The Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) consists of multiple factions organized into divisions and brigades. One of those factions is Force 55, whose foundations lie in the north Aleppo countryside town of Tel Ref'at that is currently controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian government. Tel Ref'at, it will be recalled, was taken from the rebels by the SDF in 2016 and has been a long-standing rebel grievance against the SDF in north Aleppo countryside. Indeed, a large number of displaced people from Tel Ref'at reside in the rebel-held parts of north Aleppo countryside.
To learn more about Force 55, I interviewed al-Hajji Abu Suleiman, a commander in the group. This interview was conducted on 20 February 2020. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: When was Force 55 formed? And what was its origin and from where does the name come?
A: Force 55 was formed in 2014 and Force 55 is considered among the biggest components of the Shami Front. It was also a foundational component of Liwa al-Tawheed previously as we are among the original founders of Liwa al-Tawheed. Our faction was called this name [Force 55] because most of our battalions were affiliated with the fifth regiment of Liwa al-Tawheed and an identical number was added to become Force 55. And we the Force 55 are now in the second brigade in the Division 33 in the Third Legion in the Free National Army [SNA].
Q: In which battles has the force participated and how many martyrs does it have? Currently in which battles is the force participating?
A: We have more than 250 martyrs, excluding the wounded. We have participated in all the military battles in Duwair al-Zaytoun, Harda Tanain and Raytn against the regime and we waged the liberation battles in the town of Tel Ref'at against the Da'esh [Islamic State] organization and we participated in all of the battles in the Euphrates Shield operation and the liberation of our countryside from the Da'esh organization. And we participated in the first lines in the Olive Branch operation and the liberation of all of the areas from the PYD/PKK party all the way to Afrin. And we set out with the Third Legion to the east of the Euphrates to liberate Tel Abyad and its countryside from the terrorist party and we are still on ribat [frontline manning] and present in the town of Tel Abyad, as well as the leadership of all of the operations with the leadership present from the Shami Front our mother faction. We are on ribat now in the contact point with our PKK enemy on the fronts of our beloved usurped town Tel Ref'at. And we tried in the battle of Ain Diqna to liberate Tel Ref'at and its environs from the party but we we were not successful. And we have participated in special operations through the People of the Abode operations room on Tel Ref'at and the People of the Land operations room.
Q: What prevents the beginning of the operations to liberate Tel Ref'at from the PKK party?
A: What prevents us now from military work on our areas is the international agreements and the consideration of our areas according to the Sochi and Astana agreements as a safe zone, the large number of refugee and displaced civilian inhabitants in our northern countryside, and the the fear that the Russian occupier will bomb the defenceless people from the air. But we are always working to regain the decision that has been stolen from us internationally.
Q: Will the force participate in the Idlib operations with the Turkish army?
A: We the Force 55- as a component of the Shami Front- have participated in the battles of north Hama and south Idlib, and now we are participating in the ongoing battles in Idlib countryside and the countryside to the west of Aleppo city.