For the first time in the nine-year old conflict in Syria, a direct military clash between the Turkish and Syrian armies seems closer than ever. Two Syrian military helicopters were shot down by shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles supplied to terror groups and extremist Islamist militias following recent threats made by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His troops in Syria recently lost at least 14 officers with dozens others injured when Syrian units targeted Turkish military convoys flooding across the borders into Idlib in recent days. The convoys were in support of Erdogan’s defeated proxy militias fighting to topple the government of President Bashar al Assad. Six pilots and crew manning the two helicopters were killed in the incidents, sparking widespread condemnation and anger among the majority of Syrians who believe that it was Erdogan’s troops who shot down the two helicopters in revenge for their recent heavy losses in Syria.
Bone-Crushing Battles Rage on as Syrian Army Sweeps Across Idlib and Aleppo
The situation on the battlefield has been changing by the day – sometimes by the hour – in favor of the Syrian army whose elite units have managed to liberate over 950 square kilometers in one week only, retaking hundreds of villages, towns and hilltops as well as a number of key towns along the strategic M5 highway linking the capital Damascus with Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city and economic capital. The highway has now been reopened for the first time in over seven years and declared safe for travel and transport as Syria’s army managed to secure both sides of the M5, along with large chunks of the M4 linking Aleppo with the Mediterranean port city of Latakia, which was also closed down for some six years.
Syrian army units are now less than 3 miles from the Turkish borders in western Aleppo and only eight miles from the city of Idlib itself, having waged some of the fiercest and deadliest battles since the conflict in Syria broke out in 2011. The Turkish army – which has established some 12 military outposts in the country under the Sochi agreement in 2018 with at least eight of those outposts now completely surrounded by Syrian troops – has been bringing in large reinforcements into Idlib over the past few days.
Turkish special forces have been providing direct military support to rebel forces including MLRS and artillery shelling of Syrian positions on numerous occasions, in advance of rebel counter-attacks; all of which have been quashed by SAA’s overwhelming military power and the air support of Russian and Syrian jets which carried out round-the-clock raids of rebel camps, ammunition dumps and rear reinforcement lines. Hundreds of terrorists have been killed in recent fighting in rural Idlib and Aleppo areas, including many senior foreign military commanders. Moreover, dozens of Turkish tanks and armoured vehicles, including those supplied to al-Nusra terrorists as well as other proxy militias were destroyed by Russian and Syrian air strikes as well as by heavy rocket and artillery bombardment with a domino-like collapse of anti-government strongholds and heavily fortified positions and concentrations.
Guns Speak Louder Than Deals as Russian-Turkish talks on Idlib fail
Fast-changing conditions and facts on the Syrian ground made it difficult for the Russian military delegation that arrived in Ankara for urgent talks on Idlib with senior Turkish military officers to bear any tangible fruit. The meeting earlier this week was reported to have been extremely tense and unfriendly even. The Russians presented the Turks with a new map for the “de-escalation zone” based on recent military advances made by the Syrian army, which limits the zone to a 30-kilometer deep strand along the borders in Idlib. Ankara utterly rejected the Russian proposal and threatened to “force” the Syrian army back behind Turkish 12 military outposts, as before recent SAA gains. The Russians responded with a firm counter warning to Ankara that Syrian president Assad does not want any more deals and is determined to liberate Idlib – all of Idlib – as well as the rest of Syrian territory by force.
Erdogan, desperate to meet with his Russian counterpart to work a way out of this deadlock has embarked on a series of threats and warnings to attack the Syrian army anywhere, should there be any new attacks on Turkish soldiers. The initial response coming from the Kremlin was that “there was no need for a summit between Putin and Erdogan to discuss Idlib, because the situation there was ‘normal’, and the Syrian army offensive was within the provisions and limits of the Sochi agreement.” This statement was well received by the Syrian leadership in Damascus as a Russian green light to continue the current operations in Idlib and Aleppo.
Could Kurdish Forces Seize the Situation to Settle Accounts With Ankara?
Unconfirmed news was leaked today that some Kurdish forces have pledged to fight against Turkish troops as well as Ankara’s proxy militias in the crucial battles anticipated over the next few days. These battles could go all the way to the Turkish borders in Idlib, Aleppo and possibly east of the Euphrates river where Turkish troops have been fighting a large campaign against Kurdish SDF and other militias since last October.
Given the first deadly clash between locals in rural Qamishli – and a US military convoy two days ago which had to withdraw under areal cover provided by US F16s – and the ensuing rising tension there that could herald the beginning of popular uprising against US and Turkish invading troops in northeastern Syria. As predicted by Assad when the Americans moved in, the situation in Syria looks more prone to further escalation on many fronts than ever before.
Kurdish SDF militia could find the current situation ideal to settle some of its outstanding accounts with Ankara, even if that means fighting shoulder-by-shoulder with the Syrian army in what is widely perceived as Syria’s last and most crucial showdown with terrorist and their many backers.