In Turkey, it is by now a good tradition to threaten Syria with a war every time when luckless Idlib rebels suffer another military defeat from the Syrian Army. This week was no exception. Recept Tayip Erdogan spearheaded the choir of threats on February 12 by repeating that the Syrians should withdraw from all the areas (in told over 2,000km2) retaken from the opposition. He vowed to “hit regime forces everywhere” if Turkish soldiers are harmed. It is worth noting that this time loud words came amid some actions.
On February 10 and February 12, al-Qaeda forces that mainstream media modestly calls “opposition and anti-regime armed groups” conducted two large-scale attacks on positions of government forces. Turkish artillery units, special forces and military advisers directly supported both of the attacks. Idlib groups used Turkish-supplied military equipment and weapons en mass.
The first attack took place in eastern Idlib with an aim of capturing the village of Nayrab west of Saraqib. The Turkish Defense Ministry even announced that ‘regime forces’ had fled the village. Nevertheless, 5 killed and 5 injured Turkish soldiers became the only real results of the attack. Pro-government sources claimed that 40 militants were also killed, but this number remains unconfirmed. On the same day, a Turkish-supplied MANPAD was used to shoot down a Syrian military helicopter. After the February 10 clashes, the official number of Turkish casualties in Idlib – 14 dead and 45 injured.
The February 12 attack took place in western Aleppo and was aimed at hindering the Syrian Army progress in the M5 area. Evil dictator Bashar al-Assad wants to reopen the Damascus-Aleppo highway. So, forces of democracy just could not leave this unanswered. Unfortunately, for them the attack failed and Syrian forces restored full control over the M5 capturing a number of nearby points.
Furthermore, they have started creating a foothold for an advance on Artaib. A few other encounters initiated by Idlib groups resulted in no changes on the frontline. At the same time, Idlib groups launched dozens of ATGM strikes.
The Turkish Defense Ministry compensated setbacks on the ground with a powerful counter-attack on Twitter claiming hundreds of Syrian personnel killed. The US and NATO vowed to support Turkey, but so far they have limited this support to public encouragement for further military actions in Idlib.
The interesting thing is that the Russian side played into the hands of the Turkish media campaign claiming that 400 Syrian personnel were killed and 900 others were injured during the past month. These numbers as well as those provided by Turkey remain very questionable. Most likely, Moscow decided to help Ankara to save face amid the apparent military failure in Idlib. If Turkey does not wage a full-scale war on Syria, it will not be able to change the frontline to its own favor. However, the cost of this war will be too big. So, Erdogan may opt to declare that the Syrian Army standing on the M5 just a few kilometers away from Idlib city is a big success and accept a new ceasefire.
On February 12, a US military patrol was blocked and confronted by angry locals in the province of Qamishli. At some moment, US troops found themselves in an intense firefight with the villagers. According to reports from local sources, it started after the US troops had shot and killed a teenager participating in the protest. The incident happened near a checkpoint of the Syrian Army. So, pro-US Kurdish media sources loyal to Idlib radicals immediately claimed that the angry villages were sheep-dipped agents of the ‘Assad regime’. The Pentagon accidentally forgot to mention the role of the Syrian Army and the Russians in the victorious statement on the encounter. Videos showing Syrian and Russian forces that intervened in the hostilities, put an end to the violence and allowed the US patrol to withdraw were apparently computer generated images created by hackers in the Kremlin basement.
Late on February 13, the Israeli Air Force carried out a new wave of airstrikes on Damascus targeting the city’s international airport and the region of Eastern Ghouta. Likely, Mr. Netanyahu forgot his password to Twitter. So, he decided to support fancy bearded Idlib hipsters with traditional Israeli actions.
The Syrian conflict does not seem to be nearing any end.