Turkish General in Charge of Syria Operations Resigns

The fallout from recent major field advances made by the Syrian army, and the resounding defeat of Turkish-backed militant groups operating the Idlib and Hama provinces continues, this time hitting some high-ranking officers within the Turkish army itself. Yesterday, Major General in Special Turkish Forces TSK, Ahmet Ercan Çorbacı, and his deputy commander Brigadier Artugrul Sagman handed in their resignations, along with three other officers. Çorbacı, commander of the TSK division for the province of Idlib, Syria, was the highest ranking officer in the Turkish armed forces to resign since Erdogan’s military intervention in parts of Syria, some five years ago.

What caused the resignations?

The resignations of Major General Çorbacı and his Brigadier deputy are widely viewed as a direct outcome of the humiliating recent series of defeats, at the hands of the Syrian army, of Ankara-backed rebel groups who lost some 100 towns, villages and strategic hills along with over 700 square kms of territory in recent days and weeks. Whilst Hama rural areas have been fully liberated and are, for the first time in five years, terror-free, only one Turkish military observation post remains in the area. The Turkish base is now completely surrounded by Syrian army soldiers ad has become a source of much debate and ridicule on social media platforms. Completely isolated and out of place, the Turkish post has become a subject of humongous criticism and anger by Turkish-backed rebel forces who feel abysmally let down by Ankara.

Some observers including Turkish analysts have pointed out that the resignations, in addition to the aforementioned reasons, might have been the result of Turkish commander’s fear of outright blame by Erdogan and top army brass for the unenviable situation of besieged Turkish soldiers along with the humiliating defeats in the battlefield, under the command of Çorbacı and his TSK elite brigade. The other three army officers who resigned on the same day are reported to have done so in protest at recent Turkish army’s promotions list, which they deemed was unfair to them.

Every August, the so-called Supreme Military Consultative Council in Turkey, chaired by no one else but Erdogan himself, discusses due promotions of top army officers and commanders. The Council’s deliberations, due to the sensitivity of decisions under discussion, used to take anything up to eight hours. This years meeting, however, lasted only one hour. Lists of officers to be promoted or retired are said to have been arranged in advance according to Erdogan’s instructions. The president has to endorse such decisions, and the Turkish president appeared to have dismayed some senior army officers who preferred to resign rather than continue their service.

Backdrop of unease and resentment

All of this comes on the backdrop of Erdogan’s wide-scale army reshuffles, arrests and harsh jailing sentences which followed the failed coup attempt against him in 2016. Some still suspect that the coup was staged in order to offer Erdogan a golden one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enhance his full grip on power, getting rid of all opponents in the army, judiciary, press and media, universities, you name it.

Although Turkish military and political officials including the Chief of Staff, Hulusi Akar, and Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, have made it clear that Turkey shall not withdraw from the isolated Mourek post, nothing is left for Turkish soldiers there to observe. Syrian soldiers have published footage of the bewildered and seemingly hopeless Turkish soldiers at the post in northern Hama province. All that remains is mere confusion and uncertainty regarding the fate of the secluded Mourek post. Whatever decision taken by the Turks regarding this issue, might prove to be extremely dangerous and costly.

No olives on Erdogan’s  plate in Moscow

Turkish president Erdogan, expected today in Moscow for urgent talks with Russia’s President Putin, is expected to bring up the topic as well as recent developments in Syria along with the future of Idlib itself, following recent massive advances towards the city which harbors some 70,000 hardcore terrorists from dozens of nations, pledging to fight the Syrian state to the bitter end. Turkey controls vast swathes of border Syrian land along with a number of major towns previously controlled by Kurdish armed groups.

Ankara trained, armed and directly assisted the so-called Free Syrian Army FSA rebels to take control of Efrin in March 2018, in operation Olive Branch (Zetin Dali Harekati). Hardly any olives or branches remained unscathed in the Efrin region with some 600,000 inhabitants, mainly Kurds, who were brutally expelled in a mass exodus. Turkish-backed FSA mercenaries have ravaged the city and neighboring villages, laid their hands on virtually every thing they could, stealing a huge olive oil stock, which was filmed being smuggled into nearby Turkey. The region is famous for its olives, and olive oil is three times more expensive in Turkey.

Undoubtedly, Erdogan will have a full plate of problems, issues and topics during his sudden trip to Moscow. With ongoing controversies surrounding the new Turkish-American controlled buffer zone in northern Syria, rich with oil and Gas reserves, and recent military developments in Idlib and Hama provinces, the last thing Erdogan wanted at this crucial juncture was the multiple resentment-fueled resignations of senior Turkish army officers.