Erdogan tests Russian resolve with incursion into rebel-held Idlib, but quickly withdraws
Here is what we know for sure:
- This week on Tuesday (January 30th), totally out of the blue, a large Turkish army convoy crossed into Syria under the cover of dark and escorted by al-Qaeda-led rebels drove deep into rebel-held Idlib.
- Within forty-eight hours of crossing into Syria the Turkish convoy had turned around and withdrawn back to Turkey.
- During its stay in Syria the Turkish convoy suffered two wounded, and one dead – a civilian truck driver. (The wounded were another civilian and a soldier.)
Here is what has been reported, but we can’t know for sure:
- The Turkish convoy was headed for the rebel frontline stronghold of al-Eis. This would have put Turkish troops directly in front of a Syrian army offensive steadily advancing from the south. We can’t know this for sure because the convoy halted 10 kilometers before al-Eis.
- Reportedly, as the convoy was on its way, the Russian air force made a pointof bombing its supposed destination at al-Eis and Syrian artillery shelled its route.
- Turkish F-16s were constantly crossing into Syria’s Idlib to underwrite the convoy’s safety.
Here is what has been reported, but is obvious baloney:
- The Turkish truck driver was killed by a roadside bomb detonated by the Kurdish YPG.
Idlib is held by hardcore Arab Islamists. In theory it could also be home to YPG sleeper cells, but it’s highly dubious they would be at liberty to plant roadside bombs among a hostile population and a sea of Islamist fighters. It’s even more far fetched that YPG would be looking to insert itself into a tug of war between Turkey and Damascus.
No, if the Turkish fatality was really sustained in a roadside bomb attack it means that not all jihadi currents in Idlib are ready to welcome the Turks as saviors. (Once closely allied, Syrian al-Qaeda and Turkey by now have a much more ambivalent relationship.) Alternatively, if the death was not inflicted by a roadside bomb at all it would give credence to the reports that the Syrian army directed artillery fire against it.
In any case, all thing considered the most likely explanation for the Turkish incursion is that Erdogan – resenting the fact pro-government forces were sweeping away his beloved Islamists – decided to test the Russians and their interpretation of Astana, met more resistance than he was willing to push back against, and withdrew .
The Russian-led Astana peace process for Syria does envisage a role for Turkish military observers in Idlib, but a giant 100-vehicle convoy with 15 tanks, dispatched in the middle of the night, apparently with the goal of placing itself on the path of a successful Syrian army offensive — seems not to have been quite what the Russians had in mind.
Likely the Russians told Erdogan behind the scenes that — especially in lieu of his ongoing offensive on Syrian Kurds in Afrin — he was overreaching and the damage to the convoy, whether dealt by rebels hostile to Turkey or a Syrian army shell, helped drive home the point.
That means that the path of the Syrian army to the rebel ‘capital’ of Idlib and the besieged Fuah and Kefraya pocket is once again clear.
Source: Checkpoint Asia
UPDATE: This article tells the story of the convoy which entered Syria last Tuesday (Jan 30). Today (Feb 5) another Turkish convoy crossed over into Syria and made it to al-Eis: