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.


Israel to improve coordination with Moscow over Syria after plane crash

Updated 20 September 2018
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Israel to improve coordination with Moscow over Syria after plane crash

  • Fifteen Russian crew were killed when the IL-20 surveillance plane crashed near Latakia in northern Syria on Monday
  • Russia has said Syria shot the plane down shortly after Israeli jets hit the area

JERUSALEM: Israel said on Thursday it would not halt strikes on Syria but would do more to "deconflict" them with Russian forces, after Moscow accused it of "irresponsible and unfriendly actions" that led to Syrian ground fire mistakenly downing a Russian plane.
Fifteen Russian crew were killed when the IL-20 surveillance plane crashed near Latakia in northern Syria on Monday. Russia has said Syria shot the plane down shortly after Israeli jets hit the area, and accused Israel of creating the dangerous conditions by failing to give sufficient advance notice.
Although Russian President Vladimir Putin initially described the downing as "tragic chance", Moscow has made its anger clear.
"Moscow views as irresponsible and unfriendly actions of Israeli Air Force, which exposed Russian Il-20 aircraft to danger and led to death of 15 servicemen," the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv said on Twitter in English, adding that Russia would "take all necessary measures to eliminate threat to life and security of our military fighting against terrorism".

Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that Israel must provide Moscow with more information about the downing of the military aircraft near the Syrian coast, the Interfax news agency reported.

Israel has struck Syria scores of times during its seven-year civil war to prevent what it says are transfers of weapons to Hezbollah fighters and other Iranian allies. Russia has largely overlooked the sorties, which the Israelis say pose no direct threat to Moscow's ally, President Bashar Al-Assad.
Israel dispatched its air force chief to brief Moscow about the incident on Thursday. Expressing regret at the loss of life, Israel denied wrongdoing and blamed what it called wanton Syrian anti-aircraft fire after its jets had withdrawn back over the border.
Speaking to Army Radio, Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman made clear that Israel would not halt attacks in Syria.
"We will do whatever is necessary to safeguard the security of Israel's citizens ... and we will not hold these discussions over the airwaves," he said.
But when pressed during the interview, Lieberman avoided asserting Israeli "freedom of action" over Syria, a term he has used in the past.
Naftali Bennett, another member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet, said "deconfliction mechanisms" would be improved, referring to a Russian-Israeli hotline designed to avoid inadvertent clashes with forces Moscow sent to Syria as part of a military intervention mounted in 2015.
"We will of course strengthen these mechanisms. We will do everything so as not to harm anyone we do not intend to, God forbid," Bennett told Army Radio in a separate interview.
Ron Ben-Yishai, a veteran Israeli military commentator, predicted a more patient air force approach in future strikes.
"It is possible that, next time, they will say, 'Okay let's wait until the (Russian) plane goes back to its base, and then we will carry out the attack,'" Ben-Yishai told Ynet TV.
Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas, who like their patron Iran have been helping Assad militarily in Syria, said Israeli strikes there would not prevent them getting advanced weaponry.
"No matter what you do to cut the route, the matter is over and the resistance possesses precision and non-precision rockets and weapons capabilities," Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech.