Turkey begins to reinforce its military posts in Idlib

Turkey begins to reinforce its military posts in Idlib

Ankara is reportedly reinforcing its military observation posts inside rebel-held north-western Syria ahead of an expected offensive from Assad’s forces.

Background

The Syrian Civil War has been going on since 2011. It began during the Arab Spring protests and due to resentment towards the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The war is being fought by several factions: the Syrian government and its allies, a loose alliance of Sunni Arab rebel groups (including the Free Syrian Army), the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Salafi jihadist groups (including al-Nusra Front) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with a number of countries in the region and beyond being either directly involved, or rendering support to one or another faction.

Until 2011, Turkey had a relatively friendly relationship with Syria. Once the civil unrest broke out, the Turkish government condemned the Syrian president Bashar Assad over the violent crackdown on protests in 2011. Turkey for many years has raised concerns about YPG. It is a mainly-Kurdish militia force in Syria and the primary component of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria's Syrian Democratic Forces. Some have called it the "most effective" force in fighting ISIL in Syria.

 

Read more about our extensive analysis of Turkey’s actions in Syria here and here

Analysis

Activists saw a convoy heading towards some of the 12 posts set up last year under a "de-escalation" deal with the government's allies, Russia and Iran.

Turkey supports rebel factions trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar warned that an offensive would lead to a "humanitarian tragedy”.

"Bombing the region will not only cause damage to the civilians and migration but also lead to radicalisation," Mr Akar was quoted as saying by Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency.

A sharp increase in hostilities and fears of further escalation have led to the displacement of more than 38,500 people since the start of September, according to the UN.

An estimated 2.9 million people, including one million children, are living in parts of Idlib, Hama and Aleppo provinces that are controlled by Turkish-backed rebels and jihadists.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said a Turkish convoy entered Idlib via the Kfar Lusin crossing on Thursday. The convoy then split in two, it added, with one part heading towards the northern Hama countryside and the other going towards the countryside near the central Idlib town of Maarat al-Numan.

Activists from the pro-opposition Edlib Media Center also posted a video online showing what they said were Turkish armoured vehicles and a lorry transporting a tank moving along a road leading from Kfar Lusin. However, there was no official confirmation from the Turkish Military about the convoy crossing into Syria.

Turkey established the observation posts to monitor a "de-escalation" agreement with Russia and Iran, which was intended to reduce violence along the front-lines. [5] The agreement also covered three other conflict zones in Syria that were recaptured earlier this year by the Syrian army with the support of Russian air strikes and Iranian-backed militias

The Syrian government has said it now intends to "liberate" Idlib from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an al-Qaeda-linked jihadist alliance whose estimated 10,000 fighters control large parts of the province.

Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has said it hopes to avoid civilian casualties and regain territory through "reconciliation agreements", but that it is determined to defeat HTS "no matter the sacrifices”. The UN and Turkey agree that HTS - which they have both designated as a terrorist organisation - must be defeated, but not at the expense of thousands of civilian lives.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a ceasefire and for a "comprehensive international terrorism operation" involving the "moderate" rebels his country supports.

More importantly, Turkey, which is already hosting 3.5 million Syrian refugees, would not be able to absorb the 800,000 people whom the UN believes would be displaced by an all-out assault on Idlib.

Assessment

Our assessment is that Turkey is moving into Idlib province as a measure to prevent an influx of Syrian refugees into Turkey. We believe that Turkey’s gradual shift towards Moscow will result in Ankara allowing Assad’s forces to launch a final offensive on Idlib. We feel that Turkey will look to reinforce its position in northern Syria as an attempt to drive the Kurdish Militias away from their claimed homeland.