Under Fire, Turkey Evacuate Posts in Syria

(Damascus) Turkish forces are spread over large sections of land in the bordering areas of northwestern Syria, but have been evacuating from some of their positions, including two of their main observation posts within the rebel-controlled countryside of Idlib and Hama, where the Syrian army has launched a large-scale military operation targeting Al Nusra terrorists and other militant groups backed by Turkey and Qatar.

The sudden Turkish pullout come in the wake of a recent attack targeting one of their bases located close to observation post number 10, south of Idlib and northwest of Hama, in which three Turkish officers were killed and several other soldiers injured less than a week ago. Turkey immediately sought Russian mediation for talks with the Syrian army in order to evacuated their injured soldiers. Four Turkish military helicopters covered by F16 fighter jets were filmed evacuating the victims of the mortar attack.

Having evacuated the base that came under attack, another convoy of Turkish Military trucks and personnel carriers were spotted last night withdrawing from another post in the area. The attack represents a major military operation by the Syrian army, following attacks and shelling by militant groups against army positions. Christian villages in northeastern Hama province were also attacked, resulting in the death and injury of scores of civilians and a number of soldiers.

The Syrian army has made significant advances over the past couple of days, liberating the two strategic towns of Kafr Nabooda and Al Madeek Castle in northeastern Hama, and is quickly moving towards the major strongholds of militant militias particularly the so-called rebel group Jaish Al Izza in the towns of Al Latamneh, Al Habeet and Kafr Zeita. Turkish, Saudi and Qatari-backed militias and terrorist organisations operate and control much of these areas that form parts of the volatile countryside of Idlib, Hama and Aleppo.

Turkey finds itself in an extremely difficult position following the last session of talks in Astana between representatives of various rebel groups and the Syrian government. Russia has been left exasperated by Ankara’s failure to honour its pledges and commitments to Moscow during the last summit between presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan last September. The ensuing Idlib Declaration that was announced in a joint press conference by the two leaders, in which Turkey pledges to dismantle terrorist groups in and around Idlib within an agreed time frame has also failed to be achieved, resulting in further discontent.

Ankara has failed to meet these promises, and recent terrorist attacks launched from that specific area against army and civilian targets, have added insult to Erdogan’s injuries. The fact that Turkey might have little or even no control over some of Saudi-backed terror groups, particularly the outlawed Al Nusra Front, make a major military operation lead by Syria and its allies to recapture Idlib and other areas under rebel control since 2014, an inevitable development.

The area east of the Euphrates river is under almost total control of the US-backed Kurdish SDF, considered a terrorist organisation and extension of PKK by Ankara. The territory stretches along the Syrian-Turkish northern border and comprises large areas of Syria’s oil and gas fields.

Ankara has backed the 25,000 strong so-called Free Syrian Army whose rebels, albeit with direct Turkish military involvement, ousted Kurdish forces including the US-adopted SDF from Afrin in March 2018. The encounter displaced hundreds of thousands of Kurdish civilians from the city and its suburbs in the northwestern Aleppo countryside, close to the borders with Turkey that span over 930 kilometers.

Despite conflicting interests and goals, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and others have supported ISIS, Al Nusra (the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda) and other terrorist and Islamic fanatic groups operating in Syria.

With ISIS having been largely uprooted (some say transferred by its operators) in Syria, all eyes are now focused on Al Nusra and similar hardline militias, including the Turkish-backed Turkistan Army (mainly containing terrorists of Turkish origins). There are ongoing battles in the mountains of Latakia along the borders with Turkey, as well as the fierce fighting and major operations being waged in the Idlib and Hama rural towns and villages. The outcome of these battles, expected to culminate in a final large battle in Idlib unless a last-minute miracle occurs, shall decide the destiny of the war against terror, which has ravished Syria and threatened the whole region and beyond, having been most difficult and tragic years in Syrian history.

Wherever one looks, one immediately realizes that without Turkey’s involvement, it would have been almost impossible to smuggle tens of thousands of terrorists and Islamic fanatics from all over the world (84 countries according to some reserved estimates) across the Turkish borders into Syria.

Unless Turkey pulls out its invading troops from Syria, attacks against its soldiers are expected to be mounted by anti-Turkish armed groups, despite strenuous efforts to avert any direct clash between the two armies. Turkish forces have crossed the borders and launched operations under various pretexts and names, the last of which was Operation Olive Branch in March 2018. Turkish control in Syria seems to crumbling and Erdogan’s “Olives” have been crushed in Idlib, not too far away from where they came.