Cash, hatred for the Kurds drives Turkey’s Syrian fighters

BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian fighters vowed to kill “pigs” and “infidels,” paraded their Kurdish captives in entrance of cameras and, in a single graphic video, fired a number of rounds into a person mendacity on the facet of a freeway together with his fingers sure behind his again.

They’re a part of the self-styled Syrian Nationwide Military, the shock troops in Turkey’s offensive towards U.S.-allied Kurdish forces who have been deserted final week after President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of American troops from northern Syria.

The Syrian fighters, skilled and funded by Turkey, current themselves as heirs to the rebellion towards Syrian President Bashar Assad. However whereas they embrace some Islamic extremists and previous members of some Syrian insurgent factions, many are Arab and Turkmen fighters from northern and japanese Syria who’ve an ax to grind towards the Kurds and a popularity for violence and looting.

“The primary downside with these forces is their criminality,” stated Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow on the U.S.-based International Coverage Analysis Institute who has interviewed dozens of the fighters and stated they look like pushed by a need for energy and cash somewhat than by any particular ideology.

“Hatred of Kurds, a way of Arab chauvinism, full intolerance for any dissent, and only a need to make a revenue is what’s driving a lot of the abuses,” she stated.

Since Turkey started funding the power in 2016, its fighters have but to battle Assad’s troops.

As a substitute, they’ve principally fought in Turkey’s cross-border offensives towards the Islamic State group and the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia that had partnered with the US and battled IS extremists with far higher success.

Within the newest offensive, the Turkish-led Syrian forces have pushed deep into northeastern Syria, an ethnically and religiously combined area, elevating fears of ethnic battle and human rights abuses. A number of the factions allied with Turkey have been accused of banditry, and others embrace hard-line Islamic militants of their ranks.

Turkey views the Kurdish militia that varieties the core of the SDF as a terrorist group due to its hyperlinks to Kurdish fighters who’ve waged a decades-long insurgency inside Turkey. After threatening for months to invade northeastern Syria and carve out a “secure zone” alongside the border, Turkey launched an offensive final week after Trump cleared the best way for it by shifting U.S. troops out of the best way.

Because the state of affairs on the bottom descends into chaos and Syrian authorities troops transfer north to lend assist to their former foes, the Kurds, Turkey’s Syrian fighters are pouring throughout the border from Turkey, posting movies by which they threaten Kurdish “pigs” and “atheists.”

Backed by Turkish airstrikes and artillery, the fighters have offered the majority of the bottom forces and brought probably the most casualties. A minimum of 16 Syrian fighters have been killed in comparison with 4 Turkish troopers for the reason that operation started final week.

Over the weekend they captured a significant freeway that runs throughout northern Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based struggle monitor, stated the Turkey-backed fighters shot and killed six civilians alongside the street, together with Hevreen Khalaf, a girl who led a Kurdish political occasion.

A U.S. navy official, talking on situation of anonymity to debate operational particulars, stated “extremist Turkish proxies” had superior alongside the freeway, establishing checkpoints the place they posed as Kurdish fighters and killed civilians.

In a collection of tweets, one of many Turkey-backed teams, generally known as Ahrar al-Sharqiya, posted photos of two supposed Kurdish fighters it stated it had captured. One other video posted on-line confirmed the Syrian fighters screaming “God is biggest!” as they fired a number of rounds right into a sure prisoner who resembled one of many captured males within the earlier video.

A spokesman for Ahrar al-Sharqiya, Al-Harith Rabah, stated his power had arrange a checkpoint on the freeway and fired at those that refused to cease. He stated the person killed within the video was a Kurdish fighter in civilian garments who had fought till he ran out of ammunition. He stated the Turkey-backed power is investigating the capturing and had summoned the gunmen for questioning.

“We offered proof they have been armed males,” Rabah advised The Related Press. “Anybody on the battlefield, when there may be resistance, one is obligated to react and cope with those that resist.”

Turkish officers didn’t reply to a request for touch upon the Syrian forces, a few of whom are heard utilizing spiritual language in a few of the movies, even borrowing slogans from the IS group.

A minimum of a few of the factions embrace Islamic extremists. The Rojava Info Middle, an activist collective within the Kurdish-held areas, has recognized at the least 40 former IS militants among the many Turkey-backed fighters. Tsurkov stated one faction is made up of fighters from Idlib, a stronghold for an al-Qaida-linked group, who’re “much less vulnerable to criminality and simply straight-up extremists.”

That bodes unwell for northeastern Syria, dwelling to a patchwork of Kurdish, Christian and different minority communities which have already suffered all through the rise of IS and the devastating struggle that dismantled its self-styled caliphate.

The U.N. stated greater than 130,000 individuals have fled for the reason that Turkish operation started. As Syrian Kurdish forces fall again, there are fears that those that stay will find yourself just like the residents of Afrin, a Kurdish enclave in northwestern Syria seized by Turkey and its Syrian allies early final 12 months.

Rights teams say the Turkish-backed fighters looted and destroyed the property of Kurdish civilians in Afrin. Final month, a U.N. fee stated the general safety state of affairs in and round Afrin “remained dire ” as armed teams carved out their very own fiefdoms. The Rojava Info Middle stated some factions have imposed a strict type of Islamic regulation.

“There’s a common absence of rule of regulation and repeated incidents of kidnappings, torture, extortion and assassination,” the U.N. fee stated, including that victims have been “typically of Kurdish origin in addition to civilians perceived as being affluent, together with docs, businessmen and retailers.”

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Krauss reported from Jerusalem.

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