Revolutionary Forces Commander: Turkey is trying to seize Idlib

Revolutionary Forces General Commander Haci Ehmed stated that the Turkish state is trying to seize Idlib.

Revolutionary Forces General Commander Haci Ehmed stated that the Turkish state wants to employ in Idlib the scenario they developed in Shehba and added: “Because they know very well that if Idlib stays like this, there can be an intervention in the future from Efrîn by the SDF and the Revolutionary Forces. Like in Shehba, they want to cut off that possibility in Idlib.”

The Turkish state has been engaged in the Syrian war for hegemony since 2011, focused on animosity against Kurds, and since August 24, 2016 their gangs haven’t been enough for them and they started to engage directly on the ground. The invasion operation started in Jarablus and expanded into Exterin, Rai, Mare, Azaz and Bab. On the first anniversary of the invasion, the Turkish state has officially seizing control in Idlib, which is significant for Shehba and Efrîn, on the agenda. We spoke with Haci Ehmed, General Commander of the Revolutionary Forces (Artêşa Şoreşgeran/Jaysh Al Thuwar) that fight both ISIS and the gangs allied to the Turkish state on the ground, about the Turkish invasion and them targeting Idlib.

It has almost been one year since the Turkish army invaded most of the Shehba region. How did the Turkish state enter Shehba? What was their excuse?

In their own words, they aimed to “fight against the terrorist groups and clear the area of terror”, to protect themselves and secure their borders when they launched the invasion operation where they also used ISIS. Of course everybody knows this wasn’t the case. The Turks have dreams and they want these lands. Unfortunately, with the revolution, a huge void was created. The Erdoğan-led government attempted to control and hold some areas here and to carve out a space for themselves constantly since the void appeared.

Before the direct invasion, they attempted to squeeze in and control the area indirectly through various groups. Years later it was seen that the proxy war was not fruitful, it turned into a burden on the Turks’ shoulders.

What made them reach that conclusion?

It was when the SDF liberated Manbij. The liberation of Manbij accelerated a lot of things. Manbij was a large focus and it was a circle. It was one of the ISIS strongholds. After Manbij was taken, we knew that Jarablus would follow very soon. The Turks knew this very well too. If we had entered and liberated Jarablus then, the SDF would have a wide area under control and great power. After that, even if the Turks wanted to enter, they wouldn’t be active or strong enough there. As they were aware of this, they betrayed even the terror groups they nurtured up to then. They entered Jarablus, at the cost of destroying these groups. If we as the SDF hadn’t entered Manbij, the Turks wouldn’t and couldn’t have entered Jarablus. Manbij was the key for that. Their goal was to cut off the SDF.

Didn’t ISIS resist at all in Jarablus?

There were many Turkish intelligence agents and individuals allied to the Turks among ISIS on the ground. It wasn’t hard for the Turks to enter. It could be said that there was a swap. It took 75 days to liberate Manbij from the occupation. Jarablus was handed over in 2 hours.

ISIS members went from Jarablus to Kandura on foot. In a deal, ISIS handed over the whole area. It was a swap, as a result of long term intelligence work.

Even the legendary Dabiq district, known as the fortress of ISIS, was handed over. Bab was also included in this deal.

We were out on an operation here as the Turks entered Jarablus. While we were trying to liberate a village, ISIS brought 10 cars in front of us and detonated them, but they didn’t shoot even one bullet when the Turks just strolled into the cities. ISIS threw all their forces at us and opened up a space for the Turks. That was very clear.

Did the Turkish state enter the area just by striking a deal with ISIS?

The Turks entered here on a deal with Russia.

What was this deal based on?

It was over Aleppo. Because the gangs received all economic, material, weapons and daily supplies support from Turkey centrally. The Turks had custody over them. They evacuated Aleppo by using this.

In a deal between the Turks, the Russian and the Iranians, the handover of these areas to the Turks was overlooked. In return, they were to cut off the resistance in Aleppo and open a path to hand it over to the regime. The Turks paid the price and bought Shehba.

Their goal is to prevent Efrîn and Kobanê from uniting. They did openly say “We struck a knife”, “We cut off great hopes” afterwards. All in all, a large portion of Shehba is under occupation today.

They did this under the name “Euphrates Shield”, now they are preparing under the name “Euphrates Sword”. This has a price as well: They are in negotiation with the Russians now, and in their crosshairs lies Idlib.

Why Idlib?

Because Idlib has a strategic location. The only thing left in the hands of the groups made to fight the regime is the center, as a metropolis. All the radical groups are there. The Turks have influence over most areas, because the support all comes from there. They want to employ in Idlib the scenario they developed in Shehba.

What are the preparations over Idlib?

To smother Hayat Tahrir Al Sham in Idlib in return for Russia turning overlooking their pressure and attacks on Efrîn and Shehba. This is the game. Russia proposed this, and Iran accepted. Because they know very well that if Idlib stays like this, there can be an intervention in the future from Efrîn by the SDF and the Revolutionary Forces. Like in Shehba, they want to cut off that possibility in Idlib.

But they failed to smother Hayat Tahrir Al Sham. Why?

The Jabhat Al Nusra learned their lesson from what the Turks did to ISIS. Jabhat Al Nusra saw this and changed many names, they changed their leadership. Russia and Syria can’t enter Idlib with their own forces. The Turks wanted to pull a Trojan horse and take Idlib from within. They attempted to mobilize the agents they had inside and the groups allied to them to hit from within.

The Jabhat Al Nusra noticed this early on and turned towards them. They disbanded all the small groups. They lured the rest and Nurettin Zengi to their side. They were able to lure in Nurettin Zengi because Zengi’s foundations are shaky. Zengi is an Ikhwan-i Muslim organization. The base of Ahrar Ul Sham is 50% Al Qaeda. But they can’t go into Hayat Tahrir Al Sham because they have surrendered to the Turks. They still resemble an Al Qaeda group that surrendered. So what did they do? They pulled Zengi to their side and Zengi created a coalition with some groups as the Hayat Tahrir Al Sham. They neutralized Ahrar Ul Sham, left them out and turned against them. They ended Ahrar Ul Sham. Hayat Tahrir Al Sham played a very good trick there. Al Nusra is now Hayat Tahrir Al Sham. The Turks want to play on Zengi and the regime wants to pull Zengi to their side.

Why does the Turkish state play on the Baath regime and Zengi?

Because they need to hit Hayat Tahrir Al Sham from the inside, it is hard to hit them from the outside. It is not easy to take control of a city through military action. We talked about the Turks, if the Turks had not cooperated with ISIS, if they didn’t have operatives within ISIS, they would never have been able to take this place. Even if they pulled all their forces to Shehba, it would be a swamp for them. Idlib is similar.

They only have Zengi left in their hand in Idlib, so now they are planning tricks around Zengi. But for now, Hayat Tahrir Al Sham is strong. In essence, the Syrian Al Qaeda is Jabhat Al Nusra. For now, as Jabhat Al Nusra stands, the alliances against them fail.

What does this situation in Idlib, the Jabhat Al Nusra getting stronger, mean for Efrîn and Shehba and again for the peoples of Northern Syria?

Idlib’s location and situation is very important for Efrîn and Shehba. We have a border with Idlib. Any negative or positive situation in Idlib will directly affect us. Any change in Idlib, good or bad, will affect us. If Nusra gains strength, that will open the door to future clashes for us. If the Turkish state gains strength, there will be clashes still. For this reason, we believe the matter of Idlib is important, the developments there give us concern. We are following closely.