The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Sunday announced the beginning of Operation Oath, a large-scale counter-intelligence operation intended to root out Turkish spies operating in predominantly Kurdish areas in northern Syria.
Operation Oath was launched almost one year after Turkish drone strikes that killed SDF commanders Rênas Roj on the road between Qamishlo and Hasakah and Commanders Sosin Birhat and Egîd Girkêlegê, with fighters Rubar Hesekê, Seyfullah Ehmed. in Til Temr, a town in al-Hasakah governorate in northeast Syria.
On 26 July, the SDF announced it had arrested three members of a spy ring believed to have provided Turkish intelligence with information required to conduct the strikes. Then, on Sunday, the SDF published a statement announcing the launch of Operation Oath “to track down agents and spies.”
“By establishing spy networks and agents, the Turkish occupying State seeks to undermine the trust of our people, and arouse suspicion and skepticism,” the SDF’s statement said.
“On the other hand, it is trying to use these dirty ways to target our SDF leaders and fighters, members of the Internal Security Forces, and employees of the Autonomous Administration,” it said. “These spy networks have caused the martyrdom of many of our comrades and well-known national and community figures.”
The spy networks have been organised and overseen from Turkish-occupied areas including Jarablus, al-Ain, Afrin and Azzaz, the SDF said.
In response, the SDF has started a “top-secret and highly professional operation to uncover the threads of this scheme,” the statement said. “Following the continuous tracking and investigation process with several spy networks and agents, we came across documents proofing their involvement.”
The SDF is the armed group comprised of all different religious and cultural communities and administrations which set up autonomous control over large swathes of northern Syria during the country’s 11-year civil war. The group fought along U.S. forces against the Islamic State (ISIS) and was instrumental in the extremist jihadist group’s defeat.
The autonomous administrations include representation from the Arab, Assyrian and other communities living in the north of Syria. However, the territory and the administrations are predominantly Kurdish led, and the Turkish government considers them to be a wing of the PKK which is outlawed in Turkey.
The Turkish military has launched a series of military operations against the SDF since 2016 and currently occupies large areas in northern Syria.
These areas have become safe havens for ISIS extremists, the SDF said in its statement on Sunday, accusing Turkish military intelligence of helping the jihadists “to reorganize and train their elements to launch terrorist attacks on our areas.”
The assassination of senior ISIS leaders in Turkish-occupied territories is “irrefutable proof that the Turkish occupying State is harboring and supporting ISIS,” the statement added. “If those areas were not a safe haven, ISIS would not have taken it as a base.”
In 2019, ISIS commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi became the first of several high-profile ISIS figures to be killed in Turkish-controlled areas in Syria.