There have been during past days many opportunities to highlight the role of Turkey-backed Syrian rebels in military operations. There are operating against both Kurdish and Assad forces.

In this video for example, a group of Syrian rebels is backed up by Turkey to repel Kurdish fighters outside of a city, close to the turkish-syrian border. They have also be mentionned by France to be acting in Libya in favour of the Libyan governement, under Turkish orders and logistic support, against Marshall Haftar's forces.

I understand approximately why Turkey is allying with those groups. I am wondering however who are in details those groups. I tought they had disappeared from the Syrian civil war landscape since nobody spoke of them while ISIS and Kurds had the bulk of the fight.

So question is:

  • What is the political objective of those groups (put down Assad?)?
  • Are they consistent with each other or do they fight between themselves?
  • Do they have any official speech about their practical alliance with Turkey?
  • This looks like too many separate questions. Please rephrase. Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 23:33
  • 1
    At this point many of the TFSA are just Turkish-employed mercenaries. The ones in Libya are fighting for cash and eventual Turkish citizenship.
    – Colin
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 18:33
  • @Colin Thank you for this info. Do you have any source for that? Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 18:45
  • 1
    – Colin
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 19:10
  • Mostly terrorists. Same people the CIA is funding, training and arming. So much for 9/11, never forgive, never forget. Commented Mar 11, 2020 at 20:15

2 Answers 2

What is the political objective of those groups (put down Assad?)?

the main objective is to overthrow the Assad regime. however after that their aims differ widely, from Establishing an Islamic emirate to modern secular state, no common vision exists.

Are they consistent with each other or do they fight between themselves?

they fought each other in the past and there is a lot of tension between them, however since most of them are sponsored by Turkey and Qatar only, that made it easier for Turkey to lead them to co-existence at least for now (Saudi and UAE switched sides to harass turkey by supporting the Kurds) ,

Do they have any official speech about their practical alliance with Turkey?

not much beside saying turkey is trying to help against the tyrant who is killing his own people

  • Thanks for the answer. About that: "Saudi and UAE switched sides to harass turkey by supporting the Kurds": UAE and Saudi switched sides because they wanted to harass Turkey, rather than they want to harass Turkey because they switched sides? What are the base reasons for which they want to oppose to Turkey? Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 8:58
  • @totalMongot the very direct answer , the murder of Saudi journalist Khashoggi in Saudi embassy in turkey, turkey exposed the murdered and kept embarrassing Saudi with continuous releases of the information counter to what Saudi release and showing the connection with crown prince inner circle. almost pointing to him being responsible. Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 13:35
  • @totalMongot however this is actually the result of long expected clash as opposite to being a reason. Turkey is becoming very popular among Muslims in the middle east, with islamist policy adopted by a Erdogan. This is a clash path with Saudi who always claim to be the leader of Islamic causes, Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 13:35
  • @totalMongot while saudi is in public getting closer to the west and courting Israel, Turkey is showing tough stand that gains a lot of popularity which threaten the Saudi royal family as being the custodian of Islamic affairs (there can be no country that claims they are better Muslims, champion of Islamic causes or more popular among Muslims than Saudi) Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 13:36
  • Syria is already a modern secular state. These people mostly comprise of jihadists. Anywhere from Al-Quaida to ISIS. Commented Mar 11, 2020 at 20:16

The other answer is glossing over the shift over time in Turkey's approach to the matter. There's good background article on the more recent approach in the New York Review of Books. Basically, Turkey has assumed more direct control of their proxies in recent years. Some excerpts:

The creation of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA), also known as the Syrian National Army (SNA), was the result of a strategic shift in Turkey’s position in Syria. In the early years of the civil war, Turkey aimed to remove Assad from power. Following Russia’s direct intervention in the war, in September 2015, the balance of power decisively shifted in favor of the Assad regime. Turkey therefore adjusted its ambitions to advance a narrower set of interests. At the top of Ankara’s priorities were the aim of preventing the entry of additional Syrian refugees and a desire to combat the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) [...]

But who exactly are the roughly 35,000 Syrian men fighting on Turkey’s behalf in Syria? I have maintained regular contact with some of these fighters since as early as 2014. Most are Sunni Arabs, displaced from their homes in the course of the war. Multiple interviews I have conducted by phone, instant-messaging, and face to face in Turkey with these fighters since 2014 reveal them to be a motley crew of often traumatized and impoverished men who feel pushed into fighting on Turkey’s behalf for financial gain. Some of these fighters join the factions to rob and loot, but those who did not have that motive increasingly realize that Turkey’s interests do not align with their hopes of toppling the Assad regime, as Ankara signals its willingness to cooperate with the Assad regime. Individuals like this, I have found, struggle to rationalize and justify—to themselves and their communities—their actions and affiliation with these factions, which are much-despised by fellow Syrians, particularly by civilians living under their rule. [...]

Except for a few skirmishes, the Turkish-backed factions have not fought the Assad regime. All three operations carried out by Turkey involved “de-confliction” arrangements with Russia (and, by extension, the Assad regime) before they began. These arrangements continue: the areas under SNA control are not bombed by the Assad regime or Russia, unlike rebel-held areas. [...]

Side-note: there have been some exceptions to this more recently. But back to background story:

Turkey maintains authority over its proxy in the use of force in military action. The fighters’ salaries, training, and supervision in battle are also provided by Turkey. Speaking from a checkpoint he was manning in Tel Abyad, a town captured from Kurdish-led forces in the latest SNA offensive, a fighter with an SNA faction named Faylaq al-Majd from Idlib whom I will call Muhammad (the names of all Syrian subjects in this article have been changed to protect them from possible reprisal) explained “the fighters here are like donkeys, following their masters. And the commanders are also donkeys, following Turkish orders and even if this harms the interests of the [anti-Assad] revolution, they don’t care.”

“All decisions, big and small, in the ‘National Army’ are made by the operations room run by Turkish intelligence,” confirmed Mazen, a veteran rebel from Rastan, in the northern Homs countryside, now fighting in the ranks of the Levant Front, another SNA faction. He was echoing all my interviewees in admitting that decision-making was out of the hands of the Syrian commanders themselves. Mazen underwent training by Turkish military personnel in Turkey and Syria.

The Turkish-backed fighters are a mix of former rebels and newly recruited fighters. Turkey relied on already existing Syrian rebel factions, some of which once received support from the CIA-led Military Operations Command or the Department of Defense Train and Equip Program. The CIA-run program, codenamed Timber Sycamore, was shut down in late 2017, while the Train and Equip Program in northwestern Syria failed back in 2015. Among the groups that once received US-directed support were Levant Front and the Hamza Brigade (which later merged with other rebel groups to form the Hamza Division). Turkey took over the payment of salaries to the fighters prior to the 2016 operation and significantly augmented their ranks. The factions grew in size, from dozens and hundreds of fighters to thousands. The largest rebel groups incorporated into the SNA, the factions that make up Ahrar al-Sharqiya and Jaysh al-Islam, did not enjoy Western support. [...]

The Wikipedia article on the latter group (citing almost exclusively pre-2016 sources) still says they are backed by the Saudis, which is probably no longer the case much.

The majority of the fighters today appear to be newer recruits, without any previous experience fighting the Assad regime. The fighters and commanders in the ranks of the SNA interviewed for the article estimated that the fighters who enlisted into the ranks of the factions for the 2016 operation, and then in another recruitment drive before the 2018 Efrîn invasion, make up 60 percent of the force. These fighters—known, ironically, as “the 2016 revolutionaries”—“mostly joined for the salaries, not for the revolution,” said Mustafa, a commander in the Hamza Brigade, who had himself joined the Syrian armed opposition in 2013, at the age of fourteen.

Besides paying the SNA (decreasing salaries), Turkey also pays for the administration in the areas the SNA nominally controls:

The governance of areas under SNA control in northern Aleppo and in the newly captured areas in northern Raqqa and Hassakeh is closely tied to Turkey. Turkey pays the salaries of local councilors, teachers, and doctors, in addition to the salaries of the local police, military police, and armed factions.

So as you can hopefully see, Turkey nowadays is much less interested in supporting groups that have other goals than doing Turkey's bidding, so the SNA and the areas they control are more or less a puppet of Turkey with little in the way of overt political goals they can pursue.

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