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

Fighters from the Free Syrian Army pose for a photo near the town of Qabasin, northeast of Al-Bab, some 30 km from Aleppo. (AFP)
Updated 03 January 2018
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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.


Trump: Turkey making ‘terrible mistake’

Turkish government officials did not comment on Trump’s remarks when they spoke after prayers to mark the start of the festival. (AFP)
Updated 22 August 2018
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Trump: Turkey making ‘terrible mistake’

  • Turkey has demanded that the US hand over Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who lives in the US and who Ankara says orchestrated a failed coup attempt
  • A Turkish court last week rejected Brunson’s appeal for release, drawing a stiff rebuke from Trump

ISTANBUL: The lira weakened against the dollar on Tuesday after US President Donald Trump said he would give Turkey no concessions in return for the release of a detained American pastor, the latest salvo in a worsening rift between the NATO allies.
In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Trump criticized Ankara over the detention of the evangelical Christian pastor, Andrew Brunson, and said he was not concerned that his tough stance against Turkey could end up hurting European and emerging market economies.
Brunson, who is originally from North Carolina and has lived in Turkey for two decades, has been detained for 21 months on terrorism charges, which he denies. The pastor has become an unwitting flashpoint for the diplomatic tension, which has accelerated the crisis in the lira.
Trump said that, after he helped persuade Israel to free a detained Turkish citizen, he thought Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan would then release Brunson.
“I think they’re making a terrible mistake. There will be no concessions,” Trump said.
The lira weakened to 6.0925 against the US currency by 1111 GMT, from a close of 6.0865 on Monday, when Turkish markets began a holiday to mark the Muslim Eid Al-Adha festival that continues for the rest of this week.
Trade was thinner than usual and probably mainly offshore, with local markets closed for the holiday. The currency has lost 40 percent of its value against the dollar this year. However, selling on Tuesday was limited due to a broadly weaker dollar.
Turkish government officials did not comment on Trump’s remarks when they spoke after prayers to mark the start of the festival.
Devlet Bahceli, leader of a nationalist party allied with Erdogan’s AK Party, told reporters: “We have no business with those who love Brunson more than us.”

Prayers and gifts
Erdogan, who had been expected to speak to reporters after morning prayers, made no public statement.
He has repeatedly cast the currency crisis as an attack on Turkey but has stopped short of singling out any one country.
He prayed on Tuesday morning at a mosque near the tourist resort of Marmaris on the south coast and then handed out gifts to local children, the Milliyet newspaper reported.
He also spoke by phone to soldiers stationed near the border with Iraq, sending them greetings for Eid Al-Adha.
“I believe that as long as you stand tall our flag will not fall, our call to prayer will not fall silent and this homeland of ours will not be divided,” the Hurriyet newspaper reported him as saying.
On Monday, he appealed to Turks’ religious and patriotic feelings ahead of the holiday, promising they would not be brought “to their knees” by the economic crisis.
Turkey has demanded that the US hand over Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who lives in the US and who Ankara says orchestrated a failed coup attempt, but Washington has balked at this.
A Turkish court last week rejected Brunson’s appeal for release, drawing a stiff rebuke from Trump. The US president — who counts evangelical Christians among his core supporters — has said he would double previously announced tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports.
On Monday Turkey initiated a dispute complaint with the World Trade Organization over the tariffs.
Separately, ratings agency Fitch said on Tuesday that tight liquidity amplified risks for Turkish companies.
Another ratings agency, DBRS, said European banks with Turkey exposure face a manageable capital impact.
Underlining the increased diplomatic tensions between Turkey and the US, the US Embassy in Ankara came under gunfire on Monday. Nobody was injured and Turkish authorities later detained two men over the incident.