Syrian rebels participate in the Turkish offensive in Afrin for revenge - Washington Post

Louisa Loveluck and Zakaria Zakaria of the Washington Post interviewed Syrian rebels taking part in Turkey’s cross border offensive in Syria’s Kurdish-controlled city of Afrin, which began on Jan. 20. Initial reports claimed that around 25,000 Free Syrian Army rebels had joined the military operation against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia which according to Turkey is linked to the PKK. 

“That is about revenge”, rebel Waleed al-Mahal said. Mahal said he had encouraged his relatives to apply Turkish recruitment offices and he was also expecting to join the offensive with the hopes of taking his land back.

Loveluck and Zakaria noted that most of the Syrians joining the offensive originally fought against the Syrian army after 2011. Kurdish forces also joined the fight in the north of Syria and established an autonomous region. The YPG took control of much of this territory by securing U.S. support in exchange for filling the security void created by the Islamic State (ISIS). This in turn has created territorial disputes between Syrian rebels and Kurdish forces, while both parties have accused each other of war crimes. 

There are claims that Kurdish forces razed a number of Arab villages and committed abuses in Hasakah while fighting against ISIS. In 2014, Human Rights Watch published a report on abuses in Kurdish run enclaves in Syria. The report accused Kurdish authorities running three enclaves in Northern Syria of arbitrary arrests, violations of due process, and a failure to address unsolved killings and disappearances. 

“They killed dozens of members of our extended family, bulldozed our homes and joked that they would plant potatoes there,” Mahal said.

The Washington Post report also underlines how those Syrian fighters expect Turkey’s support in the future to take back Hasakah, while Turkey has yet given “few indications that they are eyeing territory that far east”.

Syrian rebels also refuse the suggestions that they have given up their initial goal of toppling Assad by participating in Turkey’s offensive. One of the Syrian rebels, Osman Akkari pointed out that Turkey and the Syrian rebels “have mutual goals in this period” and as a result “they have to shift priorities now”. Another anonymous rebel on the other hand, the offensive will progress towards “Afrin, Manbij, Raqqa, Qamishli, Damascus”.

There are also claims that Syrian forces are committing crimes against civilians during the Afrin offensive. On February 28, Amnesty International reported that  “Turkish military, and to a lesser extent Kurdish forces, are carrying out indiscriminate attacks in the embattled Syrian towns of Afrin and Azaz respectively in northern Aleppo, killing scores of civilians, according to eyewitness testimonies obtained and verified by Amnesty International”.