Turkey isn’t just playing host to camps of Syrian refugees, it’s also harboring an armed opposition group calling itself the Free Syrian Army, the New York Times reports. The group claims to have more than 10,000 fighters across at least 18 battalions, and claims responsibility for the deaths of nine Syrian soldiers in an attack on Wednesday. “If the international community provides us weapons, we can topple the regime in a very, very short time,” says their commander, Colonel Riad al-As’aad, a Syrian military defector.
Turkey, which once had close ties to Syria, says its relationship with the rebels is purely humanitarian. “At the time all of these people escaped from Syria, we did not know who was who,” one official explains. “It was not written on their heads, ‘I am a soldier’ or ‘I am an opposition member.’” But when the Times met Colonel al-As’aad, he was in a local government office, guarded by 10 Turkish soldiers and wearing a suit purchased by the Turkish Foreign Ministry. One analyst says the apparent relationship pushes Turkey “further towards active intervention in Syria.”