Idlib a wildcard for Turkey to attack northeast Syria

Turkey has withdrawn from an observation post in Idlib but keeps the region in its hands as a wildcard for negotiations on an invasion of the autonomous regions of northern and eastern Syria.

Idlib has been turned into an insoluble point of conflict by international and regional powers. The developments of the last few days herald an eventful time.

In spring 2020, Idlib was the scene of fierce fighting. Following the initiatives of the Turkish state at the gates of Russia, an agreement was signed in Moscow on March 5 and a relatively quiet period of several months began. However, in the last few weeks there have been a number of developments that are interpreted as a preparation of the various parties on the ground for a conflict-laden phase. The most recent development was the withdrawal of the Turkish army from Morek, one of the twelve Turkish military observation posts around Idlib.

Will the withdrawal continue?

There is also talk of Turkish withdrawal from six other observation posts surrounded by Syrian troops. It is still unclear when this withdrawal will take place. The local population has recently carried out several protest actions demanding the withdrawal of Turkish forces. The Turkish state claims that the protests have been controlled by the Syrian regime.

However, the real reason for the withdrawal from Morek is said to be disagreements with Russia.

September meeting and the end of patrols

According to available information, Russian officials demanded the withdrawal of Turkish forces from the surrounded posts during a meeting with Turkish colleagues in Ankara on September 15. In return, the Turkish side is said to have demanded permission for the occupation of Tel Rifat or Manbij.

After no agreement could be reached, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced on September 22 that joint patrols on the M4 highway in the Idlib region would be stopped. The joint patrols were one of the three essential provisions of the ceasefire agreed upon after the February fighting in Moscow on March 5.

Useless threat from Erdogan

With the cessation of joint patrols, Russia is said to have communicated to the Turkish authorities that the security of the observation posts, which were surrounded by Syrian forces, can no longer be guaranteed. Until then, logistical supplies had been under Russian observation and even escort.

According to this information, several areas south of Idlib were bombed by Russia. In addition, the local population protested against the Turkish observation posts.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had said the following at the faction meeting of his party on February 5th: "If the [Syrian] regime does not withdraw behind our observation points within this month, Turkey will be forced to settle this matter itself. When Russia withdrew its shield, it had to backpedal in October.”

Turkish state sets new borders in Idlib

The Turkish state did not succeed in persuading the Syrian troops to retreat. Now it is trying to draw a new line. The troops withdrawn evacuated from Morek are now stationed in the village of Kokfin, south of Idlib.

The place where Turkey has set up a large and new base is south of the M4 and is also one of the areas most attacked by Russia and the Syrian military in recent times.

The withdrawal of Turkish troops from Morek does not mean that Turkey is withdrawing from Idlib or Syria. On the contrary, the Turkish state is consolidating its presence in Idlib while at the same time seeking opportunities to occupy other areas. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Turkey has transferred 7280 soldiers to Idlib since the ceasefire of March 5, and more than 10,000 troops have been deployed to the region. At present, Turkey maintains 69 military bases in the greater Idlib area, stretching from the south of the city to the Aleppo Governorate in the east. It is estimated that nearly 30,000 Turkish soldiers, security forces and secret service personnel are located in Idlib. This number is almost as large as the number of troops during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

Turkish attacks on northeast Syria

Whether the Turkish state took a step backwards in Idlib out of weakness or in return for other promises made by Russia is still unclear. What is clear, however, is that after this step Turkey has again turned to the autonomous regions in northern and eastern Syria and launched a wave of attacks on Ain Issa.

In addition, a deadly drone attack on civilians has taken place in Dêrik, which can be interpreted as a message to both the USA and Russia. Turkey has thus signaled that it is ready for any kind of "negotiations" on Idlib.

Not only Russia and Turkey are present in Idlib, but also the USA. Similarly, the areas east of the Euphrates are the venue for conflicts of interest between the USA and Russia.

Reorganization of the HTS

While developments in Idlib are taking place according to the game plan of the international powers, there are also fierce clashes between the various "opposition groups" in the region. The Al-Qaeda branch Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which has been reorganizing since the ceasefire of March 5, continues to be the decisive force. This cyclical method of the HTS is actually not new.

The group entered the civil war in Syria in 2012 as a secret offshoot of al-Qaeda and has called itself al-Nusra since 2013. In 2015, the "Fatih al-Sham" front was founded, which finally formed as HTS in 2017 with the accession of smaller groups.

Inevitable war

If you put the different parts of the overall picture together, it becomes clear that many different plans are implemented simultaneously in Idlib. The region has become a breeding ground for terrorism, which is exported to Libya, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), Yemen and Iraq. Currently, all sides are preparing for the inevitable war in Idlib. The Turkish state is relying on Russia or the USA as necessary to use the conflicts and agreements existing between these powers to consolidate its own presence on Syrian soil.