It's getting hot in the kitchen
Talk about a dangerous mess. While Turkey and Russia are still negotiating on Idlib Erdogan launched a Turkish-rebel offensive on the town of Nairab (on the approaches to the strategically key Saraqib) in Syrian army hands.
This was not an all out Turkish offensive but a preview of what will follow if the Russians don’t accommodate him in the ongoing negotiations. However, as Erdogan raised the stakes, the Russians matched him and answered by entering the battle on the Syrian side.
The Turkish-rebel push consisted of rebel infantry (reportedly provided by the 20 percent of the Islamists in Idlib not under Al-Qaeda’s HTS umbrella) and Turkish artillery and armor. The push kicked off with the shooting down of two or three surveillance drones, at least one of which was reportedly Russian.
However, rather than merely observe the battle, as Erdogan perhaps hoped, the Russians entered it as well. The Russian military said without naming the Turks that they carried airstrikes at Nairab in support of the Syrian army, destroying six armored vehicles, five technicals, and one tank.
The outcome was that albeit the Turks and rebels managed to initially enter the town they were then repulsed and had to pull out.
The Turkish side says they sustained 2 dead and 5 wounded in airstrikes. The Turks say these were inflicted by Syrian aircraft. The two Turkish KIA have been both identified as tank crew.
That leaves three possibilities:
- either the Russians claimed a tank kill which they did not inflict,
- or the tank the Russian airstrikes destroyed was a rebel one,
- or else the Turkish tank was destroyed by a Russian plane but the Turks misidentified it as Syrian either on accident or on purpose
Rebels are awash with armored personnel carriers that Turkey has been recently giving them, but they operate only a handful of captured tanks. The likelihood a rebel tank took part and was taken out by the Russians is low.
Since the Turks say they lost a tank, and the Russians say they destroyed one the most likely possibility is that it was indeed the Russians who hit it.
With the Russian and the Turkish militaries direct participants in the same battle on opposite sides and very likely destroying each other UAVs and tanks this no longer counts as a proxy war. It is a plain simple war.
It is not an all-out war, and it is fought abroad, but with direct acts of war against each other, there simply isn’t another word for it.
What now? Erdogan tried calling the Russian bluff only the Russians weren’t bluffing. He now looks even sillier and weaker than before but he also still has 7,000 (!) troops in Idlib, more than Russia has in the entire country. Will he now back down or try the same thing again but on a much larger scale?
Russian UAV filming Turkish 155mm artillery firing on Syrian army positions, then just before the 40-second mark shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles go up (You better shoot down those drones because they can direct counter-artillery fire on you including directly by laser):
Turkish tanks on the march to Nairab: