In its offensive launched on January 20 against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, Turkey has deployed more than 25,000 Syrian rebel fighters who have been equipped and trained by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powerful military.
The offensive, code-named Operation Olive Branch, aims at dislodging the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the Kurdish enclave of Afrin. On March 18, Turkish military and allied jihadist rebels took control of Afrin’s city center. Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an insurgent group that has been fighting for greater Kurdish autonomy in Turkey’s southeast. Backed by the United States, the YPG has been instrumental in the U.S.-led war on terror in Syria since 2014.
Nine days after the start of the operation, the pro-Turkish government website, Suriye Gundemi, published an infographic showing the Syrian rebel groups involved in the Afrin offensive. The website says that three divisions are part of the National Army that is under the command of the Syrian interim government, an anti-Syrian regime body based in Turkey.
This so-called army consists mainly of Islamist militants who were part of the most radical Islamic factions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) at some point during the Syrian conflict, and was formed only two weeks prior to the Afrin operation. Most of these fighters fled to Turkey after they were defeated in battles across Syria, including in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Idlib and Hama. While in Turkey, they were recruited by Turkish intelligence agencies to be part of forces invading the Kurdish-held Afrin.