Turkey is reportedly expected to enhance financial and medical support to factions in one of its top allies, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), as the rebel group continues to participate in Ankara’s offensive against U.S.-allied Kurds in northern Syria.
FSA sources told Al-Monitor about the concrete steps Ankara is thought to be taking to improve the welfare of FSA militiamen’s families. The sources said wives and children of FSA fighters killed in [the anti-Kurdish] Operation Olive Branch, or the mothers and fathers of unmarried fighters, will be given the right to acquire Turkish citizenship.
Families of the deceased are to be provided about $7,500 in assistance. Those wounded in battle, regardless of their marital status, will be entitled to citizenship plus $3,750 in cash assistance.
Jihadists, who have infiltrated the rebel groups fighting on behalf of Turkey in Syria and are taking advantage of the situation to slaughter Christians and Yazidis, may benefit from Ankara’s offer.
Reports of looting, abductions and human rights violations, especially after the capture of [formerly Kurdish-held] Afrin [in northern Syria], received worldwide attention and was much discussed on Turkish social media.
Referring to opposition media in Turkey, Al-Monitor adds, “They view the FSA issue from a secularist perspective, assuming the relationship of the Turkish government and Erdogan with the FSA is rooted in their religious, sectarian positions.”
Ankara’s move to provide medical and death benefits to its FSA allies is intended “to strengthen” the anti-Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad fighters “by boosting morale,” claims Al-Monitor, noting that more than 900 opposition group members have paid the ultimate price on behalf of Turkey.
Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) terrorists and members of the U.S.-backed Arab-Kurd alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) reportedly killed estimated 614 Turkey-linked FSA militants during the Operation Euphrates Shield that took place from August 2016 to March 2017.
Forces from the U.S.-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), who lead and make up the majority of the SDF, reportedly killed another 302 FSA militants while defending Afrin from Turkey’ Operation Olive Branch, launched on January 20.
Thousands of FSA fighters have also suffered injuries.
The news outlet acknowledges that there is are “Salafi-jihadi elements” within the FSA.
Nevertheless, Al-Monitor reports that FSA fighters are demanding “benefits similar to Turkish fighters killed or wounded in action.”
Currently, FSA fighters receive medical care and a salary of an estimated $130 per month, members of the rebel group told reporters, adding “that making arrangements for long-term care of those wounded and for the survivors of those killed would contribute to lifting morale and survival,” notes the news agency.
Al-Monitor is widely considered a pro-Iran news outlet. Iran and Turkey are on opposing sides of the Syrian civil war. While Iran supports dictator Assad, Turkey backs opposition forces. Although the United States is Turkey’s NATO partner and has provided assistance to Free Syrian Army rebels, it finds itself on the opposing side of potential clashes in northern Syria’s Manbij region.
In Manbij, the United States and its Kurdish allies are facing Turkey and Syrian opposition-aligned groups like the FSA.
Gen. Joseph Votel, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, and other Pentagon officials said this week that the United States is engaged in discussions with its ally Turkey to defuse the tensions in the region.
On January 20, Ankara launched an offensive to clear northern Syria of the YPG with the help of the YPG, arguing that Kurdish group is a terrorist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) affiliate.
“We have to do something for the relatives of FSA casualties,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared on March 21, hinting that the government would lend assistance to wounded FSA members and their relatives.
“We can make some decisions to support them,” he added.