HTS, Turkish intelligence to send foreign militants to Syria’s Afrin

IDLIB, Syria (North Press) – Informed security sources close to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front) and Turkish intelligence said on Friday that both parties reached understandings about transporting foreign militants from Idlib to Afrin, a step may serve strategic goals for both parties.

A secret meeting was held on September 19 between security members of the HTS and officers of the Turkish intelligence in the Turkish military base in Atarib region in the western countryside of Aleppo, a source close to the Turkish intelligence told North Press. 

The source said that Abu Muhammad al-Falastini, Khattab al-Maghribi and Abu Ayyoub al-Shami represented the HTS in the meeting; an officer called Yilmaz along with other members of the intelligence represented the Turkish side. 

Both parties agreed on transporting 120 foreign militants, who are residing in Idlib, to Afrin region in the north of Aleppo, under the pretext of enhancing frontlines and relieving pressure on the Turkish-backed armed opposition factions, known as Syrian National Army (SNA), in addition to enhancing security relations between the two parties, according to the source.

The understanding stipulated preparing foreign militants to send them to Afrin on September 30 in exchange for the Turkish intelligence to provide military aid for the HTS and provide good treatment for the HTS’ wounded militants.

Afrin, a Kurdish city in the north of Aleppo, has been under the control of Turkey since March 2018 following a military operation called “Olive Branch” which resulted in the displacement of about 300.000 people of the original inhabitants of the city and its countryside.  

In September 2018, Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, agreed on forming a demilitarized zone in Idlib, following their meeting in Sochi.

The agreement stipulated that Turkey must exit “the terrorist groups” from Idlib in October of the same year.

An informed security source told North Press that al-Julani seeks to remove the HTS from terrorism list through rapprochement with Turkey.

He added that the goal of the agreement is the gradual elimination of the foreign militants of the HTS who still adopt the al-Qaeda ideology. This is achieved through throwing them into battles against Syrian government forces and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). 

Moscow keeps accusing Ankara of not abiding by the articles of the agreement, in reference to Turkey’s failure in eliminating the groups, classified as terrorists. 

There are about 3.000 foreign militants from countries like Turkistan, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Gulf States, according to estimates.

Reporting by Hani al-Salem