered to Turkey as a NATO land by Germany.

    Now suspicions are mounting that they would be used in the Turkish Syria offensive.
    I don’t like when Berlin is silent – avoiding any criticism of the anti-Kurdish mission.

    The NATO partner Turkey has been buying German “Leopard” tanks from the German armaments company KMW and Rheinmetall since the 1980s.
    So far, 751 pieces have been delivered to Turkey, almost half of them are of the much more modern type “Leopard 2 A4”, which were delivered between 2006 and 2011.

    It is alarming fact that Turkey has more battle tanks than the Bundeswehr.

    Already in the fight against the terrorist organization “Islamic State” in Syria, Turkey had used “Leopard 2” tank that was aimed as a protection of the NATO member states. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7d7fc882ded36a2631cecbbb1fb0c11ed1619f677fc234d6732c8ff9851d0b3f.jpg … and this is how the battle tank “Leopard 2 A7 +” by KMW looks like.

    Regarding the upgrade of Turkish Leopard tanks, Sigmar Gabriel told the ARD TV about two weeks ago that the German government was checking for an arming of German tanks in the Turkish armed forces, which Ankara wanted, with mine protection.
    “The point is that there were Turkish tanks in the fight against the terrorist organization IS, and quite a number of people who went on mines that killed a number of Turkish soldiers.”
    He sees “no right reasoning” why one should deny the NATO partner Turkey such an upgrade.
    The Federal Government has granted permits for arms exports to Turkey only restrictively since the crisis with the Ankara government. (dpa)

    700 000 civilians remain in Afrin
    Turkey’s offensive represents yet another frontline in the already hard-hitting Syria.
    This weekend, a total of 18 civilians were killed, according to the British-based Syrian Human Rights Observatory (SOHR).

    When the UN Security Council meets, the situation in Afrin is as well as in the opposition opposition parties Idlib and Eastern Ghouta on the agenda.

  • Hind Abyad

    This is FSA not rebels just terrorists. Killing an injected pilot is a war crime.https://twitter.com/walid970721/status/959974128030769152