Growing Rebel Divide in North Syria as Islamists Take Villages

Turkey-backed rebels try to reinforce

There aren’t a lot of huge rebel factions left in Syria after years of war, but two extant groups along the northern border, the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) and the Islamist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), are increasingly at odds over territory in the Afrin District.

Turkey took most of Afrin from the Kurds originally, and has been fighting them ever since. On Saturday, the HTS took the villages of Basufan, Qabasin, and Fafertin away from the SNA, and has sent more fighters to the area.

Turkey is trying to broker talks on the matter, but so far that’s not achieving much, and the SNA has responded with a lot of reinforcements, and warning the Islamists to keep their distance.

Afrin isn’t hugely valuable territory, and Turkey’s priority right now is fighting the Kurds, not making peace with an al-Qaeda-linked faction. Still, they don’t want to see their territories in Syria fall apart.

There is no obvious resolution to the rebel split here, as neither side can really fight the Syrian Army anymore, and Turkey is trying to keep Syria from wiping them out. This leaves the groups fighting over what is ultimately a small and ever-shrinking territory.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.