Syrian rebels become tool of Ankara’s foreign policy - analysis

The Turkish government has turned the almost nine-year-old rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into a tool of its foreign policy by sending thousands of Syrian opposition fighters to support its allies in Libya, the Jersualem Post’s Seth J. Frantzman wrote on Wednesday.

Turkey has supported Syrian rebel groups since the early days of the uprising against Assad, supplying them with essentials and military equipment and allowing them to pass through and recuperate on Turkish territory.

Their relationship became formalised over the years as rebel groups acted as auxiliaries to the Turkish Armed Forces in three cross-border operations in northern Syria and then assisted in governing the territories Turkey captured.

As their collaboration grew closer, Turkey brought rebel groups together as the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army, later rebranding the rebels as the Syrian National Army. They were trained, armed and supplied by the Turkish military and brought together to show off their cohesion in a ceremony before each operation.

Turkey saw how these forces could be used as shock troops in its fight against Kurdish forces far away from the battle against Assad, and realised that they could also be lured to the fight in foreign countries, Frantzman said. This would also draw fighters away from Syria, where they may become disillusioned by Ankara’s close cooperation with Russia, one of Assad’s main backers, he said.

The military cooperation deal signed with Libya in November provided an ideal opportunity for Turkey to use its Syrian auxiliaries abroad for the first time, the analyst said. The deal accompanied a maritime boundaries agreement that greatly strengthens Turkey’s bid for hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord has been fending off an onslaught by the eastern-based Libyan National Army since last year with Turkey’s help, and while the November agreement allows for the deployment of Turkish troops, Ankara is unwilling to risk its soldiers on the front lines.

Instead, the Syrian rebels have begun to deploy in large numbers, promised a reported $2,000 per month salary that dwarfs what they receive in Syria, Frantzman said. The Guardian reported this week that more than 650 rebels were already deployed in Libya, and that as many as 1,350 more were preparing to make the journey there.