The militants positioned throughout Idlib are on a full-scale retreat, and have been on the back foot since December 25th, 2019. They’ve lost over 2,000 square kilometers to the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) since then.
Despite any evidenced successes by the Syrian Arab Army, Turkey is continuing the wide distribution of claims of its military victories against the “Assad regime.” The scale of these imaginary victories is progressively becoming grander.
On the morning of February 13th, the Turkish Defense Ministry said that 55 Syrian troops were “neutralized”, and this was still a part of the response to the deaths of the 5 Turkish troops as a result of SAA shelling. Anadolu Agency claimed that Turkish forces had done the “neutralizing” but the Defense Ministry says that its sources had said that 55 Syrian troops had been “neutralized,” essentially, once more, distributing the “achievements” of militants.
These are the “moderate rebels” that Turkey supports, and claims are fighting for their rights against the “Assad regime,” militants with ISIS insignias on their shoulders:
Furthermore, Turkish media, and the government itself refuses to acknowledge that there are at least some radicals present in Idlib, even in maps released by them, it describes groups such as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (formerly the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) as “opposition and anti-Regime armed groups.”
According to the Turkish claims, more than 200 Syrian soldiers have been killed in Turkey’s response and actions of Idlib “opposition and anti-regime armed groups”, in addition to a large amount of military hardware being destroyed.
Meanwhile, Ankara entirely refuses to admit that the area is infested by terrorists, saying that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are effectively simply attacking civilians.
The Turkish Armed Forces – key to peace in our region – stand by our brothers in Idlib with no links to terror groups, who suffer under the oppression of the Assad regime and struggle to survive in harsh winter conditions. The Turkish nation will always support the oppressed. pic.twitter.com/gSaLPs8My6
— T.C. Millî Savunma Bakanlığı (@tcsavunma) February 12, 2020
This all amounts to propaganda, since Turkey’s claims are supported by no visual evidence of any sort. There’s no proof of any military victories, and as of now they’re all in the area of propaganda.
Just recently, the Turkish Defense Ministry claimed that the Syrian Army lost al-Nayrab because of an attack by militants, assisted by the Turkish army. This was, once again, covered as a victory over Twitter, but then videos were released by pro-Syrian sources that proved nothing of the sort had happened. The town remained in the hands of the Syrian Army.
A plethora of footage was released showing what the militants lost in their attacks on al-Nayrab and their failure was proven.
According to pro-Turkish media outlets, one of the reasons of this imaginary Syrian Army withdrawal from al-Nayrab was the downing of a Syrian Mil Mi-17 helicopter, by a Turkish F-16 fighter jet. This was also used to provide “evidence” that Turkish fighter jets have the freedom of flying in Syrian airspace, and it’s not simply the Russian air force carrying out strikes on militants.
This was entirely debunked when videos surfaced showing that the helicopter was actually downed by way of a MANPAD.
All the while, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is making grand promises of a “decisive response” and that SAA positions would be attacked all throughout Syria, and not only in Idlib if any more Turkish soldiers are harmed. Meanwhile, Erdogan admitted that 14 Turkish personnel were killed and 45 were injured in Idlib, and everything else is simply a claim which is accompanied by no evidence.
Turkey cannot simply turn its back on approximately 10 years of policy against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and unofficial support for militants. So, it needs to show that it is the more powerful, influential and “winning” side in situation.
At the same time, Ankara simply needs to save face, as it can do very little to influence the situation in Idlib. It is unlikely that Turkey can involve itself in a full-scale intervention against the Syrian Army in Idlib and wider Syria, since it would be too expensive and destroy the already weakened Turkish economy, despite propaganda regarding the financial conditions also going on with full force in Turkish media. Turkish society itself would find it hard to accept the casualties, there’s soldiers dying even without the war having begun.
Russia, however, appears to be providing a “helping hand” to help the Erdogan government to save the face. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that the situation in Idlib had escalated past the limit. As a result of militant attacks, 150 civilians were killed, 300 were injured. On top of that, she claimed that the Syrian army reportedly suffered devastating casualties: over 400 soldiers were killed and more than 900 were wounded during the last month.
“We see the reasons for the current degradation in Turkey’s chronic failure to fulfill its obligations under the Sochi memorandum of September 17, 2018,” Zakharova said.
The remarks regarding the supposed Syrian Army casuatlies go within the framework of Turkey’s claims on the situation. Despite the lack of evidence to confirm such casualties, this Russian position gives Anakra the chance to “redeem” itself, to “save face” and return to compliance with the Sochi memorandum, or rather begin complying with it whatsoever.
A Turkish delegation is to also visit Moscow in the coming days, in order to coordinate how to best approach the Idlib situation, which is likely that Russia would provide Ankara with some other ways of saving face, and allowing the SAA and the Russian forces supporting it to carry out what they would do regardless.
Erdogan vowed to wage a war on Syria if Damascus does not withdraw its forces from the recently liberated areas. However, February 2020 will end in about two weeks and Turkey is unlikely to begin any war, or have any actual, and not imaginary successes in Idlib. It is also unlikely that the SAA will advance on Idlib city itself, but it will rather secure the M5 highway, and clear out the nearby areas, before sieging the city and fighting for it. So, the recent gains will be consoliated on the diplomatic level by another ‘ceasefire’ and the Erdogan government will be able to claim that the terrified ‘regime forces’ appeared to be ‘too scared of Turkish might’ and thus did not advance on Idlib city. The region of Greater Idlib will enter another phase of ‘de-escalation’.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Syrian Army’s Creeping Offensive On Idlib. Neverending Ceasefires Explained
- Syrian Army Liberated Over 2,000km In Greater Idlib Since December 25, 2019 (Map Update)
- Militants Shooting Down Syrian Helicotper With MANPAD In Eastern Idlib (Video)