Turkish forces turn on Syrian rebel allies in Afrin

by Meghan Bodette    


Clashes between Turkish forces and Free Syrian Army militias affiliated with Operation Olive Branch are taking place in occupied Afrin City, with casualties reported on both sides

On Saturday evening, the Turkish military declared a curfew in Afrin. Hours later, fighting began, as Turkey targeted Shuheida al-Sharqiya, a small group operating in Afrin that was both ideologically and practically close to Ahrar al-Sharqiya.  

The fighting took place in the city centre, with photographs showing dead bodies lying in the streets around the former Newroz Roundabout. 

The Syrian National Army, a group organized and armed by Turkey, issued a statement claiming that the clashes were intended to eliminate "outlaw gangs." Turkish pro-government media announced that the curfew had been instituted in order to target "looters" and "robbers." However, local sources with knowledge of the matter claim that it was intended to eliminate militias that had not fallen in line with Turkish policy. Neither Shuheida al-Sharqiya nor Ahrar al-Sharqiya had operated under Turkish control, nor had they followed orders and rules implemented by the Turkish army. 

Sultan Murad and the Hamza Divison— both also responsible for significant human rights abuses, including looting— have sided with the Turkish army. Other militias remain neutral at this time. 

As of this morning, at least 45 FSA militants have been killed, mostly members of Ahrar al-Sharqiya and Sultan Murad. The casualties also include at least 7 Turkish soldiers. Whether any civilians have been injured or killed in the fighting— much of which has taken place in residential neighborhoods— is not yet clear. 

Infighting amongst various occupying militias in Afrin is common, with disputes over stolen property, arrests of militia members or supporters, and other disagreements often leading to violence and destabilization.