Turkey Deploys Hundreds Of Tanks, APCs And Commandos To Idlib; Attacks Syrian Army

With the geopolitical situation now firmly on the backburner, we remind readers that the last time we checked into the flurry of recent events in Syria over the weekend, we found that the Syrian Army was making major gains inside Idlib in a military offensive condemned by Turkey and the United States, capturing the key town of Saraqib from al-Qaeda linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Amid the military advance, in the latest embarrassment to the US State Department, the Syrian and Russian governments said they've recovered proof of US support for the anti-Assad al-Qaeda insurgent terrorists, publishing photographs of crates of weapons and supplies to state-run SANA.

In any case, the growing feud between Russia and Turkey over control of Syria last remaining rebel holdout in Idlib province escalated overnight, and as Bloomberg reports, Turkey sent hundreds of tanks, armored personnel carriers and commandos to the Syrian province of Idlib as preparations continue for a likely attempt to break the siege of some of its outposts by Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Turkish military convoy; photo: Reuters

The massive buildup over the weekend included the deployment of howitzers, multiple-rocket launchers, ambulances and trucks loaded with munitions, according to Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency.

Meanwhile, Turkey resumed talks with a Russian delegation in Ankara on Monday after failure to reach an agreement on Idlib on Saturday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, adding that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin may meet if no deal can be reached

Turkey dramatically reinforced its forces across the border since Syrian troops killed five Turkish soldiers and a civilian in Idlib on Feb. 3 as they closed in on the country’s last major rebel holdout. 

"Five of our troops were killed and five others were injured in the shelling by the Syrian regime,” the Turkish Defense Ministry said on Monday, adding that “return fire was opened."

It wasn't the first shelling incident between Turkish and Syrian forces in Idlib. A week ago, six Turkish troops were killed by Syrian artillery fire in an incident that Russia said was a result of miscommunication. The casualties could have been avoided if Ankara properly notified Damascus that it was moving troops in a border area where Damascus was holding an anti-terrorist operation at the time, Moscow said.

Turkey's Daily Sabah reported that in response to the alleged death of Turkish soldiers, 115 regime targets have been struck, 101 regime soldiers have been neutralized (i.e. killed), and 3 tanks and 2 mortars have been destroyed, as the conflict is rapidly devolving into an all out war between Syria and Turkey.

Turkey also called on Moscow to put pressure on Damascus to halt its offensive in Idlib. Meanwhile, Syria’s government has been using Russian air support to vanquish onetime al-Qaeda affiliates and Turkey-backed rebels in the province.

Erdogan last week threatened to use force to break the siege of military outposts in Idlib unless Syrian forces withdraw before the end of February. At least three of 12 Turkish outposts were confirmed to be cut off by Syrian forces in the area.

Turkish military convoy of tanks and armoured vehicles near the city of Idlib on Feb. 8; Photo: AFP/Getty

Feigning humanitarian concern, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told Hurriuet newspaper that Turkey's main goal was "to prevent a refugee exodus and humanitarian drama" adding that "we’re trying to reach a cease-fire and stop the bloodshed." However, he then made it quickly clear that the fight over northern Syria is all about strategic positioning, noting that if the violation of the Sochi and Astana agreements, which were signed by Turkey, Russia and Iran to curtail fighting in northern Syria, "continued, then we have plans B and C," Akar said. “We keep telling them not to force us” to implement those plans.

Ankara was expected to use its influence on anti-government militants to prevent fighting with Damascus troops in order to create the basis for a peaceful resolution. However, jihadist groups in Idlib continue hostile activities, with Russia saying there were several thousand attacks in the last two months alone, in which hundreds of Syrian troops and civilians died.