It’s time for Ankara to accept the realities of the Syrian war before it’s too late (UPDATED!)

February 28, 2020

By Aram Mirzaei for the Saker blog

The two months long Syrian Army offensive in the Idlib and Aleppo provinces culminated in Aleppo’s complete liberation from the jihadist terrorists of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and their friends. In a matter of weeks, the Syrian Army, backed by the Russian Air Force managed to liberate hundreds of towns and cities across the two provinces, including the important cities or Saraqib and Maarat Al-Numan, while also fully securing the imperative M5 highway stretching from Damascus to Aleppo. These are areas that were considered untouchable only a year ago, but now they have all fallen like bricks, proving that the jihadist resolve is dwindling.

Naturally, tensions with Ankara, a key backer of the jihadist forces, have risen. The Russian-Turkish understanding has deteriorated over the past weeks as both sides accuse eachother of breaking their agreement. The Sochi agreement of 2018 stipulated that a demilitarized zone was to be created in Idlib and Ankara was tasked with separating the “moderate” rebels from HTS militants. After almost 18 months of stalling by the Turkish side and repeated attacks and violations of the agreement by the Jihadist forces, Moscow’s and Damascus’ patience finally ran out.

I have for long been a critic of these ceasefire deals in Idlib as I consider it a waste of time to negotiate with Jihadists since these are people that consider peace with the kuffars (Russians) and murtadeens (Shias, Alawites) to be a sin. Besides, what would be the purpose of a long term ceasefire with them? The Syrian jihadists will never participate in a political settlement, while the foreign jihadists have no right to be in Syria in the first place.

The jihadists have for long declared that they will not rest until the Syrian government is overthrown anyways. When two sides have such fundamental differences that can never be reconciled, there is no point in even trying. The reality is that the Syrian Army and the jihadists are locked in a battle of annihilation, no side can live comfortably as long as the other side still exists. Yes, the ceasefire deals were beneficial for a while in 2017 when the Syrian Army had the opportunity to shift focus from Idlib to central and eastern Syria in their campaign against the so called “Islamic State”. With Daesh defeated, the jihadists in Idlib were not just weakened but also isolated since the Syrian Army no longer had to fight on two fronts in the Aleppo and Hama provinces. While the Russian entry into the war in 2015, spelled disaster for the jihadists, the fall of Daesh as a territorial entity made it even more clear that the jihadist defeat was inevitable.

Still Ankara has thrown all its weight behind the jihadists, even going as far as threatening to launch an offensive to push back the Syrian Army gains. So far, Ankara has sent massive convoys to Idlib and set up new “observation posts” across the region and helped the jihadists to launch counter offensives on Saraqib- there are pictures and videos showing HTS militants using Turkish military vehicles, while Moscow also caught Turkish forces providing artillery cover to the jihadists. Moscow has responded by reassuring their commitment to stand by the Syrian Army and joined the Syrian Air Force in bombing the jihadists, striking Turkish forces embedded with them as well. Tensions rose to alarming levels when several Turkish soldiers were killed in Moscow’s bombings, naturally Ankara blamed Damascus rather than admitting that Moscow punished Ankara for crossing the line. Yet Erdogan continues to threaten Syria by demanding the Syrian Army withdraws from all liberated areas by the end of February.

It remains to be seen whether Ankara will make good on its promise of launching an offensive on Idlib, but history teaches us that making strategic moves out of desperation is never a good idea. Ankara is desperate to have the jihadists remaining in Idlib, because Erdogan knows what the other option means – 30 000 terrorists with nowhere else to go, flocking into Turkey and wreaking havoc inside the country. It’s a dangerous game that Ankara is playing here. Fighting the Kurdish led militias who have no airpower and capabilities to bring down Turkish warplanes is one thing, but fighting a Syrian Arab Army, with 9 years of battle experience, and two major players such as Iran and Russia backing them militarily and logistically, is a whole other thing.

One would think that it would be in Turkey’s best interest to see these terrorists eliminated. Logically, nobody would want terrorists as their neighbours, which makes me question whether or not Ankara is actually calling the shots here. There is another player in this war that has a history of using terrorism to achieve their goals – enter Washington. My gut feeling tells me that Washington is behind these tensions as it is Washington that benefits from a collapse in Russian-Turkish collaboration. I believe that Washington is fuming over the rapid advance of the Syrian Army, and seeing how Washington has lost influence over an ever more rebellious Ankara over the past few years, Washington sees a great opportunity to get Ankara back into the fold.

It is no coincidence that Secretary Pompeo immediately after the announcement of two slain Turkish soldiers took to Twitter express “solidarity with the killed Turkish soldiers” and declare Washington’s commitment to “stand by our NATO ally Turkey”. A few days ago, reports alleged that Turkey had asked Washington for support through the deployment of Patriot missile systems to counter Russian warplanes – this was supposedly in response to Moscow’s decision to impose a no-fly zone in north-western Syria. As mentioned, Washington is the player that benefits the most from a Turkish-Russian deterioration of relations, as Washington thrives in the chaos that would follow if Moscow and Ankara cannot find a solution and are forced to confront one another.

Erdogan is recognized as a mentally unstable player by many observers while others consider him a mastermind who has been playing both sides in this war and who is now trying to bluff his way into stopping the Syrian Army advance. Whether he is crazy or just bluffing I’ll leave for every person to decide for himself, but if he is crazy and wants to confront Damascus and Moscow on this matter, then we are about to enter yet another bloody chapter of this almost 9 years long great tragedy. By the end of this month, we will know if Erdogan is bluffing for not.

Update: Since writing this article, the situation has further escalated as last night at least 33 Turkish troops were killed by Syrian Army shelling. The Turkish military responded by reportedly striking Syrian Army positions all over the Idlib countryside, causing catastrophic damage to the Syrian military’s capabilities in northwestern Syria.

SYRIAN WAR REPORT – JANUARY 29, 2020: SYRIAN ARMY DEVELOPS MOMENTUM IN IDLIB AND ALEPPO

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On January 28, units of the Syrian Army, led by the 25th Special Mission Forces Division, liberated the town of Maarat al-Numan, the Wadi Al-Deif military base and nearby villages from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other al-Qaeda-linked groups.

Earlier on the same day, a Turkish military convoy consisting of at least 30 vehicles entered Syria through the Kafr Lusein crossing and moved to the south. This was mostly a tactical manoeuver designed to demonstrate to pro-Turkish militant groups that Ankara was not going to surrender its positions in Idlib. Nonetheless, the only thing that these Turkish forces are able to do is to establish another observation point in the region. Local sources say that this point will be set up south of

Another area where Hayat Tahrir al-Sham forces suffered setbacks is southwestern Aleppo, where government troops pushed militants away from the Khan Tuman farms and delivered a blow to militant formations deployed in the Rashidin 5 area.

On January 29, government forces continued their operations on both frontlines. The current priority of the Syrian Army in southeastern Idlib is to secure the chunk of the M5 highway between Khan Shaikhun and Maarat al-Numan. After this, the militant strong points in Kafr Nubl and Kafr Sajnah will likely become the next target of the army offensive. Their liberation is crucial if government troops want to create a proper defense against possible militant attacks from the Zawiyah Mountain area.

Saraqib, located on the crossroad of the M4 and M5 highways, is also a high priority target. Nonetheless, an advance in this direction is unlikely in the immediate future.

In Western Aleppo the Syrian Army seeks to liberate Khan Tuman, Rashidin 4 and Rashidin 5 in order to limit the number of mortar and rocket attacks on Aleppo city by militants.

The Syrian military, supported by the Russian air power and special forces, launched an offensive in Greater Idlib on December 19, 2019. Since then, pro-government forces have liberated over 50 settlements in the south and the east of the Idlib de-escalation zone. As long as al-Qaeda-linked factions remain the core of the so-called Idlib opposition and Turkish-backed groups cooperate with them, such military operations in the area will continue.

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Another area where Hayat Tahrir al-Sham forces suffered setbacks is southwestern Aleppo, where government troops pushed militants away from the Khan Tuman farms and delivered a blow to militant formations deployed in the Rashidin 5 area.

On January 29, government forces continued their operations on both frontlines. The current priority of the Syrian Army in southeastern Idlib is to secure the chunk of the M5 highway between Khan Shaikhun and Maarat al-Numan. After this, the militant strong points in Kafr Nubl and Kafr Sajnah will likely become the next target of the army offensive. Their liberation is crucial if government troops want to create a proper defense against possible militant attacks from the Zawiyah Mountain area.

Saraqib, located on the crossroad of the M4 and M5 highways, is also a high priority target. Nonetheless, an advance in this direction is unlikely in the immediate future.

In Western Aleppo the Syrian Army seeks to liberate Khan Tuman, Rashidin 4 and Rashidin 5 in order to limit the number of mortar and rocket attacks on Aleppo city by militants.

The Syrian military, supported by the Russian air power and special forces, launched an offensive in Greater Idlib on December 19, 2019. Since then, pro-government forces have liberated over 50 settlements in the south and the east of the Idlib de-escalation zone. As long as al-Qaeda-linked factions remain the core of the so-called Idlib opposition and Turkish-backed groups cooperate with them, such military operations in the area will continue.

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Syrian Army Cleaned the Strategic City of Maarat Numan from NATO Terrorists

January 28, 2020 Arabi Souri

Maarat al-Numan city is liberated from NATO terrorists by the Syrian Arab Army and its allies, the city is the largest city in the southern countryside of Idlib province.

After the fiercest clashes with all of NATO, all of the Gulfies, and all of the evil powers on Earth supporting the human garbage of Nusra Front and its affiliates, the Syrian Arab Army proved once again they are the masters of the fight against terror. The SAA managed to neutralize dozens of NATO terrorists in the last 24 hours.

The resumption of the military campaign to clean the province of Idlib and the countryside of Aleppo from terrorists came after the last ceasefire collapsed when once again the Turkish pariah Erdogan intentionally failed to commit to his own promises by separating foreign non-moderate terrorists forming the backbone of the ‘Syrian’ opposition from the moderate head-choppers of the same opposition.

Units of the SAA are combing the streets and allies block by block and apartment by apartment for remnants of terrorists and for explosives they usually plant in every corner of the places they infest to continue to cause maximum harm and suffering among the Syrian people after they leave.

Damascus – Aleppo International Highway aka M5 artery goes right through the city connecting the political capital and most populated city of Syria with the economic capital and powerhouse Aleppo.

Maarat Numan has been infested by NATO terrorists since October 2012 and ever since has been their launchpad to carry out their terrorist attacks against other towns and cities in addition to cutting off the international highway connecting Syria’s north with its south.

NATO countries and their international stooges have tried all their best to impede the military operation to clean Maarat Numan and the rest of Idlib from their terrorists, their terrorists intensified their indiscriminate bombing of the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo, which at the time of writing this report news are coming that the NATO Front (al-Qaeda Levan) terrorists left Al Rashideen 4th neighborhood in the city, and also some NATO ‘special forces’ have sabotaged Syrian undersea oil pipelines as a way to pressure the Syrian state and also to punish the Syrian people who are in dire need of every oil drop for their daily living needs.

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Maarat Al-Numan Is Liberated

Source

JANUARY 28, 2020

On January 27 evening, units of the Syrian Army continued their operation in southeastern Idlib. Government troops liberated Hamidiya, Bseida, Maasaran, Tal Al-Shih, Maziyan and several other villages. By this advance, the army fully besieged Maarat al-Numan from the northern, southern and eastern directions.

According to pro-government sources, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militants are not planning to defend the encircled city for a long time. They are actively planting mines and IEDs in the area. Therefore, even if militants withdraw from Maarat al-Numan via the remaining corridor, government troops will not be able to secure the city immediately.

On January 28, government sources claimed that the Syrian Army had already entered Maarat al-Numan. However, government forces still have to remove IEDs and fortify their new positions.

The Syrian Army offensive in southeastern Idlib is ongoing under the nose of the Turkish observation post near Maarat al-Hat. In the event of further advances by the army, the observation post will likely be encircled by Syrian forces. This will be the third Turkish observation post that faced this fate. The previous two are located near Surman and Morek.

Pro-opposition sources blame Turkey for the recent setbacks of al-Qaeda-linked groups. According to them, Ankara conspired with Moscow in order to undermine the so-called Syrian revolution. They also claim that the redeployment of members of Turkish-backed militant groups from Syria to Libya undermined the defense of Idlib. On January 26, the Libyan National Army, a rival of the pro-Turkish Libyan Government of National Accord, claims the number of Turkish-backed fighters that were prepared to be deployed to Libya was over 8,000. Earlier, reports appeared that at least 2,400 Turkish proxy fighters had been already sent to Libya.

Another hot point of the battle for Greater Idlib is western Aleppo, where the 4th Armoured Division is engaged in an intense fighting with militants. Local sources say that the Aleppo advance is a diversionary strike designed to drew attention of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham leadership from Maarat al-Numan and contain reinforcements that it can send to southeastern Idlib.

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BATTLE FOR IDLIB: SYRIAN ARMY AIMS FOR M5 HIGHWAY

Source

23.12.2019

The Syrian Army and its allies delivered a devastating blow to Al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and its Turkish-backed allies in southern Idlib.

Since the start of the operation on December 19, the army, led by the Tiger Forces and their commander Suheil al-Hassan, have liberated over two dozens of villages and towns, including one of the biggest urban centers in the area – al-Tah. Furthermore, government troops deployed in a distance allowing to advance on Jarjanaz and Maarat al-Numan – key stronghold of radicals in this part of Idlib province. Militants conducted at least two major counter-attacks, employing suicide bombers, but were not able to stop the advancing army troops.

The offensive came amid an intense bombing campaign by the Syrian Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Forces that pulverized radicals’ fortified positions. The Syrian Army even conducted a missile strike on militants’ weapons depots near Ras Elhisn and Babsqa, close to the Turkish border.

Warning strikes were also conducted near a Turkish military convoy moving in the area of Kafar Aweed. These actions demonstrate that if Ankara still hopes to use its troops as human shields to rescue militants, this strategy will not succeed, at least taking into account the current number of Turkish troops in the Idlib zone.

Also, the southern Idlib operation was apparently coordinated with joint naval exercises of warships of the Russian naval task force and the Syrian Navy in eastern Mediterranean. This indicates that both Moscow and Damascus expect that foreign powers that support terrorist in Syria may consider carrying out some military provocation in attempt to rescue their protegees.

According to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, over 100 members of militant groups were killed in clashes. The Russian Defense Ministry said that over 200 militants were killed or injured in Idlib clashes. The number of the Syrian Army casualties, according to Russia: 17 – killed, 42 – injured. Media outlets affiliated with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the Turkish-backed National Front for Liberation claimed that the “Assad regime” suffered large casualties and all claims about the army advance is just Assadist propaganda. According to them, the “moderate opposition” just conducted a tactical retreat.

ISIS, so far, has appeared to be more effective that its Idlib counterparts. On December 21, ISIS-launched  drones hit the Homs oil refinery, the al-Rayan gas station and a gas processing facility in the province of Homs. The drone strike put these facilities out of service and caused several fires that were later contained. A day earlier, an ISIS cell killed 3 Syrian troops near Khanasir in the province of Aleppo. On December 22, ISIS claimed that its members had killed 2 Russian soldiers in the province of Daraa. In this case, no visual evidence to confirm these claims was provided.

The increase of ISIS activity amid the Syrian Army advance against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other groups indicates that the terrorist group is directly assisting their colleagues in Idlib.

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SYRIAN ARMY SHELLS TURKISH POST IN SOUTHERN IDLIB

Syrian Army Shells Turkish Post In Southern Idlib

A Turkish army tank stationed near the Syrian border, in Suruc, Turkey, Sept. 3, 2016. (AP Photo)

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14.09.2019

A Turkish army tank stationed near the Syrian border, in Suruc, Turkey, Sept. 3, 2016. (AP Photo)

Late on September 13, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) shelled the newly-established Turkish military post in the southern Idlib countryside, according to several opposition activists.

The activists said that a shell fired by the army’s artillery hit a berm surrounding the post, which is located near Maar Hattat. The town is a few kilometers to south of the city Ma`arat al-Nu`man that was shelled with heavy rockets a few hours ago.

In the morning, the Turkish military reinforced etoMaar Hattat’s post with a convoy consisting of more than 30 vehicles, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Unlike the twelve Turkish observation post surrounding Greater Idlib, Maar Hattat’s post was not agreed upon during the Astana talks. The post was established last month following the SAA advance in northern Hama.

Turkey’s Ministry of National Defence has not commented on the shelling, yet. Ankara usually ignore the attacks that don’t result in any causalities.

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