Two US-backed groups clash in northern Syria


Al Amarnah

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:


Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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  • Dennis says:

    Amazing it took this long to happen. This is real battle management, getting one group to fight, they do apparently too good,..causing 3allies (loosely,as Turkey is turning into a fifth column) to be at each other’s throats and thus giving IS time to breathe longer than it should ever have been allowed.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    I feel so sorry for the Kurds. They’re between the devil and the deep blue sea. I wished the Allied powers after the first world war established an independent Kurdish state, we wouldn’t be in this mess we are in now !!

  • Christian says:

    Turkey has openly acknowledged that they got guarantees from Russia before starting their invasion. This fundamentally questions the purpose of NATO if member nations can make their own military security agreements with Russia outside of the organisation while acting against NATO interests. If Turkey are allowed to set a precedent with this action, then NATO has fundamentally devalued itself. What is at stake here is the future of NATO and its role as a international security organisation.

  • Moose says:

    Pictures indicate that these guys are well-supplied.

  • Evan says:

    I can’t think of a more perfect example than this, that plainly illustrates the reasons why we should not be involved, not only in this conflict, but many many others around the globe.

    We gave both of these groups weapons, with ZERO accountability, and they turned those weapons on each other…..Shocker……

    Also, I would like the legality of providing advanced weaponry directly to groups that our own Gov. (US) has deemed to be terrorists explained to me…
    Are we pulling a Pakistan? Well, these are “good” terrorists, they’re just the PKK/YPG, and besides, they don’t want to overthrow our gov., they’re fighting the same guys we are?!? I guess when you provide air support to terrorist scum in Iraq, and no one bats an eye, you can just do whatever you want.

    What in the world is the US doing?

  • Jo Flemings says:

    Vladimir has no respect for the toothless NATO. He will do whatever it is that advances his own agenda. And we cannot stop him, and he knows it.


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