Turkey Loses First Battle over Syria to Russia

February 17, 2020

3 min read

Turkey has backed Al Qaeda in its expansionist push to dominate Syria but the anti-Assad forces are reportedly taking “catastrophic losses” in their push to take western Syria, putting the NATO member at odds with Russia in a military mess that could pull many more nations into the conflict.

On Sunday,  al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and its Turkish-backed allies launched another attack on the newly-established positions of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), the regime forces of President Bashar al-Assad, in the western Aleppo countryside. Aleppo is the second-largest city in Syria and a key element for control of northwestern Syria.

South Front, a military analysis website, reported that “dozens of militants and several armored vehicles took part in the large-scale offensive, that was allegedly backed by the Turkish Armed Forces. A suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) was also used.”

Turkey is encountering difficulty in its military aspirations in Syria despite having the second-largest standing military force in NATO. This is clearly due to the direct military intervention of Russia. The Turkish-backed attack on Sunday was repelled with the help of Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) and the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) stationed in Syria to prop up the Assad regime. 

South Front conjectured that the attacks were a sign of Turkish “desperation.”

“The militants’ repeated attacks in western Aleppo don’t only reflect their desperation, but also the desperation of their main backer, Turkey. Ankara’s ever-increasing support to the militants has failed to stop or even slow down the army’s advance in the region, thus far.”

This was the third such confrontation so far this month, as Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian civil war deepens. Turkey has massed 30,000 troops and armor at the Syrian border and sent 5,000 reinforcements to bolster troops deployed in Idlib Province.  Syrian troops killed eight Turkish soldiers and a civilian contractor last week and five more soldiers on Monday. Turkey has long been involved in using military influence to destabilize Assad’s rule but direct confrontation between Turkish and Syrian troops is a recent and increasing development.

An agreement between Russia and Turkey in 2018 established a buffer zone at Idlib but  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a speech at his party’s parliamentary group meeting last Wednesday in which he stated that he will not be limited by this agreement any longer.

“We are determined to push the regime out of the borders of the Sochi Memorandum – back behind our observation posts – by the end of February,” Erdogan said. “To achieve that, we will do whatever is necessary on the ground and in the air without any hesitation and without allowing any stalling. We will not wait for the outcome of those endless meetings and will take steps to do whatever we need to do right now.”

Turkish representatives traveled to Moscow on Monday to discuss the situation in Idlib.

President Trump discussed the situation in Syria with Erdogan on Saturday and a White House spokesman told the press on Sunday that the U.S. objected to Russia’s support of the Assad regime.

“President Trump conveyed the United States’ desire to see an end to Russia’s support for the Assad regime’s atrocities and for a political resolution to the Syrian conflict,” Deputy White House press secretary Judd Deere said at the press conference. “President Trump also reiterated that continued foreign interference in Libya would only serve to worsen the situation.”

The dire situation has much graver humanitarian implications than Turkey’s frustrated geopolitical aspirations. About 700,000 people have fled their homes in Idlib since December, the United Nations said Tuesday. The region is currently experiencing an extreme winter cold snap and there have been reports of children freezing to death in the tent cities.

Turkey intends to occupy the region of northwestern Syria by resettling more than one million Syrian refugees who are currently in Turkey. 





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