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Is Turkey backing a former al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria?

Recent developments in northwest Syria have showcased the ambiguous relations between the Turkish authorities and one of Syria’s largest Sunni jihadi groups. Syria observers have long noted the tacit cooperation between Ankara and the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group (HTS; formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra and formerly the official franchise of the al Qaeda network in Syria).

The latest events, however, suggest an increased level of cooperation. The reasons behind this increased closeness remain in dispute. Closer observation reveals the extremely dysfunctional nature of life in Turkish-controlled northwest Syria, where Islamist militias compete for power and control, Turkish regular forces act as the ultimate arbiter, and Ankara’s ultimate agenda remains unclear.

The latest events saw HTS moving in force into Afrin city in northwest Syria, before partially withdrawing, apparently at Turkish insistence. Since 2018, when Turkish forces destroyed the Kurdish Afrin canton, the city and its surrounding area have been controlled by Turkey in cooperation with the “Syrian National Army.”

Read More: The Jerusalem Post