Nearly 2,000 Syrian mercenaries have fled Libya for Europe: monitor

By News Desk -2020-04-29

BEIRUT, LEBANON (2:00 P.M.) – Nearly 2,000 Turkish-backed Syrian militants that were transported to Libya over the last five months have fled the North African nation for Europe, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Wednesday.

“Some of the 2,000 Syrian fighters who were transported to Libya to fight with the UN-supported National Accord Government (GNA) against its competitor Khalifa Haftar have in fact fled to Europe, according to the Libyan National Army (LNA) from Haftar,” the monitor said.

SOHR first reported Syrian mercenaries fleeing Libya for Italy in February, and since then, several reports have surfaced that make similar claims.

Meanwhile, journalist Lindsey Snell of the Investigative Journal interviewed a fighter from Ahrar Al-Sharqiyah that recently returned to Syria after fighting in Libya for a few months.

In the interview, the fighter, who was identified as Zein Ahmed, said that Turkey promised the militants citizenship if they fought in Libya for six months; however, this turned out to be false.

“They told us first that if we stayed and fought for six months, that we would get Turkish citizenship,” he said. “That was lies. They told us if we died fighting in Libya, our families would get Turkish citizenship. Now that so many Syrians have died in Libya, we know this is also a lie.”

Ahmed referenced a case in which an Ahrar Al-Sharqiyah member was killed in February; his family received $8,000 in compensation, but the dead fighter’s family was not given citizenship.

Turkey sent the first batch of Syrian mercenaries to Libya in December and since then, thousands of others have been transported to the North African nation to help the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) forces.

ALSO READ  ISIS takes advantage of coronavirus crisis to launch several attacks against Syrian military

NEW SYRIAN ARMY OFFENSIVE IN IDLIB BECOMING INEVITABLE AS MILITANTS SABOTAGE JOINT TURKISH-RUSSIAN PATROLS

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On March 15, Russian and Turkish forces conducted a first joint patrol in Greater Idlib in the framework of the new de-escalation agreement reached in Moscow. The planned route of the patrol goes along the M4 highway, where a buffer zone was set to be created. However, in fact the patrol happened just a few km west of the government-controlled town of Saraqib. The entire buffer zone and a notable area to the south of it, a total of 750km2, remains in the hands of terrorists. There were no signs of any withdrawal of heavy weapons or militants from the area.

The Russian military said that the patrol mission was shortened because of provocations by radicals. According to the released statement, terrorists used civilians, including women and children, as human shields. The Russian side added that Turkey was given more time to get rid of the extremists and ensure the safety of further joint missions. Surprisingly, the Turkish Defense Ministry admitted that there were some measures taken to prevent possible provocations. Nonetheless, it did not bother itself with explaining what kind of difficulties the sides experienced. Maybe because the Turkish military column itself faced a hard time moving through supporters of radical groups deployed on the M4 highway. Radicals and their supporters have been blocking the part of the highway laying in southern Idlib since March 13.

Earlier in March, Turkish top officials repeatedly vowed to crush any force that would oppose the implementation of the new de-escalation agreement. The Turkish leadership easily forgot these declarations, when it appeared that the main obstacle to the implementation of the agreement were organizations directly or indirectly supported by Ankara. Unfortunately, there is nothing new in this behavior. Over the month, the Erdogan government has showcased itself as a consistent supporter of the seedlings of terrorism remaining in Idlib.

Meanwhile, Idlib armed groups continued undermining efforts of the Turkish media and diplomacy to paint them as a moderate opposition. On March 15, media affiliated with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham offered a bounty of $25,000 to any person that would kill Evgeny Poddubny or Oleg Blokhin. Both of them are Russian war correspondents currently working on the frontline in Idlib and covering military developments there. Contrary to their Turkish and Western colleagues, they do not turn a blind eye to terrorist ideology and actions of Idlib armed groups. Later ‘Idlib democratic activists’ upped the bounty offering to $50,000 for anybody who would kill Poddubny. The amount of $100,000 is proposed for the aforementioned journalist or any member of the Russian patrol mission captured alive.

At the same time, the National Front for Liberation, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other militant organizations intensified their recruiting campaign in northwestern Syria. Persons with a large amount of “free time” and in good physical condition now can join even Hayat Tahrir
al-Sham’s special forces unit, the so-called Red Bands. This fact is another confirmation of the heavy casualties suffered by terrorist groups during the past years of the war.

On top of this, the security situation is once again deteriorating in northern Syria. According to pro-militant sources, an IED attack hit a military convoy of Turkish-led forces near the town of Ras al-Ayn. Three militants and two Turkish soldiers were reportedly killed in the attack.

The recent Turkish-Russian de-escalation agreement allowed to put an end to military hostilities between the Syrian Armed Forces and the Turkish Army. However, its effect will be temporary and will not last for long if the issue of radicals in Greater Idlib is not solved in the nearest future.

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IRANIAN-BACKED FORCES RAISE STAKES. ROCKET ATTACK KILLS SEVERAL U.S. COALITION TROOPS IN IRAQ

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A volley of rockets struck the Camp Taji military base in Iraq on the evening of March 11, killing three US-led coalition service members, two of them Americans and one British, and injuring 12 others. The targeted military base is a large facility located in a rural region approximately 27km north of Baghdad.

After the shelling, Iraqi security forces found the improvised rocket launcher used in the attack in the nearby area of Rashidiya. It was forty 107mm barrels installed on the back of a Kia Bongo truck. Three rockets were still remaining inside the barrel.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack. However, over the past months US-linked targets have witnessed a number of similar rocket attacks. Most of them led to no casualties. In general, US sources blame Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-linked groups for these incidents.

The situation became especially tense after the US strike on a convoy of Iraqi and Iranian officers moving near Baghdad International Airport on January 3. The prominent Iranian general, commander of the Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani, was assassinated in this strike. The attack caused a large-scale crisis in the region, and prompted an Iranian retaliatiory missile strike on US military bases in Iraq. Washington swallowed a public attack on its forces by a state claiming that there were no casualties. In the following weeks, these ‘no casualties’ steadily turned into at least 110. All of them, according to the official version, received traumatic brain injury.

Additionally, the Iraqi Parliament accepted a bill demanding US troop withdrawal from the country, which Washington ignored, even threatening Baghdad with devastating sanctions, should Iraq continue to act like it is a sovereign, rather than occupied, country.

Following the attack on Camp Taji, ‘unknown aircraft’, most likely belonging to the US-led coalition, struck positions belonging to Iranian-backed groups near the Syrian-Iraqi border. The surroundings of the Syrian town of al-Bukamal, located on the highway linking Deir Ezzor and Baghdad, became the main target of the attack. Pro-Iranian sources claimed that the strikes caused material damage only.

Meanwhile, US forces in northeastern Syria strengthened their military positions by deploying additional howitzers. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces declared in an official statement that the military buildup was needed to provide US bases with additional protection. Another troop withdrawal announced by the administration of President Donald Trump is apparently successfully ongoing.

Syria’s northwest is also a source of tensions. On March 11, intense fighting erupted among Turkish-backed armed groups in the town of Azaz. As always, the incident was caused by internal contradictions between Turkish proxies who are involved in a wide range of various criminal activities and regularly clash for spheres of influence.

In the region of Greater Idlib, Turkish-backed groups, including those linked with al-Qaeda, are preparing to sabotage another ceasefire deal. They reinforced their positions north of the M4 highway and east of Jisr al-Shughur and declared that they are not planning to withdraw from any areas south of the highway. These statements go contrary to Turkish claims that preparations for the creation of a security zone in the area and the start of joint Turkish-Russian patrols are successfully in progress. Despite these, Ankara continues blaming the Syrian government for supposed violations of the Moscow deal and threatening it with military action should the ceasefire be violated. It seems that Turkey once again seeks to sweep agreements regarding the withdrawal and neutralization of radicals under the carpet, thus pushing the region into a new round of military escalation.

GREAT IDLIB REBRANDING AND TURKISH VICTORIES OVER RUSSIAN AIR DEFENSE

South Front

Terrorist groups operating in Idlib are preparing for a new rebranding under Turkish patronage. According to Syrian sources, Hayat Tarir al-Sham (formerly the official Syrian branch of al-Qaeda), the Turkistan Islamic Party (an al-Qaeda-linked group), the National Front for Liberation (a coalition of Turkish proxies friendly to al-Qaeda) and several smaller groups are going to create a united command center and even declare a formal merger.

The idea is to shuffle well-known al-Qaeda terrorists with their supposedly moderate Turkish-backed counterparts, and give them a new name and logo. So, Ankara will have a formal reason to claim that there are no ‘terrorists’ in Idlib and the current situation in the region fully corresponds with the agreements reached with Iran and Russia. These agreements exclude terrorist organizations, which control up to 90% of the militant-held part of Greater Idlib, from the ceasefire and allow military actions against them. The issue is that the same agreements declare that Turkey must separate so-called ‘moderate rebels’ from ‘terrorists’. This is hardly possible because there is little difference between them. Therefore, the Turkish leadership opted to unite them painting them as the ‘moderate opposition’ once again violating the word and spirit of the de-escalation agreements.

Earlier in the conflict, various terrorist groups already employed this approach. For example, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham was previously known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra. The group changed its name in an attempt to distance itself from al-Qaeda and present itself as part of the moderate opposition that is brutally oppressed by the Assad regime, Iran and Russia. This plan failed because terrorists, even if they change their flag and wear new hats, remain terrorists and continue acting like terrorists.

On March 15, Turkish and Russian forces are set to start conducting joint patrols along the agreed security corridor on the M4 highway in southern Idlib. On March 10, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that the patrols will start from the settlement of Trumba – 2 km west of Saraqib – to the settlement of Ain al-Havr. Additionally, Cavusoglu repeated threats that his country will attack Syrian forces if they do not comply with the ceasefire. How this ceasefire will survive with no real anti-terrorist fight in Idlib remains another big secret. According to pro-Turkish sources, the Turkish Army and its proxies will control the part of the security corridor north of the M4, while the Russians will present south of the highway. However, so far, there have been no indications that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other terrorist groups are withdrawing means and forces from the area. This situation creates an apparent pretext for a military escalation.

The public behavior of the Turkish leadership and Turkish media outlets does not help to de-escalate the situation either. Since March 5, Ankara has been doing its best to paint the failed Operation Spring Shield as a major victory. After tiring the audience out with unrealistic numbers of supposed Syrian Army casualties, Turkey moved on to mocking the military capabilities of the Russian air defense systems. On March 10, Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan claimed that his forces had destroyed 8 Pantsir air defense systems in the Idlib zone. This number goes contrary to data provided by the Turkish Defense Ministry which claimed that 8 air defense systems of various types were destroyed during Operation Spring Shield. It seems that the amount of supposedly destroyed military equipment of the Syrian Armed Forces continues to grow.

The Russian Defense Ministry called Erdogan’s claims “more than overestimation” and noted that apparently the data, which the Turkish leader receives about the results of the operation,  is not very precise. The military said that a total of 4 Pantsir systems were deployed in Idlib and only 2 of them were damaged. It recalled that most of the Syrian air defense means and measures are deployed in the area of the country’s capital, Damascus.

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RUSSIA CALLS ERDOGAN CLAIMS ABOUT 8 PANTSIR SYSTEMS DESTROYED IN SYRIA FAKE

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On March 10, the Russian Defense Ministry commented on recent claims by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that Turkish forces had destroyed 8 Russian-made Pantsir air defense systems operated by the Syrian Armed Forces. The destruction, Erdogan said, during the active phase of Turkey’s Operation Spring Shield.

In its comment on these claims, the Russian military said that the number provided is “more than overestimation” (i.e. fake). According to the Russians, data received by the Turkish leader on the combat effectiveness of the use of strike UAVs in Idlib province are untrue.

Moscow recalled that the main air defense means and measures of the Syrian military, including Pantsir air defense systems, have been and remain focused primarily on the area of the country’s capital, Damascus. There were only 4 Pantsir air defense systems deployed in Greater Idlib, the defense ministry said adding that 2 of them were in fact demaged. Currently, the damaged systems are undergoing repair works.

Recently, Turkey and affilated media outlets increased their propaganda campaign in order to compensate setbacks in the conflict in Syria with some PR victories. This campaign is supported by various questionable claims and sometimes even rough fakes.

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TURKEY’S OPERATION SPRING SHIELD: DECLARATIONS VS REALITY (MAP UPDATE)

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Turkish officials, state media and affilated propaganda organizations appear to be trying to paint Ankara’s Operation Spring Shield in the Syrian region of Greater idlib as a ‘successful move’ that achieved all ‘declared goals’. So, this is a short reminder what goals Turkey declared and what it achieved employing its Armed Forces in an open military agression against Syria.

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Turkey “will” take action in Idlib if agreement with Russia is not implemented: Erdogan

Russian electronic warfare caused major problems for Turkish aircraft in Syria: report

By News Desk -2020-03-09

Ankara could take unilateral action in the Syrian region of Idlib unless the agreements with Russia are implemented, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Istanbul on Sunday.

“We retain the right to clear that site in our own way in case the promise given to us about the location of Operation Spring Shield [in Idlib] is not kept. We reached an agreement [with Russia] to resolve the Idlib crisis without any further bloodshed. If not, we will be going on along the path we have set for ourselves,” Erdogan said aired by NTV channel.

Apart from that, he said that at least 59 Turkish troops had been killed in that Syrian region over the past month.

Erdogan claimed that the Turkish military “have neutralized 3,400 troops of the [Syrian] regime” in Idlib.

At the talks in Moscow on March 5, the Russian and Turkish presidents, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, agreed a ceasefire along with other measures aimed at resolving the crisis in Syria’s Idlib region.

Under the agreements, fighting should be stopped along the entire contact line after ceasefire comes into effect on March 6. Starting on March 15, Russia and Turkey are to start jointly patrolling the area along the M4 highway, where a security corridor will be established.

Moscow and Ankara reiterated commitment to Syria’s sovereignty and agreed to continue fight against terrorism.

Source: TASS

Map Update: Military Situation In Northwestern Syria In March 2019 And 2020

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Erdoğan reaping what he sowed

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It is a meeting between an occupier and a staunch fighter for freedom and independence. It is but Erdogan’s crying wolf for what his hands has been slaughtering of the innocents and anti-terrorism fighters.

The silly threats of manipulating his hand-made refugees crisis are never to work this time. The refugees from tens of countries worldwide have been exploited by Erdogan himself. Thus, the fabrications, lies and distortions and empty promises are never to work more!

According to a recent analysis by  Simon Tisdall, the Guardian,  it is the Maverick, out-of-control authoritarian leaders – and here we are talking about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president – tend to think they know best about everything, and are fiercely intolerant of criticism. It is this hubris that has finally led Erdoğan and Turkey to the brink of disaster in Syria after nine years of bombastic threats, proxy conflict and direct military intervention.

Erdoğan is now isolated on all sides, sharply at odds with other major players in the Syrian crisis. Having sent an extra 7,000 troops and armour into Idlib last month to reinforce existing military outposts, Turkey has plunged in open warfare with Syria. It has attacked airports and radar sites well behind the de facto “frontline”. It has declared all Syrian  “elements” to be legitimate targets.

But what is happening now in north-west Syria is no longer a proxy war. It is a direct confrontation between the two heavily armed neighbouring states. And it threatens to draw Turkey deeper into military conflict with Russia.

It’s hard to know the facts, given Erdoğan’s suppression of independent journalism. But the truth seems to be very different. The death toll may have totaled up to 55, according to Metin Gurcan, a military analyst writing for the respected online regional platform al-Monitor. Local reports speak of up to 100 dead.

Infuriated Russian commanders – or maybe the order came from Moscow – appear to have drawn a line after weeks of lethal sparring. The Turkish convoy was hit late in the afternoon that same day. In the hours that followed, with injured soldiers in urgent need of medical aid, Moscow rejected Ankara’s request to open Idlib’s airspace to allow an evacuation, Gurcan reported.

Was Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, intent on teaching Erdoğan a harsh lesson? If so, it seems to have worked. Erdoğan is now pinning his hopes on a face-to-face meeting with the Russian leader to prevent more, costly collisions that Turkey cannot win. He will travel to Moscow on Thursday in search of a ceasefire – after Putin agreed to make time for him.

Putin’s price for letting Erdoğan off the hook may be a full or partial Turkish withdrawal from Idlib but also from other Turkish-occupied Syrian territory west of the Euphrates – and from the Kurdish-dominated north-east region that he controversially invaded last autumn. Once again, Erdoğan is reaping what he sowed.

Dr. Mohamad Abdo Al-Ibrahim

alibrahim56@hotmail.com

DOCTORED FOOTAGE AND FAKE CLAIMS: TURKISH MEDIA CAMPAIGN IN SUPPORT OF OPERATION PEACE SPRING

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Since the start of Operation Peace Spring, Turkish media outlets have released a large number of videos showing Turkish strikes on positions of the Syrian Army in Greater Idlib. In general, these videos provide a useful inside into Turkish operations against forces of the Damascus government. However, some of them appear to have apparent issues and cause legitimate raising of eyebrows.
It’s interesting to note that most of these ‘strange videos’ were released by ‘Clash Report’, the media outlet that spearheaded the Turkish military propaganda campaign in social media. Among other things, this media outlet released videos supposedly showing the destruction of the Russian-made Pantsir air defense systems and a bombing of a large Syrian Army military convoy. These videos drew a notable attention of the international audience. So, let’s get a closer look at them.

Video 1 – Destruction of a first Russian-made Pantsir air defense system

A simple example is the following Twitter post, in it, a Turkish drone strike reportedly destroyed a Russian-made Pantsir S-1, used by the Syrian Arab Army.
After the attack on its soldiers, Turkish Armed Forces destroyed one of the Syrian regime’s Russian-made Pantsir S-1 (Sa-22) air defense system. Aerial footage clearly shows the radar was active when it was hit.
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On the exact same day, with the exact same video, but in Arabic, the post claims that the Pantsir S-1 is being operated by the so-called Russian private military company – “Wagner” (Turkey regularly claims that Turkish-backed forces are fighting Russian mercenaries in Libya) – and that the radar was on and it was still destroyed in a drone strike, but in Libya.
جيش التركي ، دمر نظام الدفاع الجوي Pantir S-1 (Sa-22) الروسي الصنع. يبدو أن رادار النظام فعال..
ميليشيات Wagner الروسية في ليبيا.
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Both posts are followed, however, by a description of how much the Pantsir S-1 costs and that only 12 countries have the equipment, in the respective language.
The Pantsir S-1, said to be worth in excess of 75 million dollars, sits in the inventory of 12 countries, and was recently deployed by the Russian mercenary company in .
View image on Twitter
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إن Pantir S-1 ، نظام الدفاع الجوي الذي دمرته القوات الجوية التركية ، هو يستعمل 12 دولة. وتفيد التقارير بأن بانتسير ، بقيمة 75 مليون دولار ، تم استخدامها من قبل ميليشيات Wagner الروسية في ليبيا.
View image on Twitter
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Both of these claim Wagner deployed them in Libya.

Video 2 – Destruction of a second Russian-made Pantsir air defense system

A second video, purportedly showing a Pantsir-S1 system in Saraqib also raises some questions, as specifically to its content. It was published on March 3rd.
Images du système de défense aérienne (SA-22) abattu par des drones de combat turc à dans la nuit du 3 mars alors que son radar était actif.Des traces de caméras thermiques sur le côté de la batterie déterminent que le système a été tiré contre un avion turc
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The video is 16 seconds and is very obviously consisting of two glued fragments. The first fragment actually shows the installation of a rotating radar. The second begins with an explosion. Moreover, two fragments are glued in such a way as to create the feeling that this is a continuous video. However, a closer look allows to see that the second part was shot a little from a different angle.
Here are the shots between second 11-14, when the explosion happens, it fades to black, there’s a little flash and it resumes. It can be seen that the explosion is centered so that it is in the same place where the presumed Pantsir stood before gluing.
Doctored Footage And Fake Claims: Turkish Media Campaign In Support Of Operation Peace Spring
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Doctored Footage And Fake Claims: Turkish Media Campaign In Support Of Operation Peace Spring
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Doctored Footage And Fake Claims: Turkish Media Campaign In Support Of Operation Peace Spring
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Then if the footage around second 14-16 is added here, it becomes obvious that the shooting is from a different angle. The tracks left from the Pantsir is now turned almost horizontally.
There are serious suspicions of falsification, as it can clearly be seen that there was an attempt to show the viewer something that this video does not specifically show.
Another problem is identical debris. After the explosion, a cloud of debris rises into the air. If one looks closely at them, it turns out that some of them are exactly the same.
Doctored Footage And Fake Claims: Turkish Media Campaign In Support Of Operation Peace Spring
Click to see full-size image
Did the Pantsir system disappear? And finally, the main thing. Let’s see the “last” second before the explosion and the last second before the video ends. If one looked “closely” you could see that the Pantsir is mounted to a rather large four-axle vehicle, much larger than a normal truck. From it should remain quite large debris, parts of the chassis. There is nothing, nothing at all remains.
Red circles on the image show debris that have already landed on the ground, the smoke that one sees in the frame flies over them and sometimes covers them. That is, one can clearly see the surface of the earth, but the installation has disappeared. The identical debris flying in the air is in blue.
Doctored Footage And Fake Claims: Turkish Media Campaign In Support Of Operation Peace Spring
Click to see full-size image
These lacks are so so obvious that there is even a sarcastic video presenting some of the issues the video has.

Video 3 – Strikes on a Syrian Army column near Maarat al-Numan

Moving on to another video published by Clash Report, this time on March 3rd. It purportedly showed a Syrian Arab Army convoy being punded by Turkish strikes.
Starting from the 13th second of the video, an individual supposedly exist the tank, and begins moving towards the other armored vehicle. What is questionable is the manner of his movement, as if he’s experiencing some sort of “video game lag,” but in real life.
Compared to the soldiers running in a file to the right, the movement of the individual on the left appears as if separated into specific frames, and rather odd, since the movement of everybody else in the footage is quite fluid.
Doctored Footage And Fake Claims: Turkish Media Campaign In Support Of Operation Peace Spring
Click to see full-size image
Then, the next explosion, which also obviously has jumps in footage, of where the specific parts were glued together, also has entirely identical debris resulting from the explosion that happens at the 41st second of the video.
Doctored Footage And Fake Claims: Turkish Media Campaign In Support Of Operation Peace Spring
Click to see full-size image
The final segment shows troops and a tank, being struck and then the camera rapidly pans to the side, not showing any of the aftermath, just the flash of the explosion and some partial debris.

***

Therefore, Turkish media outlets intentionally released doctored footage and made false claims in an attempt to paint the Turkish military operation in Syria more successful than it was. This is a common approach for any side of the conflict. However, it’s interesting to note that no of ‘high-professional’ maisntream media outlets adressed these gaps in Turkish-provided video reports.
A summary of Turkish Defense Ministry claims on the supposed casualties and equipment losses of the Syrian Army during Operation Peace Spring:
Doctored Footage And Fake Claims: Turkish Media Campaign In Support Of Operation Peace Spring
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Erdogan The Liar

OPERATION SPRING SHIELD IN CLAIMS BY TURKISH DEFENSE MINISTRY (INFOGRAPHICS)

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On March 5, Turkey signed a ceasefire agreement in Moscow in fact accepting that it lost the battle against the Syrian Army in the region of Greater Idlib. Since the very start of Operation Spring Shield, Turkey has achieved zero of the goals declared: Turkey failed to defeat the Syrian Armed Forces, push the Syrians back from the areas that they had liberated from terrorists, free Turkish observation posts encircled by the Syrian Army, and enforce own rules of ‘de-escalation’ in the region (meaning the official protection to Turkish-backed al-Qaeda terrorists).

All these ‘great achievements’ came amid numerous victorious statements by the Turkish Defense Ministry. According to them, Turkish-led forces have ‘neutralized’ over 3,000 of Syrian troops and eliminated hundreds of Syrian military equipment pieces. It remains unclear how Turkey lost the battle if all these numbers were true.

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