Ahrar al-Sharqiya (Free Men of the East) is an active armed Syrian rebel group founded in 2016 by individuals exiled and displaced mostly from the Deir ez-Zor Governorate and other eastern provinces, such as the Hasakah Governorate, by ISIL, YPG and the Syrian government due to fighting that took place there between 2011 and 2014. Many fighters in Ahrar al-Sharqiya are former al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham members.
Ahrar al-Sharqiya originated as a unit of Ahrar al-Sham in Deir ez-Zor and continued to function under the banner of Ahrar al-Sham even after the group was expelled from eastern Syria along with their allies including al-Nusra to Idlib and took part in battles against the Syrian government and their allies until 2016 when the group separated itself from Ahrar al-Sham to take part in Operation Euphrates Shield.
The group was announced by al-Nusra's former lead Sharia Judge in eastern Syria and Shura Council Member, Abu Maria al-Qahtani in 2016, who is originally from Iraq and has been supportive of Turkish involvement in the Syrian Civil War, whilst also being accused on multiple occasions of causing internal strife in al-Nusra, causing him to be later dismissed from his position in the group. However, the extent of his involvement after announcing the group in 2016 remains unknown, and questions have arisen as to whether he was involved or affiliated with the group at all. Many of the group's members are also from the al-Shaitat tribe.
Despite tensions with ISIL, Ahrar al-Sharqiya was reported to be part of a network along with the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria, helping smuggle ISIL members from Eastern Syria to rebel held areas such as Idlib, whilst also profiting from smuggling fees.
On 16 September 2016, Ahrar al-Sharqiya announced that they refuse to cooperate with US forces in fighting ISIL during Operation Euphrates Shield because of their support for the People's Protection Units and Syrian Democratic Forces.
In September 2016 members of the group taunted, insulted and verbally attacked American forces in al-Rai embedded with the Al-Mu'tasim Brigade, an American spokesmen said that the group posed no threat to American forces and that American forces present were unaware of the protests to their presence, after evacuating American forces the al-Mutasim Brigade asked Ahrar al-Sharqiya members to stop.
After taking control of Afrin, fighters from the group allegedly destroyed a liquor store, and 6 fighters and their families from the group reportedly defected to SDF after taking over the area due to disillusionment.
On 25 March 2018, A day after taking control of Afrin, Ahrar al-Sharqiya and the Hamza Division clashed in Afrin after the Hamza Division killed an Ahrar al-Sharqiya commander, Ahrar al-Sharqiya also claimed the Hamza Division was looting and stealing on western instruction, during the fighting Ahrar al-Sharqiya seized several checkpoints from the Hamza Division and captured up to 100 fighters from the group.
On 26 March 2018, a day after clashing with the Hamza Division, Ahrar al-Sharqiya stormed the headquarters of the Hamza Division and arrested over 200 fighters from the Hamza Division afterwards.
In April 2018, several Hamza Division members were taken captive by Ahrar al-Sharqiya in Afrin until Turkish authorities intervened and settled the tensions between the Hamza Division and Ahrar al-Sharqiya.
In July 2018, Ahrar al-Sharqiya began a campaign in Afrin encouraging women to wear the hijab and loose clothing according Islamic law that included putting up posters and handing out fliers in the city.
In November 2018, Turkish forces and allied FSA groups carried out an operation against the Sharqiya Martyrs, a unit belonging to Ahrar al-Sharqiya consisting of 200 fighters, accusing them of not following Turkish orders and committing abuses.
On 25 January 2019, a fight broke out between an arms dealer and Ahrar al-Sharqiya; in the fight the arms dealer was killed while two of his family members were wounded and two Ahrar al-Sharqiya members were also wounded.
In June 2019, the group sent reinforcements from Afrin to Idlib and Hama to help other rebel groups in the area repel a Syrian government-led offensive against rebel-held areas that began in April.
On 12 October 2019, Fighters from Ahrar al-Sharqiya taking part in a Turkish-led military offensive in eastern Syria against the Syrian Democratic Forces and Kurdish self-rule regions in northeastern Syria, executed Kurdish politician, Hevrin Khalaf on the M4 highway in northern Syria after capturing it from SDF.
Relationship with other groups
The group has participated in Turkish led operations against YPG but has come into conflict with groups it allied with in these operations over things such as the distribution of captured equipment and property. Such cases arose in Al-Bab, Al-Rai and Jarabulus in 2016 and again in Afrin city in 2018. On 6 November 2018, the group reportedly clashed with Jaysh al-Islam in Afrin. However after the clashes between Ahrar al-Sharqiya and Jaysh al-Islam the two groups released a joint statement apologizing to each other for the violence and agreed to resolve disputes in court and avoid armed confrontations.
- Fatma Ben Hamad. (21 October 2019). "Images document extrajudicial killings by Turkish-backed militia in Syria". France24. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
- Mohamad Alaa (19 November 2018). "Free Syrian Army launches security campaign in Afrin city and threatens other cities in Northern Aleppo". SMART News. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
- Tom Perry; Ellen Francis (20 December 2018). "Syria's Kurds reel from U.S. move, Assad seen planning next step". Reuters. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
- ""Ahrar al-Sharqiya Brigade": The Potential Spearhead of East of Euphrates Battles". Enab Baladi. 19 November 2018.
- "Once again, clashes break out between Ahrar Al-Sham and Ahrar Al-Sharqiya in Al-Bab city - Aleppo24 English". en.aleppo24.com.
- "FSA FACTIONS CLASH OVER STOLEN PROPERTY IN AFRIN". 20 July 2018. Archived from the original on 27 July 2018. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
- "Clash between Bubena tribe and Ahrar al-Sham gangs in Afrin".
- Aboufadel, Leith (6 November 2018). "Heavy clashes breakout between Turkish-backed rebels inside of Afrin region". Al-Masdar News.
- Turkey-backed Syrian rebels kill Kurdish politician, execute prisoners
- U.N. urges Turkey to investigate executions in Syria
- ""Ahrar al-Sharqiya Brigade": The Potential Spearhead of East of Euphrates Battles". Enab Baladi. November 19, 2018.
- "Syrie: Ahrar al-Sharqiya, ces anciens d'al-Nosra devenus supplétifs de la Turquie". 3 May 2018.
- "Which are the Jihadist Groups Attacking Afrin and the Forces Behind them? – Information Center of Afrin Resistance". icafrinresist.com.
- "Remnants Of The Deiri Opposition: Contention And Controversy In North Aleppo". bellingcat. June 25, 2019.
- "Rebels make thousands smuggling ISIL fighters across Syria". The National.
- Aboufadel, Leith (September 16, 2016). "Islamist rebels refuse US help against ISIS in northern Aleppo".
- Weiss, Michael (30 September 2016). "Syrian Rebels Taunt U.S. Troops" – via The Daily Beast.
- "Graphic: Turkish-backed group executes local man accused of spying for Kurds". January 25, 2017.
- Wilgenburg, Wladimir van (4 February 2018). "Disillusioned jihadist Ahrar al-Sharqiya members defect to SDF-backed council". The Region. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
- Adra, Zen (March 25, 2018). "Afrin: Tensions rise as Turkish-backed militia caught in infighting".
- Aboufadel, Leith (March 26, 2018). "Trouble in paradise: FSA group storms base of allied faction in Afrin, arrests 200 fighters (video)".
- "The issue of keeping the FSA under control". Hürriyet Daily News.
- "Culture clash: Campaign in Syria's Afrin tells women to cover up". Middle East Eye.
- "Al-Ahrar al-Sharqiya gathering arrests Islamic State member in hospital, Turkey". SMART News Agency. 9 October 2018.
- Aboufadel, Leith (November 20, 2018). "Rebel forces claim 25 Turkish soldiers, rival fighters killed in northern Aleppo".
- Barić, Joško (January 12, 2019). "Syrian War Daily – 12th of January 2019". Syrian War Daily.
- "عفرين.. اشتباكات بين أحرار الشرقية وتاجر سلاح توقع قتيلاً وجرحى". www.zamanalwsl.net.
- Desk, News (February 5, 2019). "Update: Turkish-backed rebel groups use heavy weapons to attack one another in Afrin".
- al-Khateb, Khaled (September 5, 2019). "Despite fresh forces, Syrian opposition losing ground in Idlib". Al-Monitor.
- "Remnants Of The Deiri Opposition: Contention And Controversy In North Aleppo". Bellingcat. June 25, 2019.
- "Which Syrian Groups Are Involved in Turkey's Syria Offensive?". VOA News. 9 October 2019.
- "Money, hatred for the Kurds drives Turkey's Syrian fighters". Associated Press. 15 October 2019.
- "Jaish Al-Islam & Ahrar al-Sharqiya comment over their dispute in Afrin". Call Syria. November 6, 2018.