At least 35 Turkish army officers and soldiers have been killed in joint Russian-Syrian air strikes. There have also been direct clashes between the Syrian army and Turkish forces in Idlib over the past 3 days. Some Turkish sites, including the DemokraticPress, have put the number of Turkish military fatalities at 150, in the fiercest showdown so far between the two sides.
Fighting Intensified Ahead of Erdogan’s Deadline
The violence surged as the deadline set by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expired on Saturday night. Erdogan demanded that Syrian troops pull back from vast sways of land the SAA has conquered in its major offensive in Idlib by that time. The Syrian army has liberated over 175 towns, villages and strategic hills in recent weeks and reopened the main M4 Damascus-Aleppo highway.
Heavy Losses Stir Turkish Resentment Against Erdogan’s Military Adventurism
The highest number of Turkish military fatalities in the war so far took place when Syrian and Russian jets pounded terror bases in Bailoun, Idlib on Monday night. Turkish forces were apparently mingling with rebel fighters in the area. The incident has sent strong shock waves across Erdogan’s circles and Turkey at large. The Turkish army responded with extensive drone and rocket attacks against SAA positions, including a first-of-a-kind Turkish attack on major military targets in Aleppo, killing some 40 Syrian officers and troops. Syrian air defense systems shot down a Turkish drone and most of the incoming missiles.
Reports coming from Idlib confirm that there were some of the most veracious direct clashes between SAA forces and their allied factions on the one side, and Turkish troops and their proxy militias on the other. Under the 2018 Sochi agreement between Erdogan and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Turkey maintains some 13 observation posts in Syria intended to oversee adherence to the ceasefire deal.
However, those posts have become a safe haven for terrorists’ support and a springboard for recurrent attacks on Syrian civilian areas as well as military positions. Most of these Turkish outposts have become isolated and surrounded by Syrian army forces. The Russian President and his top officials have reiterated that any Turkish force or troops that venture out of the parameters of these outposts will render themselves as legitimate targets for attack.
Balance-Tipping Battle Rages On With Neither Side Prepared to Accept Defeat
With direct Turkish military support, Erdogan’s proxy fighters have managed to score some limited successes over the past three days by retaking Saraqib which straddles along the M4 highway to Aleppo, and Nayrab which lies on the M5 from Aleppo to the Mediterranean city of Latakia. The forsaken town has become a killing field for terrorists who lost hundreds of their fighters in the suicidal offensive there. Conflicting reports about who controls what in the area keep flooding in, as the Syrian army launched a large-scale counter attack aided by Russian missile boats firing a barrage of Kalibr-NK terrain missiles with pinpoint accuracy against key targets in Idlib’s strategic Jabal al Zawiya.
After a series of fruitless Russian-Turkish military and security meetings held over the past two weeks in Ankara and Moscow, the two sides have just announced an agreement to reduce tension in Idlib; a step too little too late as many Syrians believe, given the scale of deep Turkish military involvement in the Syrian war. Despite desperate efforts to avoid any direct military showdown between the Syrian and Turkish armies, this week’s developments reflect that this is exactly what is going on. A bone-breaking battle has just started between the two neighbors.
The Idlib scene seems set for a major military escalation that could threaten stability and security in the region and far beyond, unless Putin succeeds in calming down Erdogan. Turkey’s leader is deeply sinking into the Syrian as well as the Libyan quagmires and there is a disappearing lifeline rope that the Turkish Don Quixote badly needs to grab, quickly, if he wants to climb down the burning tree in Syria before things get worse.