ISTANBUL — Turkey has stepped up training of the Free Syrian Army, which has fought alongside Turkish forces against the Islamic State group and U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels, official media said Saturday.
Turkey has vowed to battle Kurdish militants in Syria and Iraq if pushed. Anadolu news agency reported that Turkish special forces are training larger Free Syrian Army groups in using weapons including mortars, rocket launchers and machine guns, in terrain similar to where the fighters operate.
The agency quoted an unidentified military official saying, “It’s no longer the old FSA in the field but a new FSA being born. These FSA members in training will show their difference in possible future operations.”
Anadolu said the training was stepped up after Turkey declared in March an end to the first phase of its military operation with FSA against IS and Kurdish militants in northern Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the country would retaliate if the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, pose a security threat and a new cross-border operation could be launched.
Turkey deems the group in Syria a terror organization and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) based in northern Iraq, which has waged a three-decade-long insurgency against the state in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.
The U.S. considers YPG a distinct entity from the outlawed PKK and a key ally in Syria. Syrian Kurdish forces, armed by the U.S., are the main fighting power in the campaign to liberate Raqqa, the de facto capital of IS.
Quoting security sources, Anadolu on Friday reported preparations by the Turkish military along its southern border to respond to potential attacks by the YPG and PKK.
The agency said a number of ground units, armored military vehicles and munitions have been dispatched to the border for cross-border operation scenarios. Logistical preparations including tents and containers are at the border and bases for air operations have been readied.
Anadolu said with “alarm levels raised,” military units and intelligence are monitoring Kurdish-controlled Afrin, Tel Abyad and Qamishli in northern Syria and the Iraqi border.