Turkey tries to restructure and centralize SNA factions, uses HTS as stick: Reports
Ankara is engaged in efforts to overhaul and reorganize armed factions of the Syrian National Army (SNA) that operate under Turkish military command in Syria, and a meeting with the leaders of fractions was held by Turkish military officers in early November in the southeastern city of Antep to announce the new rules, recent reports by Turkish government media said.
According to daily Turkiye, Turkish officers told the faction leaders in the meeting that separate local organizations under individual leaderships were no more to be allowed and that these have to be restructured as a regular army.
The meeting was confirmed by independent journalist and Middle East expert Fehim Tastekin who said in Al Monitor that "Turkey is apparently using Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the jihadi outfit controlling the northwestern province of Idlib, as a stick in its efforts to push the factions to form a joint military command and a joint administrative structure."
Noting that HTS marched into the Turkish occupied Syrian city of Afrin in October, supported by SNA factions Hamza Division and the Suleyman Shah Division, and ousted another SNA component Third Legion, Tastekin said:
"HTS reached a deal with the Third Legion on October 14, reportedly imposing terms on unifying military commands and civil administrations. Turkey reportedly gave HTS until October 21 to retreat to Idlib. Some claim HTS continues to keep some of its forces in Afrin under camouflage."
"The factions cautioned that they are not without alternatives"
"The [Antep] meeting was rather short and saw Turkish officials raining orders on the SNA commanders, according to several media reports," Tastekin continued.
"The factions were told to unite under a joint command and shut separate operation rooms, cede all urban checkpoints to a joint security apparatus, hand over control of crossings - a source of lucrative revenues- to a financial committee and create a joint fund, and close down the prisons they operate. A warning was issued that fresh internal conflicts could result in dissolving the groups involved."
"The factions were cautioned that they are not without alternatives if they fail to comply. Many saw this as a message that Turkey might let HTS assume military and administrative control in the Aleppo countryside."
He cited Syrian opposition sources who told Lebanon's Al-Akhbar that "the factions were given till the year's end to complete the steps."
Any Turkish pledge to punish factions collaborating with HTS were denied by the sources.
Tastekin also said that Turkish officials met before the Antep meeting with HTS representatives in the town of Atmeh, near the Turkish border in Idlib.
"Since then, HTS leader Mohammed al-Golani has given no sign of backing down from his ambitions to expand his grip in the Aleppo countryside," he added.