Kurdish media reports that latest Turkish airstrikes have killed three Syrian NDF fighters on the Turkish-Kurdish frontline in northwestern Syria near the Kurdish-held town of Afrin.
Earlier this week hundreds of Syrian NDF militiamen from the nearby Shia Arab area of Nubl and Zahraa crossed over into YPG-held Afrin enclave and put themselves at the disposal of Afrin defences against Erdogan’s Turkish-Salafist invasion.
From 2012 until early 2016 the pro-government Shia enclave of Nubl and Zahraa was besieged by Sunni Islamist (largely Salafist) rebels and foreign jihadis (with well known views of Shia “apostates”). The small pocket was entirely cut off from the rest of government-held territory, but was able to survive by the virtue of neighboring the larger Kurdish enclave of Afrin with which it struck up a close local alliance.
The siege was broken in a Russian-Syrian offensive in early 2016, which was the first of the game-changing Russian-orchestrated government advances after the start of Moscow’s military intervention in September 2015.
After Erdogan invaded Afrin with Salafists who had once besieged Nubl and Zahraa in tow, the local Shia fighters organized themselves to fight them on the side of their old local allies, the Kurds.
— Kurdistan Times (@KurdistanTimesN) February 22, 2018
#AfrinOp: pro-Assad forces which entered #Afrin yesterday now reportedly deployed on #Jindires front. Calling themselves "Popular Forces", they came to fight "Ottoman Turkey". https://t.co/lJDy1fKN6H pic.twitter.com/gbZx0n1ffp— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) February 21, 2018
Now three of them have been killed. Syrian government soldiers killed on Syrian soil by another NATO invading army.
The NDF (National Defense Forces) fighters are not part of the Syrian regular army, but they are part of the regular Syrian armed forces and are salaried by the government. They are a second line reserve force akin to US National Guard.
In practice the biggest difference between NDF and army units is that the former are much more reluctant to fight far away from their homes — but are just as tenacious when fighting for their villages.
How the Turkish-Salafist invasion of Afrin ends is anyone’s guess but from what has been seen so far the chances are it will bring Afrin Kurds and the government camp closer together.
The Kurdish YPG militia has relinquished control of Aleppo’s Sheikh Maqsood neighborhood in favor of the government, while Damascus has been allowing YPG reinforcements from the main Kurdish-held territory in northeastern Syria to reach the Afrin pocket freely over territory held by the government army.
The possibility that YPG will hand over further territories rather than see them fall to the Turks has also been raised. Particularly the Arab-majority town of Tal Rifaat it seized from rebels in early 2016 when they were hit by the aforementioned Russian-Syrian offensive, and in particular in return for more help against Erdogan and his Sunni extremists.