Turkey boots up 'Syrian' police-force in Aleppo border-town

Turkey boots up 'Syrian' police-force in Aleppo border-town
Videos of the newly trained force in Jarablus show recruits in military fatigues, in rank and file chanting "Long live Turkey, long live Erdogan"
3 min read
25 January, 2017
The Turkey-trained 'Free Police' are made up of around 450 Syrian recruits [Twitter]
Turkey has established and trained a new Syrian police force in a rebel-held border town in a sign of Ankara’s growing influence in northern Syria. 

The "Free Police" stationed in Jarablus, are made up of around 450 recruits, many former rebel fighters who fought under Turkish direction in operations launched by Ankara in northern Syria in August 2016.

Former members of the Syrian Arab Army also make up the new force's ranks.

Aimed at combating the threat of Islamic State militants located close to Turkey, Operation "Euphrates Shield" has also clashed with armed Kurdish groups viewed with hostility by the Erdogan government. 

Jarablus was the first town to fall under the control of Euphrates Shield operations, with Turkey-backed forces now controlling a more than 100-km long stretch along the Syria-Turkish border. 

Videos of the newly established police force distributed on the internet appear to show recruits, standing in formation, chanting in Arabic  "Long live Turkey, long live Erdogan".

The Syrian force, reported Reuters, is made up of both regular police and special forces, who receive five weeks of training in Turkey.

"Our mission is to maintain security and preserve property and to serve civilians in the areas liberated (from ISIS)," said police force head General Abd al-Razaq Aslan in comment to Reuters, during an inauguration ceremony also attended by the governor of Gaziantep - a Turkish city that has served as an opposition hub during Syria’s protracted conflict. 

Turkey has supported rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since early in the nearly six-year war and has has said it will continue to support areas it has taken control of from IS.

However in a complex, multi-faceted conflict, recent negotiations between Ankara and Moscow - a firm backer of Assad - paved the way for peace talks between regime and rebel delegations that ended in the Kazakh capital Astana today. 

Last week Russia and Ankara also coordinated air-strikes against Islamic State targets in the Aleppo province town of al-Bab, in a further development in the conflict. 

Kurdish forces that have carved out self-autonomous enclaves in northern Syria were notably not invited to Astana on Ankara's request.

The Erdogan government's relationship with the Obama administration soured significantly in the final months before Donald Trump took office due to Washington's support of Kurdish backed rebels that Ankara views as equivalent to the Kurdistan Workers Party - blamed for a number of recent terror attacks in Turkey. 

In the final weeks of Obama's tenure in the White House Ankara threatened to suspend the US-lead coalition's use of the Incirlik airbase to conduct missions against IS in part due to Washington's ongoing support of Kurdish forces. 

When questioned by Ankara on its support for Kurdish-lead forces such as the Syrian Democratic Forces and in particular the YPG Washington has often appeared cagey and tight-lipped, increasing Turkish suspicion and speculation.

On Tuesday the pro-government Turkish Daily Sabah claimed that US military personnel had visited the Kurdish town of Hasakeh, in northeast Syria near the borders with Turkey and Iraq, with designs to potentially establish a military base in the area. 

Such a base, claimed the Daily Sabah, would serve as a substitute if the current US-lead coalition's presence at Incirlik was to end, and would serve as a mission centre for operations supplementing Kurdish forces fighting against IS militants in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor.