Turkey planned in July 2016 to enlist 4,000 Syrians on a monthly payroll of $3.8 million to fight as a proxy in the civil war against the Bashar al-Assad government as well as provide ammunition and equipment worth nearly $200 million, classified documents have revealed.
According to the documents, obtained by Nordic Monitor, Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) coordinated the enlisting of rebels while the Turkish military handled the training, arming and equipping of the fighters. The documents suggest the original plan, drafted in November 2015, was updated in the summer of 2016.
The documents detail the arms that would be provided to the rebels, whose initial number was set at 4,000, with another 4,000 to later be added to the force. The arms included 3,440 AK-47 rifles. 280 PKMS machine guns, 280 RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 160 M2 Browning 12.7mm machine guns, 12 14.5 mm KPV heavy machine guns, 360 Kanas (Dragunov SVD) sniper rifles, 55 various calibre mortar bombs, four anti-tank TOW missiles and four SPG-9 Kopye (Spear) 73 millimeter calibre recoilless guns and 270 GTT recoilless rifles (57mm, 75mm, 106mm).
The arms were estimated to be worth $4.4 million at market value. Furthermore, $155.1 million in ammunition was also planned to be delivered to the rebels, according to the documents.
The Turkish military was to supply $37.2 million in military and technical equipment such as mine detectors, night vision goggles, CB radios, armored cars, generators, heavy construction equipment, boots and military fatigues. The total cost came to nearly $200 million at market prices, although the documents also listed the official purchase price list at a lower cost as indicated in the Logistics Information System (LBS).
The Turkish military asked the US to cover some of the costs and provide arms, ammunition and equipment from a stockpile maintained at Incirlik Airbase in the southeastern province of Adana.
The list shows that some of the Russian arms and ammunition requested by the rebels were not located in Turkish or US stockpiles. It included tank mortars used on T-55 T-62 and T-72 tanks seized from Syrian government forces, anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, and various rockets such as those for the Grad launcher. The note next to the list states that their procurement would be sought from local suppliers.
Each fighter would receive $450 on a monthly basis and also be provided with food and fuel, according to the plans. The 4,000-strong force was to be divided into four groups of 1,000 fighters each. Each group would be composed of three units (400, 300 and 300), and every unit was to have three to four companies of 100 fighters each. Companies were further divided into small teams with each having its own commander, two deputy commanders, a communications specialist, a translator and fighters.
The Turkish plan appears to have been coordinated with US officials. The US had already spent $500 million in 2015 to train and equip rebels to establish a 5,000-strong rebel force during the Obama administration, but the plan was shut down in October 2015 after most fighters either deserted and joined radical groups including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or were captured by rival factions. The Pentagon continued the program with some adjustments in 2016, only to cancel it in 2017 on the order of President Donald Trump. Since then, Turkey has continued to train, arm and equip rebels on its own, even expanding its program.