Free Syrian Army Relocates From Turkey to ‘Liberated Syria’

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Article Summary
The Free Syrian Army says it is moving its base of operations from Hatay, Turkey, to “liberated Syria.” But as Mohammed Noureddine reports, the move is not so much strategic as it is a reflection of changing pressures from the US, which wants to contain the conflict, and Turkey, which needs to reestablish control of its southeast.      

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) declared that it has moved its leadership from Turkey to Syria, which drew the attention of Turkish domestic circles. Although this announcement may represent the beginning of a new phase in the FSA’s work, it also reflects the following points:

1. This announcement is a confirmation that the FSA leadership, headed by Col. Riad al-Assaad, has actually been in Turkey. Although this had previously not been officially announced, it was well known, since Syrian officers and soldiers who have defected from the Syrian army are staying in Turkey. The FSA website created a furor online when it changed its headquarters address from Antakya to Syria.

2. This announcement discredited statements made by Turkish officials, which claimed that they do not interfere in internal Syrian affairs or support the Syrian opposition.

3. The decision [to move the headquarters] came as a result of pressure by Western and Turkish media reports saying that Turkey has turned into a hotbed of Syrian dissidents and other militants of all nationalities, including members of al-Qaeda and jihadists from various countries. Turkey was embarrassed to be portrayed as a lawless country and a haven for fugitives, gangs and mafias, particularly al-Qaeda militants. Thus, the decision to transfer the FSA leadership to Syria has been made at Turkey’s discretion rather than that of the FSA leadership, which is at the discretion of the Gulf states and Turkey.

4. A scandal broke at Abaydin camp in Hatay (Iskenderun), when members of parliament from the Republican People’s Party were prevented from entering the camp. [Turkish] Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu justified this accident on the grounds that defected Syrian generals were present in the camp, which was a further source of embarrassment to Ankara. This is not to mention the reports suggesting that FSA operations have been managed from the camp.

5. This announcement could be a prelude to new developments unfolding in Syria, regarding the FSA and its supporters. Now, since the “army” is present in the “liberated’ areas, the option of establishing a buffer zone has become likely. This will encourage further defections from the Syrian army.

6. Turkish daily Milliyet stated yesterday [Sept. 25] that the US has played a role in this decision, because it wants that the FSA leadership to be based in Syria, in order to control chaos, prevent the proliferation of the opposition’s arms and thwart al-Qaeda militants from entering the FSA ranks. During his visit to Ankara, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey demanded that Turkey fight al-Qaeda militants in both Turkey and Syria, and even fight the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

7. This announcement does not mean that Turkey and other parties will no longer provide direct logistical support to the FSA. This support will continue and will even increase, as everyone knows that Turkey serves as the FSA’s main supporter. Also, this announcement does not change the fact that Turkey is a direct partner in the armed battles in Syria, as it is backing the armed insurgents.

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