Syria: Jihadist group still governs Afrin in security posts, checkpoints

Syria: Jihadist group still governs Afrin in security posts, checkpoints
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Militants from Hayat Tahrir al Sham, an al-Qaeda affiliate, are fully present in the city disguised as Turkish-backed rebels, sources said

Despite official reports which say islamic militants from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) withdrew from Syria’s northwestern town of Afrin, the jihadist group still governs in the city disguised as Turkish-backed rebels, Rudaw reported

Senior Turkish officials earlier said that al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate had largely withdrawn from Afrin, almost two weeks after seizing the Turkish-controlled city and its surroundings, according to Middle East Eye. 

HTS, designated a terrorist group by Turkey and Nato allies, had pulled most of its forces from the Syrian Kurdish-majority Afrin, according to a senior Turkish security source.

“They will soon be completely out as they have already left with the bulk of their fighters,” the source said.

But sources from the city told Rudaw that HTS members were fully present at security posts and road checkpoints, and all work was carried out by their orders.

“In order to hide its presence in Afrin, HTS pretends to be the armed forces of the military police or “Delegation Sairun”, a component of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA),” sources said. 

Earlier this month, HTS, which controls most of northwestern Idlib province, brought convoys of militants into Afrin and the surrounding countryside, where battles between the group and the Syrian National Army's (SNA) Third Legion were among the deadliest in years.

The situation, which had worried Turkey's western allies, including the United States, simmered down over the weekend as the Turkish military deployed armored vehicles in the area.

Turkish sources said they may use the incident to finally reorganize the Syrian National Army, which is ridden with constant infighting and criminal incidents.

Formed out of 28 Free Syrian Army groups, the SNA gradually became an umbrella organization composed of 41 different military groups, that receives Ankara's support and has fought alongside the Turkish Armed Forces in Turkey's operations in Syria.