Syrian army units sweeping through provincial Idlib and Aleppo have captured over 600 square kilometers and over 108 villages, towns and key hills in just the past week. However, seven Turkish soldiers were killed in rural Idlib four days ago and dozens injured when the Syrian army targeted the military post they were stationed in near Saraqib. Turkish troops evacuated their post in nearby Tal Toukan after being besieged there by advancing elite SAA forces. Another Turkish soldier was reported killed yesterday and four others were injured in a separate incident in northeastern Syria, where Turkish troops have been operating since October under operation ‘Peace Spring’ in mainly Kurdish areas.
Tension Runs High As SAA Crushes Terrorists, Besieges 6 Turkish Posts
Tension is still running high between Turkey and Syria following the incident, amid new Turkish military reinforcements into Idlib over the past two days, and renewed warnings by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his officials. Despite Erdogan’s ultimatum for the Syrian army to pull back from newly liberated areas in Idlib by the end of February, the Syrian army continues its massive offensive; its elite Republican Guards units operation in southwestern Aleppo province were recently only 3 miles away from meeting up with the 25th Special Forces Division that have barraged across rural Idlib along the M5 highway, retaking the strategic town of Saraqib which straddles both the M5 and M4 highways linking Aleppo to both the capital Damascus and the Mediterranean city of Latakia respectively.
Ankara maintains some 12 military posts across the area as agreed between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Erdogan under the Sochi agreement regarding the 9-year conflict in Syria. However, Turkish “observation posts” in the “demilitarized zone” have increasingly become havens for terror groups and rebels fighting the Bashar Al Assad government, and these posts have become launching pads for rocket and mortar shelling of both military as well as civilian targets over the past few months.
At least six of those Turkish posts in rural Idlib and Aleppo areas have now become totally isolated and surrounded by Syrian army troops, increasing the likelihood of a direct military clash between the two sides with the arrival of fresh Turkish military reinforcements. As I was writing this article, the Syrian army announced the liberation of the town of Al-Ees, Idlib, and its strategic hill governing a chunk of the M5 highway to Aleppo. Fierce and costly battles have been fought over the past few years for control of that specific strategic hilltop. The Syrian army also just took over the massive ICARDA (International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas) west of the Damascus-Aleppo highway. Republican Guard units advancing down from Aleppo just recently met there, with Division 25 troops sweeping north from Idlib along the M5. Now the main land transportation artery between the two cities—the M5—is virtually open for the first time in 7 years.
Ankara Keen To Replace Lost Positions, Sets Up New Posts In Idlib
Turkey has stepped up its military presence in Idlib province by sending some 150 military vehicles and tanks over the past couple of days alone. Military convoys have been spotted in the border town of Rihanli, and later crossing the Turkish-Syrian borders into Idlib. Three such convoys were seen crossing into Syria through the illegal Kafr Loucin north of Idlib in the space of 72 hours. The latest Turkish incursion took place under cover of darkness and coincided with the latest Israeli rocket attacks against Syrian military and industrial targets around the capital Damascus, as well as south of the town of Izra’, Dar’a, close to the Syrian borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights. It is not entirely proven—although widely suspected—that the Israeli raids which killed and injured a dozen Syrian soldiers and the Turkish incursion around the same time were not just an innocent coincidence. The Israeli strikes inflicted severe damage on an industrial compound in al Tal near Damascus.
The new posts to be established by the Turkish army in Idlib – with the aim of stopping or at least slowing down the overwhelming advances made by the Syrian army – are likely to include some strategically important junctions such as al Mastouma Camp south of the city itself, the entrance to the city of Ariha overlooking the main highway and in the Military establishment area on the main Idlib-Sarmeen highway. This location had been occupied by the (pro-Qaeda) Ansar al Tawheed radical militia which was ordered to evict by the Turkish army who already has a base inside the nearby Taftanaz military air base which has been controlled by al Nusra terrorists for more than six years now.
Al Mastouma Camp is expected to become the main Turkish military base that coordinates between all Turkish military posts in the region. Local sources have confirmed that Turkish units in Taftanaz and elsewhere in the area have also provided al-Qaeda linked terrorist groups with huge military support, including armored vehicles and artillery as well as missile cover and shelling during their foiled massive offensive earlier this week against Syrian army units in the newly liberated town of al Nayrab. With mounting escalation building up in the area – exacerbated by recent Turkish threats and Syrian counter warnings along with latest Turkish army fatalities in Syria – the possibility of a much-feared direct military clash between the Syrian and Turkish armies is becoming ever more likely, unless Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin pulls enough weight and leverage with Erdogan to come up with a formula that might avert an imminent catastrophic confrontation.