So, if you’ve ever had trouble keeping track of the factions in this conflict, who’s fighting who, who’s on who’s side, what their names are, and so forth, this should be helpful.
Not helpful in learning them all. No way. That’s basically impossible.
Helpful in understanding why it’s so damned confusing.
Two things to consider about factional confusion in the conflict(s) in Syria:
- The confusion over factions inhibits understanding of and political interest in the conflict. (This is probably obvious.)
- The confusion—much of it anyway—is intentional obfuscation by Turkey so that Erodogan could build a proxy ISIS army to wage his war against the Kurds.
To begin to understand the confusion, consider this map from Wikipedia’s archives on the war in Syria.
Now consider the area in green, which denotes territory held by something called the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Here’s a little on the FSA and the SNA, Syrian National Army, that you’ve probably heard more about lately.
Syrian opposition groups SNA, National Front for Liberation united under interim government’s Defense Ministry
Free Syrian Army (FSA) was positioned as the official army of the opposition during Syrian civil war.
Active for a period in all fronts of the country, the army lost power as a result of external support to the regime. Now under the name of the Syrian National Army (SNA), it has gathered power.
Now consult this simple chart!
Got all that?
This may start to feel a bit like the “splitter” scene in The Life of Brian for some of you.
It gets even more confusing when you consider that Erdogan formed the Syrian National Army in the first place.
One might think that this army’s claim to represent the people of Syria might be somewhat dubious, given that Erdogan involvement thing.
Check it out, from Turkish media.
The National Army, composed of various Turkey-backed opposition groups and established after months of talks, is partaking in Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in Afrin. But it is also preparing for further military action in Manbij.
After the end of Operation Euphrates Shield last March, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted at the formation of a new army in Syria to help secure the territory gained and prevent forced demographic changes. It was also meant to secure the area from the YPG/PYD, which is affiliated with the PKK, a group that is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the European Union.
On December 30, 2017, the National Army was officially established, and started Operation Olive Branch as a part of Turkey’s border mission in the northern Syrian city of Afrin.
So, as usual, this is complete bullshit.
It’s like a shell game played by corporations with shell corporations and legalistic wrangling for money laundering where it’s impossible to trace who’s who.
These aren’t a bunch of militia which may or may not have gotten bad reputations for doing bad guy things.
Which I guess is convenient when the constituent parts or your army keep having things like “ISIS” and “terrorist” and “thugs” attached to their regimental patches.
So now that we know this is all a shell game to keep people from understanding that Erdogan has effectively subverted and twisted the Syrian opposition to Assad’s regime to his own nefarious ends, this makes a lot of sense.
Well, not sense.
But it makes sense that it’s so confusing: It’s confusing because it’s supposed to be.
Basically, this is about two things:
- Obscuring the emerging nature of these militias as less anti-Assad rebels and more Turkish proxies.
- Obscuring the fact that the militias are being infiltrated by radical jihadis, a process which Erdogan had and has been supporting.
It’s sad. My understanding is that a lot of the militias that came out of Arab Spring were liberal democratic or ethical anarchist or just sorta punk rock.
Erdogan ruins everything.
Now, lets look back at that Syrian National Army corporate merger obfuscation thingie.
After eight years of war, the Syrian opposition announced that all armed groups united under the command of the Syrian Interim Government’s Defense Ministry and joined forces under the banner of the National Army. This announcement marks a milestone in the journey of the Syrian opposition which united ranks and is a product of a 3-year process that commenced with the start of the Operation Euphrates Shield. With the increasing role of Turkey as the sole backer of the Syrian opposition and following Turkish pressure, the remaining factions in Idlib, Afrin, and northern Aleppo came together. However, the announcement in and of itself does not guarantee the unity of the Syrian opposition. Yet and despite the fact that many structural and environmental obstacles remain, the announcement may provide new opportunities for the actors involved in the Syrian War. Most notably, the announcement of the unification also comes with an essential change within the Syrian opposition. For the first time, the Syrian Interim Government formed by the Syrian National Coalition has managed take the armed opposition under its command. With this step, the political opposition for the first time may be able to proclaim itself the representative of the entire Syrian opposition.
In general, the factions that united and became the National Army can be summarized as all the factions in Idlib, Latakia, Hama, western Aleppo, Afrin, and northern Aleppo. However, a deeper look into the factions offers important insight into the National Army’s constituent components. Among the 41 factions that joined the merger, 15 are from the National Front for Liberation and 26 from the Syrian National Army. Thirteen of these factions were formed after the United States cut its support to the armed Syrian opposition.
OK, so the recently announced consolidation of the non-SDF affiliated Syrian opposition fighters involved 41 separate factions.
Syrian interim government leader Abdul Rahman Mustafa announced Oct. 4 that the NLF was joining the SNA to form a single army under the umbrella of his government’s Ministry of Defense. Speaking to the press in Sanliurfa, Turkey, Mustafa said the army seeks to free Syria from corruption, sectarianism and dictatorship, and to defend Idlib, Hama and the countryside of Latakia. He added that the unified SNA will strive to “return Syrian land to Syrians.”
So that was announced on October 4.
And before that, people could be knowledgeable and interested enough in the conflict to make a map, and yet still depict all those factions with a single color?
That’s just weird.
Except it’s not just weird: It’s a function of willful distortion.
It’s the opposite of useful. And it’s a big part of why this conflict is so hard to follow from America. Or probably anywhere.
Until very recently, we only ever heard about “the Kurds.”
And then you try to learn more and all of a sudden you have YPG and SDF and something called the Syrian Defense Council whose acronym is NOT SDC because it’s an acronym in a different language, fighting against the FSA which is not the TFSA and sometimes the SNA, but then sometimes the SNA factions are listed by their specific name or nom de guerre of their leaders.
It makes you feel like an idiot.
And it also makes people glaze over and give up.
So let’s look again at some maps and think about understanding the progression of what’s been going on in Rojava over the last year or so.
Note how these maps really don’t have much of any differentiation among the SNA except for whatever the hell is going on Idlib.
Note: SA-NES is “the Self-Administration in North and East Syria, which is some kind of designation for Rojava since no member of the international community will recognize them.
So mostly I just find it annoying. Another frikken acronym in this war.
Maps are obviously easier with the consolidation of all those militia under the umbrella of the SNA.
So more detailed maps have, ironically, actually become clearer.
But a big part of the reason they seem clearer now is because all the different kinds of militias in Erdogan’s evil terrorist ISIS proxy army changed their names to SNA.
Which sucks. But it is much easier to understand.
Some might compare this to the adoption of the name Syrian Defense Forces by the Rojava military, but that was a single body.
Consolidation under the umbrella group SNA obscures a lot of important differences about the factions and how they came to be. The SDF name came about because the US military asked them to because Erdogan was being a dick about the name YPG and, as per always, was trying to use the term to slaughter Kurds.
Seems clear enough. And I’d probably change my name too, if the Green Berets told me to.
- So if for any reason you ever get frustrated with your ability to keep track of all the factions, even or especially if you remember something from the past that now seems confusing, I urge you to check out these Wikipedia links to: Opposing Factions, a sub-section of:
- Belligerents in the Syrian Civil War.
This should give a basic idea of the scope of the problem. But these images are the best I can do within the confines of a WordPress blog.
But yeah: It’s not your fault.
It’s not your fault.