When the Turkish army entered Jarabulus, I talked to my friends who were there. Actually, Isis didn’t leave Jarabulus; they just shaved off their beards”,”  ISIS militant ‘Faraj’ (September, 2016)


The short lived free Free Syrian Army (FSA), originally founded (29 July 2011) during the early days of the Syrian Civil War by officers of the Syrian Armed Forces who’s goal was to bring down the government of Bashar al-Assad ( quickly fell apart within a year of its organisation, embraced by a multitude of Islamic jihadist groups… So much so, that, early in 2017, Washington ended its financial and logistical support for the group fearing that its military hardware could fall into the hands of extremist Islamist groups in northern Syria.


Now in one of its new incarnations the not-so-free FSA, also called TFSA (the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army) spearheaded Turkey’s obscenely-named Operation Olive Branch launched at 14:00 GMT on January 20, 2018 into the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava. An estimated 10,000 (more than one source put that figure at 25,000) SFA fighters led the quickly-stalled invasion despite massive Turkish artillery and warplane bombardments of the region around Afrin city.  The result:  “It’s going to be a tough battle, maybe five or six months,” one FSA Commander quickly admitted. “[But] we have nobody except Turkey.”



This corruption of a Syrian opposition group into a tool of Turkey’s ‘foreign policy’ (currently being labeled “donkeys” on Afrin Support Group tweets) was described by Haytham Manna – (Manna, a Syrian writer who helped create and became spokesperson for the Arab Commission for Human Rights as well as spokesperson of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), one of the two main opposition groups in Syria active in the uprising that became the civil war. He now lives in Paris) – writing in the Guardian in June 2012:


Haytham Manna

“The first negative result of the use of arms was to undermine the broad popular support necessary to transform the uprising into a democratic revolution. It made the integration of competing demands – rural v urban, secular v Islamist, old opposition v revolutionary youth – much more difficult. The resort to arms gave birth to fragmented groups that have no political programme.


Turkey trained army dissidents on its territory, and a group of them announced the birth of the Free Syrian Army under the supervision of Turkish military intelligence. Most militants inside Syria now carry a “Free Army” logo, but beyond a name there is no coordination or organised political harmony.”



Sheri Laizer, a Middle East specialist and commentator on the Kurdish issue, writing for Ekurd:

“Back in 2012, just a year into the Syrian conflict, the original officers that had quit the Syrian Army to form the FSA had also quit the increasingly radical group. Turkey had backed it from the outset but it now operates as a parallel Turkish force composed of Turkmen and Sunni Arabs and bolstered by foreign recruits. Sub-groups call themselves names like the Sultan Othman Militia and a Turkmeni brigade, the Sultan Murad (Sultan Murat Tümeni) Division – further evidence that they – like their backer in chief – embrace a revived Pan-Turanian Ottoman vision that includes the vision of a Sunni Caliphate under the auspices of Neo-Ottomanism. The Sultan Murad Division has been accused of gross human rights abuses including rape, torture and the deliberate targeting of civilians – particularly those of Kurdish origin.” (


The complexity of FSA membership, including the confusing number of groups that comprise it, their backers, goals and allegiances was recently demonstrated by an interview ANF carried out with FSA members under the Jaysh Al Thuwar (“Army of Revolutionaries”) umbrella, who “say they are the true FSA and they have come together for the Syrian revolution, while those who attack Afrin are ISIS, Hayat Tahrir Al Sham (formerly Al Nusra), who Erdoğan calls ‘national and local'”.


“Jaysh Al Thuwar Commander Mihemed Zaza from Idlib’s Nahsen district stated that he joined the Syrian revolution and fought ISIS in Idlib in 2013…Zaza said Turkey had attempted to make them fight in Kobanê and Girê Spî before: “Turkey wanted to make us fight against Kurds. They formed the group called the Euphrates Shield. We were there at first, but we left when the Nusra people arrived. The top level Nusra members in Idlib are all in Turkey now. They all say they are FSA, but that is not true. We are all Syrians. The people fighting there now are not FSA, they are mostly ISIS and Al Nusra members. The FSA doesn’t discriminate between peoples and faiths. We are there and we fight for all of Syria. Turkey tried to use all of us according to their interests. They trained groups for them. Turkey turned ISIS and Al Nusra into the FSA.” (


“Operation Euphrates Shield”


2016 saw Turkey, long concerned at its existence on the margins of the region’s geopolitical struggles and concerned at the gains made by its one living ‘nightmare’ – the Kurdish independent groups – launch Operation Euphrates Shield with its first official incursion into Northern Syria. Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan made it clear that the aim of “Operation Euphrates Shield” was as much about stopping the Kurdish YPG from seizing more territory along the border and filling the void left by ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, “as it is about eliminating the hardline group itself.” ( Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik said preventing the Syrian Kurdish PYD party – the political arm of the YPG – from uniting Kurdish cantons east of Jarablus with those further west was a priority:

“The PYD’s biggest dream is to unify the western and eastern cantons. We cannot let this happen,” he said.


Rudaw Media Network (the Iraqi Kurdish news agency) :

“Turkey preferred to deploy the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) remnants against Syrian Kurds. It first did so in places like Jarablus and al Bab, invading in August 2016 in order to prevent the Syrian Kurdish canton of Afrin from being linked up with Kobane and Jazira.” (


David Romano, a Rudaw columnist as well as the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University:

“A large chunk of Turkey’s FSA mercenaries appear to be jihadis themselves, including at least one infamous Chechen commander.”


Others, including survivors of the ‘original’ FSA seem to agree: “(Jaysh Al Thuwar Commander Mihemed) Zaza (from Idlib) also called on Syrians attacking Afrin under the name FSA and reminded them that Jindires, Reco, Bilbile, Shiye and Sherawa are still Syria. Zaza said: “Don’t fight the Kurds, they are our friends. They want us to fight each other. When we first set out, we were to take down the Baath regime that was oppressing the people, not to attack and kill the oppressed Kurdish people, everybody should see this.” (


Other analysts also continue to question the integrity of Turkey’s claims to be striking out at ISIS and its jihadist supporters, rather than covertly resourcing them, with its own interests in mind of course, in a variety of ways:

“The fact that not much combat took place between Turkey or Turkish-backed Syrian rebels against ISIL in Jarabulus and the closeness in Islamist political ideology between ISIL and some of the rebel groups involved, has led to much local and international speculation about collusion between Turkey and ISIL in the operation, including allegations of ISIL fighters changing uniform.” (


In Patrick Cockburn’s September 9 2016 interview published in The Independent, an ISIS/ISIL/Daesh fighter claimed that “when the Turkish army entered Jarabulus, I talked to my friends who were there. Actually, Isis didn’t leave Jarabulus; they just shaved off their beards.”


Patrick Cockburn:

“Speaking of the Turkish military intervention in Syria which began on 24 August, Faraj helps explain a mysterious development which took place at the time. As Turkish tanks and anti-Isis rebel Syrian units moved into the border town of Jarabulus on the Euphrates River, Isis appeared to know they were coming and made no attempt to resist them. This was in sharp contrast to the ferocious resistance put up by Isis fighters to defend the Isis-held town of Manbij a little further south from attack by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) whose fighting muscle comes from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Isis may have lost as many as 1,000 dead in ground fighting and US bombardment from the air.

It was reported at the time that Isis fighters had fallen back from Jarabulus towards their other stronghold in the area at al-Bab, but Faraj has another explanation. He says: ‘When the Turkish army entered Jarabulus, I talked to my friends who were there. Actually, Isis didn’t leave Jarabulus; they just shaved off their beards.'”


Cockburn concludes: “He has compelling claims about the degree of complicity between Isis and Turkey a year earlier relating to the defence of Tal Abyad, another Isis-held crossing point between Turkey and Syria which was a particularly important supply route for Isis because it is 60 miles north of the Isis Syrian capital Raqqa….In the summer of 2015, the YPG forces advancing from east and west with strong US air support caught Tal Abyad in a pincer movement, which made it difficult for Isis to defend the town. Faraj was part of a 150-strong Isis force resisting the YPG attack. “Turkey supported Isis a lot,” he recalls. “When I was in Tal Abyad in May, 2015, we received a lot of weapons and ammunition without any obstacles from the border guards.” This has long been an accusation by the Kurds, but this may be the first time that allegations of Turkish complicity with Isis during a battle has been confirmed by an Isis fighter taking part in it.”


Turkey has consistently denied any complicity with or support for ISIS/ISIL/Daesh as well as supplying weapons to the Jihadi groups, but these, and other reports of the links shared should raised eyebrows at Turkey’s raison d’etre for its bloody invasion into the relatively peaceful Syrian canton of Rojava: to root out Kurdish and ISIS “terrorists”.


Patrick Cockburn continues:

“There have been repeated Isis attacks in Turkey, including one on Istanbul International Airport that left 42 dead and culminating in a suicide bombing of Kurdish wedding in Gaziantep on 20 August that killed 54, of whom 21 were children. But, despite Mr Erdoğan’s anti-Isis rhetoric, the restrained reaction by Isis to the Turk invasion, of which it is the nominal target, suggests that the understanding between Isis and Turkey, so blatant in the past, may not be entirely dead. ”



Likewise, from the Firat News interview quoted above:

“Another regional commander of the FSA in the Idlib region is Beşar Ehmed Zeytar…:

‘They say the FSA is fighting the SDF forces. That is completely untrue. They are all gang groups. We know most of them. They are from Africa, from Yemen, Sina, Uzbekistan and Tacikistan to fight for the ‘FSA’. The true FSA is here. Here with the people of Syria. There are no FSA members there. The true FSA is here. Turkey is trying to create a divide between the peoples and us. They want to make Idlib and Afrin fight. Nobody should fall for this. We will void their policies.’” (


By 2016, even the Americans were recognising the fait accompli of the FSA – (what Al-Monitor called “this loose coalition of mainly Sunni Arab rebel forces” ( – not being so free after all:


US Special Operation Forces veteran and author Jack Murphy writes:

“Distinguishing between the FSA and al-Nusra is impossible, because they are virtually the same organization. As early as 2013, FSA commanders were defecting with their entire units to join al-Nusra. There, they still retain the FSA monicker, but it is merely for show, to give the appearance of secularism so they can maintain access to weaponry provided by the CIA and Saudi intelligence services. The reality is that the FSA is little more than a cover for the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra.” (


Similarly: “Turkey sponsors groups like Ahrar al-Sham (the CIA has tracked al-Qaeda members from the federally administered tribal areas in Pakistan joining them), and the Turkish Special Forces train them and then send them across the border into Syria using the Jarabulus corridor. When the jihadis come through, the Turkish military transmits the code word “lights out” to tell the border guards to let their proxy force through. When al-Sham attacked the Kurdish YPG in Afrin, the Kurds counterattacked, killing a large number of the jihadis. In a move uncharacteristic to the YPG, they paraded the bodies of their dead enemies around on the back of a flatbed truck.”


Now it is 2018 and almost a month into the violent Turkish incursion into the Afrin Region, one of the three regions of the “de facto autonomous” Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, most commonly known as Rojava – “In an interview with Reuters earlier this week, FSA commander Yasser Abdul Rahim said a 25,000-strong rebel force was taking part in Olive Branch. He said the “leading goal” of the FSA was to capture Tal Rifaat, a town southeast of Afrin, and a string of Arab villages the YPG wrested from rebels in February 2016. ( –  while the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Forces (YPG and YPJ) “appear ready and able to fight for every inch of the land they defended from both ISIS and the Assad regime. YPG/YPJ forces also appear to have more battle experience and determination than the Syrian Arab-Turkmen cannon fodder Ankara is throwing at them.”



Writing in the French daily Le Figaro on the 9th February, Gérard Chaliand, the author of The Kurdish Question at the time of Daesh (Seuil, 2015):


“Face à l’intervention turque et de ses alliés syriens, les Kurdes du canton d’Afrine qui résistent depuis plus de trois semaines, n’ont d’autre perspective que de vendre chèrement leur peau. En effet les forces russes, après négociations avec la Turquie, ont quitté l’enclave et les États Unis ne se sont pas opposés à l’offensive turque. Les forces alliées syriennes de la Turquie ne sont, pour l’essentiel, rien d’autre que des djihadistes, soit de «l’État Islamique», soit d’autres organisations aux idéologies similaires. Ces alliés sont qualifiés d’«Armée Syrienne Libre», – une entité plus ou moins fantôme aujourd’hui – et l’intervention militaire turque s’appelle «rameau d’olivier». On a beau être une dictature, les apparences sont respectées avec une pointe d’humour noir.”


“Faced with the Turkish intervention and its Syrian allies, the Kurds of the canton of Afrin who resist for more than three weeks, have no other prospect than to sell their skin dearly. Indeed, the Russian forces, after negotiations with Turkey, left the enclave and the United States did not oppose the Turkish offensive.


Turkey’s Syrian allied forces are essentially nothing more than jihadists, either the “Islamic State” or other organizations with similar ideologies. These allies are referred to as the “Free Syrian Army” – a more or less ghostly entity today – and the Turkish military intervention is called “olive branch”. We can be a dictatorship, appearances are respected with a touch of black humor.”



David Romano writes:

“The “Free Syrian Army”, which are now just mercenaries for Turkey, lose no matter what – they now die for Turkey’s interests, and those interests no longer relate to Assad. Which is probably just as well, since many of these fighters would ethnically cleanse Afrin and other areas without a second thought. The non-Islamists amongst them would probably have a better chance for the future if they switched sides and joined the defenders of Afrin, in which case they would at least be with their fellow countrymen.”



Finally Patrick Cockburn in his September 9 telephone interview – (“Former Isis fighter tells The Independent that Turkey is using the name of the now defunct, Western-backed Free Syrian Army to conceal its use of jihadi mercenaries”) – with Faraj, the 32 year old ISIS militant, an Arab from the mixed Kurdish-Arab province of Hasakah in north-east Syria :

“Most of those who are fighting in Afrin against the YPG [People’s Protection Units] are Isis, though Turkey has trained them to change their assault tactics,” said Faraj, a former Isis fighter from north-east Syria who remains in close touch with the jihadi movement…Turkey at the beginning of its operation tried to delude people by saying that it is fighting Isis, but actually they are training Isis members and sending them to Afrin.”



ANF News, likewise:

“Turkey’s allies in Afrin has a long history of human rights violations and massacres in Syria. One of the groups fighting alongside the Turkish army, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, is famous for beheading people…Controlled and financed by Turkey, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, made the headline when the group members proudly filmed themselves beheading a 10-year-old Palestinian boy in Aleppo’s Handarat refugee camp. The group claimed that the kid was spying for Assad forces who were advancing towards Aleppo at the time. The group is now openly a part of al-Qaeda dominated Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and Turkey plans to use them attacking Afrin from the south. (


Allegations of Atrocity and War Crimes against Turkey’s ‘rebels’

Reports in the Kurdish media as well as more widely, including on social media, continue to circulate offering evidence of atrocities committed by the Turkish backed mercenaries.

“Critics say the FSA, derided by the YPG as “gangs” and “mercenaries” and riven by internal divisions, has yet to prove its real worth on the battleground. Some of its more radical Islamist elements are overtly hostile to the United States and have engaged in atrocities.”



“The FSA groups in operation “Olive Branch” also made themselves famous by their massacres and tortures. The gang members posted a video online which shows mutilation of a fallen female fighter’s body…Gang members are also seen beating a blindfolded Kurdish man who they captured in the north of Afrin canton.”(


Just recently this video taken by a member of the FSA (fighting alongside the Turkish military) of the body of Barin Kobani (a Kurdish Women’s Protection Units fighter) being mutilated has been widely distributed causing outrage internationally:

“That’s our revenge against the pigs of the PKK,” one of the FSA fighters can be heard saying in the footage…referring to the Kurdish Workers’ Party, as he takes a selfie next to Kobani’s body. She is half-naked, her arms and breasts cut off and she has been gutted, her internal organs exposed to the camera.

The People’s Protection Units (YPG) have confirmed Kobani was killed earlier this month in violent confrontations with the Free Syria Army and the Turkish Army in the village of Qurna. Three of her companions also perished in the clashes, BBC Arabic reported.” (


“They want to break the women, they don’t want them to be free,” said Berivan Hesen, the co-president of the Kurdish civil government in Kobani, Syria. “But we’ve been following public opinion, and every woman in the world was hurt by what happened to Barin Kobani.”



…The New York Times continued:

“Although horrifying videos are nothing new in Syria’s seven-year war, in this case the videos were apparently made by a group at least nominally under the command of a NATO country. That the object of abuse was a partly naked woman added to the outrage, with some commentators saying that even the Islamic State would not have behaved as badly.”



At the same time a number of other graphic videos have also appeared on social media (see below) showing Turkish-backed mercenaries mutilating the bodies of dead YPG fighters. Alongside the videos of Barin Kobani another graphic video appeared on Twitter showing Turkish forces kicking and stepping on the body of a dead male YPG fighter.


Watching these recordings you might wonder what species we belong to anymore and whether there is any meaning to the term “human” we use so easily…


These disturbing reports have also coincided with a Human Rights Watch report released recently alleging that Turkish border guards are indiscriminately shooting at civilians trying to flee Afrin “and returning the asylum-seekers”. (


On a more ‘mundane’ level, abandoned villages and towns on the border are also being pillaged. “Backed by Turkey, the FSA is seen pillaging and burning down houses they enter.” (  Stealing chickens and turkeys (when they are not randomly killing farm animals and pigeons) has also resulted in some dark ‘humour’ at the actions of President Erdoğan’s paramilitaries as they try to make their way from Turkish controlled Azaz and (they hope) eventually toward Manbij, with the resistance in village after village in Afrin, currently slowing them down.


Along with chicken thieves Turkish media also reported the presence of Chechen celebrity: “Muslim Şişani, the leader of Jundu Sham group listed as “terrorist” by the US and the UN Security Council, has been reported to have participated in the operation against Afrin along with his group.”



Patrick Cockburn:

“Isis fighters are joining the FSA and Turkish-army invasion force because they are put under pressure by the Turkish authorities. From the point of view of Turkey, the recruitment of former Isis combatants means that it can draw on a large pool of professional and experienced soldiers. Another advantage is that they are not Turks, so if they suffer serious casualties this will do no damage to the Turkish government.


…But the YPG is now facing some of the same Isis fighters in Afrin with whom it fought over the past four years.”



Writing for Rudaw in February 2015, Ayub Nuriin in a lengthy analysis worth reflecting on, has said:

“The FSA is not moderate and it does not claim to be. Most of its leaders and commanders have a strong jihadist tendency and they call their war against Damascus a holy war. FSA units and brigades carry Islamic names. Their black headbands are adorned with Koranic verses. They also launch their attacks and fire rockets to the cry of Allahu Akbar.

Did the world forget that before ISIS came to the scene FSA was the one that committed many horrific crimes? One of their commanders ripped out the heart of a Syrian soldier and ate it in front of a camera. He later told the BBC, “I didn’t bite into it. I just held it for show.”

In 2013 Carla Del Ponte, a UN human rights investigator, said that the FSA and other rebels had used sarin nerve agent against soldiers and civilians. According to Human Rights Watch, in one attack in 2013 Syrian rebels killed 190 unarmed civilians from an Alawite tribe in Latakia.

Apart from their war crimes, many people fallen into ISIS hands were in fact abducted in FSA-controlled areas. Kayla Mueller, the American aid worker who was killed in Raqqa earlier this month, was abducted in Aleppo and some reports say that the FSA sold her to ISIS. Theo Padnos, an American journalist who was abducted in Syria in 2012 and held for almost two years managed to escape twice, but both times the FSA caught him and handed him back to his Nusrah captors.

I believe the only difference between FSA, ISIS and the Nusrah Front is their focus. ISIS wants an Islamic caliphate. The Nusrah Front wants an Islamic state in Syria only and the FSA wants an Islamic regime in Damascus.” (


For the Kurds and other non-Turkish minority groups in the region, the recent record of the Turkish security forces in Northern Kurdistan, just across the border, carries a dark lesson. In towns like Cizre and Diyarbakir the Turkish war machine murdered civilians and PKK militants irrespective of who was who and apparently often does not see nor even want to understand there is a difference. The infamous “Basements of Horror” in Cizre, where 176 civilians were burned to death in 3 buildings by Turkish forces, being an example and despite the world being aware of this unholy siege we are still waiting on judgment from some international tribunal for Human Rights (if not a Court of Simple Human Decency where we may also find hope-for-the-future) in relation to these ‘crimes against humanity’… What are Kurds or Armenians or the other minority ethnic groups to expect now that this machine – composed of both Turkish military and with twice as many mercenaries – is heading farther into Northern Syria while Turkey’s “allies”, with all their documents and tribunals and grandiose statements on human rights watch on, enormously unresponsive?


Not to be unkind and refer to the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1917 where 1.5 million Armenians were mercilessly slaughtered by both Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic, but the question of ethnic-cleansing needs to be asked as a possible outcome of Turkey’s invasion?


Paul Iddon in his article on the 5th February 2018 raised this concern with the question “Is Turkey preparing for an ethnic-cleansing of Syrian Kurds?”, writing: “The very same year Nusra expressed its genocidal intent against the Kurds of Syria. In a fatwa the group even encouraged its militants to rape Kurdish women, not unlike Islamic State (ISIS) infamously did against Yazidi Kurdish women in Sinjar the following year.


‘Kurds are kufar (unbelievers) and killing Kurds, taking their women, plundering their property and destroying of their homes is just and fair,’ read the fatwa text.


Today, as Turkey invades Rojava’s most far-flung and vulnerable territory it’s clear, if [these] precedents are anything to go by, that it’s willing to permit atrocities against the Kurds which could ultimately result in ethnic cleansing.” (


And it is not just the Kurds who fear the outcome of any Turkish conquest in the region. Following the massacre of Yazidi men women and children in the Sinjar area of Iraq:

“We fear that the factors that contributed to the Sinjar massacre would combine and produce a similar atrocity in Afrin,” Şêkh Ali Reşo, a board member of the Central Council of Yazidis in Germany, told VOA.”


Likewise, ISIS “was chased out of Manbij, Aleppo, Raqqa and other areas, but they are still around and this operation might bring” them back, Pir Shammo, a Yazidi religious leader in Afrin, told VOA.”


“Isa Berekat, a local Kurdish Christian in Afrin and a member of Good Shepherd Church, also told VOA that Afrin is full of civilians and that they are under attack.

‘Christians in Afrin condemn these brutal attacks on the city. Many people were displaced. We call on human rights organizations to help us. Afrin needs aid and we pray to our Lord for protection of all innocent people in Afrin,’ Berekat told VOA.


‘Kurds, Muslims, Yazidis and others are living in Afrin, we call all human rights organizations to help us,’ Berekat said.” (


The calls for help – for support and most importantly for a powerful section of the international community to condemn their partner and NATO “ally” Turkey’s illegal and violent assault on an independent people who have offered them no harm nor threat other than that lurking in their own dark and historic imaginations – continue…


Riyad Derar, co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council:

“Who are the terrorists? From northern Syrian soil, not a single bullet was fired towards Turkey. Afrin is the safest area in the region. All the different peoples live together in peace and host about half a million refugees from all over Syria. We are a people of peace and we want to live in peace with our neighbors.” (


…Add to these now the legitimate concerns that this so called (T)FSA irregular army of mercenaries, now being unleashed on the towns and villages of the Afrin Region,  by this member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, can only bring untold sorrow and suffering to a people who desire only peace and the opportunity to rebuild their communities and offer their children a future…


Who will respond?


séamas carraher




Additional Analysis:


Social Media Video of FSA:


Senior people who stayed in their villages in #Afrin are captured and humiliated by jihadists. Here is Ashke Gharbi village of Jindires in Afrin

New video from #Afrin where properties of villagers are looted ‘as spoils’ under religious slogans!

“These are the people ‘liberating’ #Afrin”

Photo of a mutilated body of a YPG fighter being humiliated! The name of the fighter is reportedly Ahmad M. Hanan killed in #Yezidi village of Qastal Jindo of Bilbil, #Afrin”

Barin Kobani

Syria: Kurdish women fighters vow to avenge soldier’s death




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