The Syrian National Army: The Turkish Proxy Militias of Northern Syria

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The Syrian National Army (SNA) was established in late 2017, composed mainly of Turkmen factions. It grew into a kaleidoscope of militias, including former Free Syrian Army (FSA) militias, armed groups from Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, as well as some Sunni Muslim extremist groups. Turkey promoted the formation of a joint command center of these opposition militias, not only at a military level, but also in order to manage the newly-settled territories, in the aftermath of its successful first military intervention in Syria. Most of the current SNA’s militias participated in the 2016, 2018, and 2019 Turkish military operations in Syria and continue to control different areas of the north and west of the country.

While Turkey claims it invaded sovereign Syrian territory in order to create a “security buffer” and a “humanitarian zone” for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from other parts of Syria as well as those residing in Turkish territory, the occupation has turned the three regions (Afrin, the ‘‘M4 Strip’’, and the so-called Euphrates Shield Area) into a patchwork of fiefdoms where human rights abuses are commonplace. Justly, despite the much-publicized rights violations, the presence of public former ISIS fighters within the SNA, including the protection of current prominent ISIS leaders in SNA controlled territories, as well as the various sanctions and inclusion on the list of terrorist organizations imposed by the international community on the different SNA militias, the situation on the ground does not appear to be changing for the better. On the contrary, the SNA’s restructuring, which can only happen with Turkish approval, appears as an attempt to whitewash such crimes.

This report is an analysis of existing (in or before July 2022) open-source information about the current state of the SNA militias and other armed groups active in the Turkish-occupied territories of Syria. It furthermore attempts to expand the scope of Rojava Information Center’s first ‘State of the Occupation’ report, by providing a more thorough look at the relationship between the SNA and its political counterpart, the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), as well as the Turkish authorities. It concludes that both military and political Syrian ‘oppositional’ organs in occupied territories can be classified as little more than Turkish proxies.

Moreover, this report seeks to underline the importance of the territories for Turkey’s domestic politics – in particular that of its current president. Thus, the successive Turkish military operations, rather than a solution to the conflict in Syria, have been a resource that President Erdoğan has used to his own electoral benefit, in addition to fulfilling geostrategic objectives. In this context, the SNA militias are now at the frontline of the ‘neo-Ottoman’ expansion project of the Turkish government, converted into a Turkish proxy force against the population of the former and current AANES-controlled territories.