WASHINGTON, DC — The Free Syrian Army (FSA), a group opposed to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, is not participating in an imminent Turkey-backed offensive against U.S.-allied Kurds in northern Syria’s Afrin region, a representative from the rebel organization told Breitbart News.
The spokesman’s statement contradicts Kurdish and Turkish media reports surfacing on Friday.
Breitbart News spoke to Osama Abu Zayd, an FSA spokesman, at an event Friday sponsored by the New America think tank. Referring to the Turkish offensive to invade Afrin, Zayd, who also serves a representative of various opposition groups during ongoing negotiations to end the Syrian conflict, told Breitbart News, “Actually, we have no options or tools to stop it, unfortunately,” adding:
Until now, there’s no FSA army participating in the Afrin operation, but as I mentioned, unfortunately, we have this battle. We’ve been trying a lot to reach some cooperation with them [Syrian Kurds]. There’s no need to have the Afrin operation. We’re not happy about the Afrin offensive—more people will be displaced. New civilians will be killed because of this operation. We’re not happy because we had the chance to solve this kind of problem, but unfortunately the Russians came to this territory [northern Syria]. … They’re [Kurds] playing a very dangerous game getting support from the Russians.
The spokesman conceded that the FSA “respects Turkey as a partner in our fight, but we have our independence, we have our rights. So now they’re going to start the Afrin operation. I’m sad for the citizens of Afrin because they are my people.”
In recent days, Turkey vowed to take action against the Syrian Kurds despite their alliance with the United States.
Various news reports have noted that Assad’s ally Russia has aligned itself with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Arab alliance.
The YPG, which is the armed unit of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) that controls swathes of northern Syria, leads the predominantly Kurdish SDF troops. YPG militiamen and Assad forces have mostly avoided confrontation.
Friday’s discussion hosted by New America took place as Turkish and Kurdish news agencies reported that the Ankara-backed FSA had deployed fighters on Thursday night to the Azaz area in northern Syria in preparation for an offensive against neighboring Afrin.
Turkey has long considered the YPG to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a group that has been designated a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington.
The United States has continued to support the YPG in their fight against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) despite Turkey repeatedly voicing concerns over the group’s alleged ties to the terrorist PKK.
America’s assistance to the YPG has strained relations between NATO allies U.S. and Turkey, driving Ankara closer to Moscow.
Notwithstanding Ankara’s support for rebels fighting against the Moscow-backed Assad regime, Turkey and Russia have been working together to end the Syrian conflict allegedly.
Although the FSA has received American financial assistance, the group has fought against the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds as Turkey’s ally, prompting a falling out between the rebels and the United States.
However, during the New America discussion, the FSA spokesman said the opposition group supports the Trump administration’s recently unveiled Syria policy, noting that he was going to meet members of Congress as well as officials from the Pentagon and U.S. State Department on Friday the discuss the future of the war-ravaged nation.
He declined to explicitly say whether he was going to engage in talks with White House officials.
The FSA spokesman did say the rebel group backs the Trump administration’s Syria policy unveiled by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this week, saying it is a “good start.”
Trump’s policy signals an open-ended U.S. military presence in Syria as part of a broader plan to prevent ISIS’ resurgence.
The Trump policy also sets the foundation for the eventual removal of the FSA’s primary enemy, Assad.
Zayd stressed that the FSA was prepared to counter Iran’s growing influence in Syria, vowing to fight the Tehran-funded militias if necessary. The Trump administration’s strategy involves combating the Iranian presence in Syria.