On Friday, rebels backed by Turkish and American airpower captured the Syrian border towns of Dalha and Harjala from the Islamic State (IS) according to Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency.
FSA-affiliated Sultan Murad Brigades and al-Jabha a-Shamiya led the operation to take the two villages, which lie along the border with Turkey in northern Aleppo province and represented the northwestern apex of Islamic State territory.
The involvement of Turkish airpower sparked speculation that Ankara is initiating the establishment of a “safe zone” south of its border with Syria.
In an interview with Syria Direct’s Yaman Yosif, Sultan Murad Brigade’s spokesman Mohamed Nour says that “due to a number of recent security breaches” Turkey is now “targeting more IS targets.”
With regard to the establishment of a safe zone inside Syria, Mohamed denied speculation that the operation to capture the two villages was conducted at Turkey’s request. “We receive orders from no one when it comes to liberating a single inch of our country. Yes, Turkey supported the effort, however, we have not heard anything about a safe zone.”
Q: Multiple news agencies have reported that coalition forces including Turkish warplanes supported the rebel effort to capture the villages of Dalha and Harjala in northern Aleppo province. How would you characterize this support?
The Marea Operations Room, which is comprised of al-Jabha a-Shamiya and some Free Syrian Army factions, coordinated directly with the international coalition, which includes Turkey. Turkish planes conducted airstrikes on a number of IS targets and we, the Murad Sultan Bridages and al-Jabha a-Shamiya, conducted the ground attack.
Q: Why did the coalition, and specifically Turkey, support your efforts in this battle and is this the first time they have done so?
Turkey wants to protect its borders and these villages lie directly on the Syria-Turkey border. This is not the first time that there has been coordination between the coalition and rebel forces to strike IS but we are now seeing that the coalition is taking IS targets more seriously.
Q: Why do you think Turkey is now helping the rebels by striking IS targets?
Turkey will protect its borders regardless of who is threatening them. They have conducted strikes of both IS and Kurdish forces. However, Turkey now feels that its borders are not secure due to a number of recent security breaches and so they are striking more IS targets.
Q: Turkish state media has mentioned that the capturing of Harjala and Dalha are the first steps in establishing a safe zone inside Syria. Do you have any information on such a safe zone and were the villages captured by Turkey’s request?
Absolutely not. We receive orders from no one when it comes to liberating a single inch of our country. Yes, Turkey supported the effort, however, we have not heard anything about a safe zone. We have been preparing to liberate Dalha and Harjala for a long time and the attack was only postponed due to pressure on the southern Aleppo front.
Reporting by Orion Wilcox