Dozens of personnel of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (NSA) are participating in the ongoing battle against Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in the opposition-held part of northern Syria, a pro-opposition military source told the Syrian news outlet, Enab Baladi, on January 4.
According to the source, the militants acquired an official approval from the NSA leadership before heading to fight HTS. Most of the militants are from the al-Sham Brigade, the al-Mu’tasim Brigade, Jaysh al-Sharqiyah, Ahrar al-Sharqiyah, the al-Shamiya Front, the Samarkand Brigade and the Sultan Suleiman Shah Brigade.
“The participation of the NSA personnel is taking place in the western Aleppo countryside mainly, on the side of the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement against HTS,” Enab Baladi quoted the source as saying.
These Turkish-backed groups, and many others, formed the NSA in late 2017 after pressure from Turkey. The NSA is mainly deployed in the Turkish-occupied areas of the northern Aleppo countryside. However, some of the groups, like the al-Sham Brigade, maintained a presence in the governorate of Idlib, the stronghold of HTS.
Two days ago, the National Front for Liberation (HTS), also backed by Turkey, joined the battle against HTS on the hopes of stopping its advance in western Aleppo. However, the group has failed to recapture any area so far.
Syrian opposition activists confirmed Enab Baladi’s claims and released a video showing HTS fighters launching a US-made TOW anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) at a vehicle of the Sultan Suleiman Shah Brigade during the clashes in western Aleppo on January 4.
كمين محكم تحرير الشام يقتل مجموعة كاملة من الزنكي ويدمر آلية على محور قرية بازيهر
HTS ATGM ambushes a whole group of Zenki on a technical near the village of abaZihar pic.twitter.com/iVKjnuFUv1
— QalQal (@Alqalqal) January 4, 2019
The limited participation of the NSA indicates that Turkey, which is massing militants in northern Aleppo to face Kurdish forces, is not willing to go into a military confrontation against HTS. The radical group will likely take advantage of this attitude and expand its operations inside and around Idlib.