Fighter from Jaysh al Tahrir holding a captured flag of the Syrian Democratic Forces
As part of ongoing Turkish military operations in northern Syria, two US-backed groups on opposing sides of the operation have clashed near the city of Jarabulus in northern Aleppo province. Jaysh al Tahrir, a rebel group that operates under the auspices of the Free Syrian Army and has received several TOW anti-tank missiles from the US, claims to have captured two villages from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) south of Jarabulus. The SDF has received considerable US-support, including airstrikes and special operations forces embedded within the group.
In one video, fighters from Jaysh al Tahrir can be seen walking through a compound of one of the villages near the town of Al Amarnah. A fighter is then shown brandishing a captured SDF flag taken from the area. In another (now deleted) video, Jaysh al Tahrir claims to have taken “more than eight” SDF fighters captive in the operations near Al Amarnah. It has also shown dead SDF fighters in pictures on its Twitter feed.
Jaysh al Tahrir is working alongside several Turkish-backed Islamist groups in Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield. The operation is nominally to protect the Turkish border from the Islamic State, however, it is also meant to push back the SDF. The most powerful group within the SDF is the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG), which is the Syrian branch of the US-designated terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). When the SDF captured the town of Manbij with heavy US support, Turkey was prompted to hasten an intervention to prevent more Kurdish advances. [See LWJ report, Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield is a message to the Kurds.]
The US is now engaged in a balancing act between keeping close relations with Turkey and its main partner in the fight against the Islamic State. Peter Cook, a spokesman for the Pentagon said in an email to The New York Times, that the US is monitoring the situation between the two groups and that the government “finds these clashes unacceptable.” However, this puts the US in an awkward position as the Kurds may see this, as well as tacit support of the Turkish intervention, as a betrayal. This also comes after US Vice President Joe Biden told the YPG portion of the SDF to retreat back to the eastern side of the Euphrates River, which was also likely seen as an insult by the US-ally.
Jaysh al Tahrir with purported captives from the SDF:
Jaysh al Tahrir fighters after capturing Al Amarnah from the SDF: