Syrian subgroups merge to form new National Army under Turkey’s guidance


ANKARA: The National Army, Syria’s largest armed group since the breakout of the civil war in 2011, has reportedly formed under the guidance of Turkey.

About 30 sub-groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have reportedly come together to establish the country’s “National Army.”

The army, founded by the head of Syria’s Interim Government Jawad Abu Hatab, is set to fight against Daesh, the Assad regime and PKK terrorists.

The country’s new 22-000 strong army, or Al-Jaysh Al-Watani in Arabic, includes troops with fighting experience in the provinces of Raqqa, Aleppo, Idlib, Hama, Homs, Hasaka, Deir Ezzor and Latakia. It is expected to potentially play a significant role in an eventual operation by Turkey in the Kurdish-held Syrian canton of Afrin.

Experts note that the aim of establishing this army is to create an alternative, more inclusive opposition fighting force, bringing in all ethnical groups, especially Kurds.

“During his visit to Ankara in December, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed this issue,” Ali Semin, a Middle East expert from Istanbul-based think-tank Bilgesam, told Arab News.

Semin said this is an alternative army project to the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), but will comprise Kurdish groups that oppose the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main component of the SDF.

According to Turkish news reports, three Turkmen brigades will also take part in the Syrian National Army.

The Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army in northwestern Syria is mainly composed of Sunni Arab and Syrian Turkmen rebels, with few Kurdish groups.

The FSA was used by Ankara as an allied proxy force during its Euphrates Shield Operation between August 2016 and March 2017.

“By integrating the troops it has trained, Turkey will have a greater say in this new army,” Semin said, adding that Turkey has close ties with opposition groups in Syria.

“There are many Kurdish tribes in the regions where YPG is active. So there is a need to integrate them into this national army,” Semin added.

But, Semin, who thinks this is a welcome but belated initiative, underlines that Moscow’s priority for giving the green light to this project is that the army does not engage Syrian regime forces.

Mete Sohtaoglu, an Istanbul-based researcher on Middle East politics, said previously Ankara had decided not to support this plan upon Russia’s objections, but now things seem to have changed.

“Apparently now Turkey wants to take a different path and implement its own decision on Syria rather than looking at the Syrian conflict through Russia’s prism,” Sohtaoglu told Arab News.

“This project gathers three army corps. The first army corps are the ones that were trained in Turkey, while the other two are composed of about 30 groups throughout Syria,” he said.

According to Sohtaoglu, Ankara intends to turn the territories under its control into one single entity militarily and politically that will be affiliated with the Syrian transitional government.

“This regular army initiative will be also supported by Turkish aerial and ground forces, which will increase its influence. At the end of the day, they have been fighting in Syria for seven years with their high-capacity weapons, missiles and rockets,” he said.

Sohtaoglu also noted that during the political transition process and the resolution of the “Assad problem,” all armed groups will lay down arms and be put under the auspices of the new regime.

“Then the army will be restructured. But currently Russia doesn’t want to see any military forces against Assad, including the YPG,” he added.

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