Jihadist group seizes Kurdish town controlled by Turkish-backed forces
Syrian jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has taken over a town controlled by Turkish-backed groups in northwest Syria, U.S.-government funded Voice of America outlet reported on Thursday.

The takeover of the Kurdish town of Afrin by HTS, known formerly as the al-Nusra Front, followed days of clashes with several militia groups controlling the region, it cited local sources as saying.

Turkish military and allied Syrian forces took control of Afrin in 2018, during a Turkish incursion into the region targeting Kurdish forces linked to an insurgency on the country’s soil. The town of some 36,000 people, had been under the control of Turkish-backed armed groups since.

An Afrin resident told VOA that he saw "tanks and military vehicles belonging to [HTS] rolling into Afrin after the other militias who were previously in our city abandoned their positions and left with their vehicles and equipment."

The resident, who chose remain anonymous for security reasons, told the outlet that "he heard about very small skirmishes between the two sides in a few parts of the city,” adding that the “militiamen didn't really resist the oncoming militants.”

Formed in 2017, the HTS is a merger between al-Nusra Front and several other groups. It controls most of Idlib province in northwest Syria and seeks to oust Syria’s Assad regime for a Sunni Islamic state to further its own goals as an al-Qa’ida’s affiliate in the war-torn country.

Earlier this week, amid administrative conflicts and infighting in the northwest Syrian region, the HTS dispatched its fighters from Idlib eastward into the district of Afrin. HTS fighters were able to quickly expanded northeast on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, taking full control of Afrin and some 26 towns and villages to its southwest, most without a fight, the Middle East Institute reported.

At least two other Islamist groups were involved with HTS’s takeover of Afrin, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

At least 30 positions in the area had been controlled by HTS fighters prior to their controlling of Afrin, Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory, told VOA.

The recent of the HTS show that Syrian National Army (SNA) factions have had deep divisions, according to military experts, VoA said.

The Turkey-backed SNA comprises several armed opposition factions and the groups have been accused of human rights violations against civilians in Afrin and elsewhere in northwest Syria.

"Handing over Afrin this way and the withdrawal of SNA fighters from the city show that these fighters don't have a plan nor a desire to fight,"  Ahmed Rahal, a former Syrian army general who currently works as a military analyst in Istanbul, Turkey, said.

The SNA has been divided into two sides, according to Rahal, who said, “one faction has obviously sided with [HTS leader Abu Mohammad] al-Jolani and one side against him."

"There is currently a talk about regrouping efforts to try to retake Afrin, but I don't think these SNA factions are capable of executing such plans," he added.

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