U.S. worried about acts of Turkey-backed rebels during Syria offensive

(Updates with recently shared videos of Turkey-backed Syrian rebels in sixth paragraph.)

The United States has been worried about the recorded behaviours of Turkey-backed Syrian rebels during Turkey’s nine day military incursion into Syria, U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement, James Jeffrey, said on Friday in the Swiss capital of Geneva. 

Turkey-backed rebels, formerly known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), were rebranded as the Syrian National Army (SNA) before the start of Turkey’s military operation on Oct. 9 against Kurdish-controlled territories in northern Syria.

Turkey sees the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and a threat to its national security.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organisation which reports on the war, said on Oct. 12 that Turkey-backed groups had killed a total of nine civilians on the M4 highway in northern Syria, including Hervin Khalaf, secretary general of the Future Syria Party.

Though the SNA denied the incident, a video widely shared on social media the same day showed Turkish-allied Syrian fighters pumping bursts of automatic fire into the body of a bound man lying on the side of a road as a gunman shouted to his comrades to take his phone and film him doing the shooting. 

Meanwhile, a video purportedly posted earlier this week by one Turkish-supported group shows a captured Kurdish fighter being dragged by the neck as his captors threaten him with beheading, the Guardian reported on Saturday. Another shows dead Kurdish fighters being cut with a knife as Arab combatants jeer, the newspaper said. 

Jeffrey on Wednesday told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee that the United States was looking into allegations of war crimes during the Turkish offensive in Syria.

“We are looking into accusations about all types of illegitimate acts in armed clashes,” Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency quoted the diplomat as saying on Friday after a meeting with the envoys of Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States for talks on the Syrian crisis.

“As I have mentioned to the Turkish government several times, we are deeply concerned about the behaviours of Turkey-backed Syrian opposition units on the M4 M10 road that were captured by the cameras at the beginning of the clashes (Turkish offensive),” he said. 

Jeffrey said the United States would also look into the civilian deaths that had taken place in Turkey during the military operation. Turkey says some 20 people were killed in nine days in the country’s southeastern towns due to YPG’s mortar shelling.