The issue of keeping the FSA under control
There has been tension between the groups inside the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which entered Syria’s northwestern district of Afrin alongside the Turkish military, daily Habertürk recently reported.
In one incident, tension erupted between the Hamza Division of Aleppo and the Ahrar al-Sharqiya Brigade. Several members of the Hamza Division were reportedly taken captive by the Ahrar al-Sharqiya Brigade militants and taken out of Afrin city center.
Fortunately, the Turkish authorities intervened and prepared an agreement on five articles to end the crisis, according to reports.
The issue of keeping some groups from the FSA under control received quite wide coverage in the international media after the FSA entered Afrin city center upon the conclusion of “Operation Olive Branch.” Images of these groups looting also spread rapidly on social media. As a result, the need to supervise these groups became an issue of utmost importance.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has reportedly ordered 2nd Army Command Commander Lt. Gen. Ismail Metin Temel, who was in charge of operations in Afrin, to deal with the issue.
“We are taking the initiative against claims of looting in the city. Some clerics there have supposedly issued fatwas claiming that the spoils of war are halal. No way. I have instructed the commander and he will do what should be done,” Erdoğan said in a meeting with a number of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies, daily Hürriyet reported.
Likewise, Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın previously told CNN International in an interview that Ankara is looking into the reports of looting, while suggesting that some groups in Afrin may not be following orders from their commanders.
It is understood that some pressure has recently been applied to the FSA by Ankara and the FSA has taken steps to try to improve its reputation among locals.
“Theft and looting by opposition forces has been quelled,” FSA spokesman Mohammad al-Hamadeen told Al Monitor on March 29.
The FSA has erected dozens of checkpoints at the city’s entrances and exits, arresting scores of looters and perpetrators of other abuses against locals, including theft and vandalism, according to al-Hamadeen.
“We have dealt firmly with all the abuses against the people of Afrin that have occurred since the liberation of the city … The perpetrators have been pursued and arrested, and the security campaign will not cease until the looted property has been returned to its owners and the thieves held to account,” he added.
The issue of lootings has also been mentioned in United Nations reports.
“Anecdotal information indicates that incidents of looting, confiscation of property and threats of violence against civilians are happening but on a smaller scale than what was initially reported on 18 March,” stated the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ situation report on Afrin, dated March 29.
As can be seen from the reports quoted above, incidents of looting and other violent actions have created serious problems.
In order to protect the reputation of the “Operation Olive Branch,” it is necessary to deal with these claims of incidents in Afrin seriously and to show that those responsible for them will be brought to account convincingly.