Syria’s Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold, continues to impact Turkey’s relations with both Russia and the Syrian regime. Turkey had assumed responsibility (under the Astana and Sochi agreements, as well as the most recent Moscow agreement) to eliminate terrorist groups in Idlib, to prevent Russia and the Syrian regime from launching a military operation on the city. While Turkey faces challenges in keeping extremist groups under control, Russia and the Syrian regime have grown impatient to capture Idlib. The accompanying articles argue that Turkey seems to be preparing for a war in Idlib.
After the Turkish and Russian presidents brokered a deal to deescalate the fighting in Idlib on 5 March, the situation there has generally remained calm. However, the article from Al-Monitor, a news site with analysts from the Middle East, states that Turkey’s withdrawal from Morek on 19-20 October, one of the 12 military observation posts Turkey established around Idlib, is an indication of a forthcoming war. Syrian regime forces surrounded some other Turkish observation posts “since their capture of the key M5 highway in February.” Russia has been pressing Turkey to evacuate the surrounded outposts and Turkey will likely evacuate them.
On 16 September, in military talks in the Turkish capital, Russian officials once again pressed Turkey “to leave the outposts, reduce its military presence elsewhere [in Syria], remove its heavy weapons from the region and push armed groups away from the M4 highway.” The author suggests that this Russian pressure might be because of Turkey’s involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The author writes, “Turkey’s withdrawal from observation posts may appear to be acquiescence to Russian pressure at first glance, but its military activities around the M4 speak of fresh war preparations.”
The article explains that there is a Turkish military build-up in Idlib to thwart a possible offensive by the Syrian regime. Since the 5 March deal, “Turkey has sent two or three military convoys per week to Idlib, setting up some 140 military points equipped with armored vehicles, tanks, howitzers and air defense weapons around the M4 road.” Turkey also has tried to create a unified front among armed opposition groups including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and “the Turkish backed Syrian National Army and National Front for Liberation under the banner of a joint military council.” Meanwhile, the Syrian Army also has reinforced its position with more military build-up. As the article points out, the possibility of a full-fledged war between Turkey and its proxy forces and a Syrian regime backed by Russia might be imminent.
The second article, from pro-Turkish government newspaper Hürriyet, summarizes the events leading up to Syrian regime forces capturing areas near Idlib and surrounding Turkish military outposts since the summer of 2019. The Syrian regime’s offensive led to seven Turkish military outposts being surrounded and strategic portions of the M5 highway being captured by the Russia-supported Syrian army. The author points out that these military outposts being surrounded by the Syrian regime were a security risk for Turkish military personnel stationed there, and Turkey had to rely on Russia to reinforce and supply these outposts. Additionally, the article quotes Hürriyet’s Ankara correspondent saying Turkey is likely to reinforce other areas in the north closer to the Turkish border.
Turkey’s military buildup in Idlib may appear a deterrence effort, but is clearly setting a stage where a small spark might ignite a destructive war.
Source: “Turkey’s withdrawal in Idlib may be omen of war,” al-Monitor, 22 October 2020. https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/10/turkey-syria-russia-turkish-withdrawal-safe-zone-war-omen.html
Turkey has begun withdrawing from military observation posts in regime-held enclaves in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria, but the move looks more like an omen of war for the region than a sign of reconciliation and retreat.
The outpost at Morek, one of several encircled by Syrian government forces since their capture of the key M5 highway in February, was evacuated Oct. 19-20, with others expected to follow suit.
Turkey has been under growing Russian pressure to leave the surrounded outposts. Most recently, the issue was raised at Sept. 16 military talks in Ankara, with the Russian side pressing for Turkey to leave the outposts, reduce its military presence elsewhere, remove its heavy weapons from the region and push armed groups away from the M4 highway, the other key road in Idlib…
Turkey’s evacuation of the Morek outpost came soon after it ventured into Russia’s backyard in the Caucasus… It is very likely that Russia has retracted its security guarantees in Idlib.
Eight Turkish observation posts — at Sheikh Aqil, Anadan, Rashidin, al-Ais, Tell Touqan, al-Surman, Arima and Morek — remained in territories recaptured by regime forces in a Russian-backed offensive that began in May 2019 and culminated in the seizure of the M5 last February…
Turkey has not officially announced the withdrawal and it remains unknown how many outposts it will evacuate… According to other sources, Turkish troops are already dismantling and packing up military equipment at multiple other locations.
Turkey has sent two or three military convoys per week to Idlib since March 5, setting up some 140 military points equipped with armored vehicles, tanks, howitzers and air defense weapons around the M4 road. According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, more than 10,600 Turkish military vehicles entered Idlib from Feb. 2 to Oct. 20.
The expanse and layout of Turkey’s deployment speak of an effort to raise a barrier against a possible thrust by the Syrian army.
As the 170-vehicle convoy that left Morek retreated to the Jabal al-Zawiya region, another Turkish convoy of tanks and other military vehicles crossed from the border province of Hatay to Idlib, and Turkish troops set up a new base in the village of Kokin in Jabal al-Zawiya and deployed to the village of Karatah in southern Idlib. Military preparations were also reported at a Turkish base at Taftanaz in eastern Idlib.
Since the March 5 deal, Turkey has also sought to enhance its control over the armed groups holding sway in Idlib. There is an ongoing effort, coordinated by Turkish intelligence, to unite Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the dominant outfit in Idlib, and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army and National Front for Liberation (NFL) under the banner of a joint military council.
Turkey’s withdrawal from observation posts may appear to be acquiescence to Russian pressure at first glance, but its military activities around the M4 speak of fresh war preparations…
In sum, Turkey’s military buildup in Idlib may appear a deterrence effort, but is clearly setting a stage where a small spark might ignite a destructive war.
Source: “İdlib’de o zor karar sonunda alındı (That difficult decision was finally made in Idlib),” al-Monitor, 23 October 2020. https://www.hurriyet.com.tr/yazarlar/sedat-ergin/idlibde-o-zor-karar-sonunda-alindi-41643569
… Since these observation points remained in the regime area, they both created serious security risks, and meeting their needs caused practical difficulties. The maintenance of the supply lines of the facilities required close cooperation and coordination with Russia. In any case, keeping these outposts for a long time did not seem like a sustainable situation.
It was no secret that the Kremlin had requested Ankara to evacuate these points from the beginning. The news from the field since last Monday evening showed that the observation outpost 9 in Morek was being evacuated.
In today’s column by our Ankara Representative Hande Fırat stated that the “High Level Turkish Security Resources” conveyed their statements, confirming the news and announced that “some observation outposts will be relocated to areas in the north”. These statements indicate that the withdrawal is not limited to the observation outposts in Morek, but it will also include other bases in the regime held region…
In addition, relocating to a region north of the M-4 highway means Turkey further strengthening its military presence in this region…