Inside the Free Syrian Army’s Turkish HQ

24. 8. 2012 – Even though Turkey continues to deny reports that it has been setting up bases for the Syrian opposition — for example in Adana — it is no longer a secret that it is providing military support to the Syrian opposition.

One of the centers in Turkey used as a military base for the Syrian opposition is the Reyhanli “military” refugee camp, located in Hatay province. This camp is exclusively reserved for Syrian officers, among them generals and colonels, and their families who have defected to Turkey. This camp, which hosts around 1,000 Syrians, is tightly guarded by Turkish security forces. Even foreign diplomats who want to meet the camp residents are not allowed to enter. However, it is possible to meet Syrian officers outside the camp and get information regarding the latest developments in Syria and the incidents taking place within this camp.

The camp is used by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as a training center. The FSA’s website states its headquarters is located in Reyhanli and provides a list of the top commanders within the organization. Riad al-Assaad, since he was the first officer to defect to Turkey, is the top commander of the FSA. However, unrest has been palpable since the arrival of several defecting Syrian generals who don’t like to be under the [lower-ranking] colonels running the camp.

To overcome the unrest, a Higher Military Council has been set up and more than a dozen generals have been tasked to develop military plans. This new structure closely resembles the highly controversial military institution of Turkey, the Supreme Military Council, which is composed of 13 generals. It is rumored that due to the arbitrary promotion policies, there are around a thousand generals left in Assad’s army. Therefore, the Syrian army has a three times as many generals as the Turkish army, which has 367, itself an unusually high number.

Meanwhile, unrest between the senior and junior officers, as well as the attempts by the Syrian National Council (SNC) to form an alternative militia against the FSA, are all signs of the fragmented and disorganized nature of the Syrian opposition. However, it is known that the US supports the FSA directly and is bypassing the SNC. The Syrian Higher Military Council in Reyhanli draws up war plans against Assad. The FSA applies these plans and issues instructions to junior officers. These fighters are then sent into Syria on a rotational basis. Those who fight in Syria come back to the camp and new ones are sent into Syria. The FSA is backed by Western countries as well as Gulf and Arab states. However, it is interesting that the list of demands from the FSA includes no equipment necessary to protect themselves from the chemical weapons that the Assad regime is known to have.

It has been noted that Turkey is not involved in the military training provided to the FSA officers in the Reyhanli camp but it is still unknown whether Turkey provides arms to these fighters or not.

On the other hand, it is noted that the FSA is armed by the donations of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well some volunteers who provide them with weapons. Although Turkey tries to avoid the image of arming the opposition,it is already quite obvious that it is at the forefront of the campaign to overthrow the Syrian regime.One western diplomat says: “Turkey is playing this game very carefully. Like some other countries, it keeps its military support to the opposition secret. It does not turn its back against the opposition; however it is keen to lower its profile of its involvement to topple the regime.”

By Lale Kemal –