Erdogan: Idlib is mine

By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai

A significant development took place in Syria on Friday.  A Russian attack on a Turkish convoy in Idlib in north-west Syria killed 36 Turkish soldiers and officers. In retaliation, Turkey launched an unprecedented armed drone attack that lasted several hours and resulted in the killing and wounding of over 150 Syrian officers and soldiers and their allies of Hezbollah and the Fatimiy’oun. The Turkish drones destroyed dozens of tanks and rocket launchers deployed by the Syrian Army along the front line. Russia ceased air support for Syria and its allies demanded from Russia an explanation for the lack of coordination of its unilateral stoppage of air support, allowing the Turkish drones to kill so many Syrian Army and allied forces. What happened, why, and what will be the consequences?

In October 2018, Turkey and Russia signed an agreement in Astana to establish a de-confliction zone along the Damascus-Aleppo (M5) and Aleppo-Latakia (M4) highways. It was agreed that all belligerents would withdraw and render the roads accessible to civilian traffic. Moreover, it was decided to end the presence of all jihadists, including the Tajik, Turkistan, Uighur and all other foreign fighters present in Idlib alongside Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (former ISIS, former al-Qaeda in Syria), Hurras al-Din (al-Qaeda in Syria), and Ahrar al-Sham with their foreign fighters and all “non-moderate” rebels. Last year, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham took full control of Idlib and its rural area under the watchful eyes of Turkey. 

Over a year later, the Turkish commitment to end the presence of jihadists and to open the M5 and M4 had not been respected. The Syrian Army and its allies, along with Russia, agreed to impose the Astana agreement by force. In a few weeks, the jihadists defence line crumbled under heavy Russian bombing. According to field commanders, the jihadists left fewer than 100 men in every village, who withdrew under the heavy bombing and preferred to leave rather than be surrounded by the Syrian Army and their fast advance.

Turkey, according to the military commanders in Syria, saw the withdrawal of jihadists and decided to move thousands of troops into Syria to lead a counter-attack against the Syrian Army and its allies. This action made it impossible for Russia to distinguish between jihadists and the Turkish Army. Moreover, Turkey refrained from informing Russia – as it had agreed to according to the deconfliction agreement between Russia and Turkey – about the position of its regular forces. This was when Russia bombed a convoy killing 36 Turkish officers along with 17 jihadists who were present together with the Turkish Army.

According to decision-maker sources in Syria, the Russian Air Force was not aware of the presence of the Turkish convoy when it was almost decimated in Idlib. The Turkish command has supplied Turkish vehicles and deployed thousands of Turkish soldiers with the jihadists. “It almost appears that Turkish President Recep Tayyeb Erdogan wanted this high number of Turkish casualties to stop the successful and rapid attack of the Syria army on Idlib front, and to curtail the fast withdrawal of jihadists.”

According to the sources, Russia was surprised by the number of Turkish soldiers killed and declared a unilateral ceasefire to calm down the front and de-escalate. Moscow ordered its military operational room in Syria to stop the military push and halt the attack on rural Idlib. Engaging in a war against Turkey is not part of President Putin’s plans in Syria. Russia thought it the right time to quieten the front and allow Erdogan to lick his wounds.

This Russian wishful thinking did not correspond to Turkish intentions and plans in Syria. Turkey moved its military command and control base on the borders with Syria to direct attacks against the Syrian Army and its allies. Turkish armed drones mounted an unprecedented organised drone attack lasting several hours, destroying the entire Syrian defence line on the M5 and M4 and undermining the effectiveness of the Syrian Army, equipped and trained by Russia. Furthermore, Iran had informed Turkey of the presence of its forces and allied forces along the Syrian Army, and asked Turkey to stop the attack to avoid casualties. Turkey, which maintains over 2000 officers and soldiers in 14 observation locations that are today under Syrian Army control, ignored the Iranian request and bombed Iranian HQ and that of its allies, including a military field hospital killing 30 (9 Hezbollah and 21 Fatimiyoun) and tens of the Syrian army officers. The Turkish attack wounded more than 150 soldiers of the Syrian Army and their allies.

Turkish backed jihadists and foreign fighters preparing an attack against the Syrian Army position around Idlib.

It was now clear that Russia, Iran and its allies had misunderstood President Erdogan: Turkey is in the battle of Idlib to defend what Erdogan considers Turkish territory (Idlib). That is the meaning of the Turkish message, based on the behaviour and deployment of the Turkish Army along with the jihadists. Damascus and its allies consider that Russia made a mistake in not preventing the Turkish drones from attacking Syrian-controlled territory in Idlib. Moreover, Russia made another grave mistake in not warning its allies that the political leadership in Moscow had declared a one-sided ceasefire, exposing partners in the battlefield and denying them air cover.

This is not the first time Russia has stopped a battle in the middle of its course in Syria. It happened before at al-Ghouta, east Aleppo, el-Eiss, al-Badiya and Deir-ezzour. It was Russia who asked the Syrian Army and its allies to prepare for the M5 and M4 battle. Militarily speaking, such an attack cannot be halted unless a ceasefire is agreed to on all fronts by all parties. The unilateral ceasefire was a severe mistake because Russia neither anticipated the Turkish reaction nor did it allow the Syrian Army and its allies to equip themselves with air defence systems. Moreover, while Turkey was bombing the Syrian Army and its allies for several hours, it took many hours for Russian commanders to convince Moscow to intervene and ask Turkey to stop the bombing. 

The military command of Syria and its allies believe that Turkey could now feel encouraged to repeat such an attack by Russian hesitation to stand against it. Thus Syria, Iran and allies have decided to secure air coverage for their forces spread over Idlib and to make sure they have independent protection even if Russia were to promise – according to the source – to lead a future attack and recover total air control.

It is understandable that Russia is not in Syria to trigger a war against NATO member Turkey. However, NATO is not in a position to support Turkey because Turkey is occupying Syrian soil. Nevertheless, the war in Syria has shown how little the rule of law is respected by the West. A possible US intervention is not excluded with the goal of spoiling Russia, Iran and Syria’s victory and their plans to liberate the Levant from jihadists and to unite the country. Possible US intervention is a source of concern to Russia and Iran, particularly when President Erdogan keeps asking for US direct intervention, a 30 km no-fly-zone, a buffer zone along the borders with Syria, US Patriot interception missiles to confront the Russian air force, and a protection for internally displaced Syrian refugees (at the same time as he organises their departure to Europe).

Moscow maintains good commercial and energy ties with Turkey, and President Putin is not in Syria to start a new war with Syria’s enemies Turkey, the US and Israel, notwithstanding the importance of the Levant for Russia’s air force (Hmeymeem airbase) and navy (Tartous naval base).

The options are limited: either Russia agrees to support the preparation of the inevitable Syrian counter-attack in the coming days and before a Putin-Erdogan summit, or the situation in Idlib will hibernate and remain static until jihadists attack Aleppo again in the next 6-7 months.

Proofread by: C.G.B. and Maurie Brasher

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Copyright ©  2020

79 thoughts on “Erdogan: Idlib is mine


    Point taken.

    Well said.

    I had elaborated a longer response, but it was eaten by the cyberdogs.

    Thanks for your observations.

    Lone Wolf

  2. I think we’re being unnecessarily harsh on the Russians. You may be fighting the jids & Turks in Idlib, but Russia is fighting a war on all fronts far away from Idlib. It has the conniving EU NATO US , the western banking system, the sports feds, all waiting for any excuse to damage Russia’s political and economic base. Putin has to keep Erdogan in play and get him out of the house quietly like a mad ex girlfriend. He knows very well what a trickster he is, but he’s there, and as long as he can be contained, then RUAF SAA can continue it’s advance to the TU border. What happened with the drones was unprecedented but its effects although harsh were short lived. RU has always played a steady relentless successful game, don’t throw in the towel over this one event.

  3. A very important document.


    From “Signs Of The Times”

    Iran and Hezbollah warn Turkey ‘all your forces are in our line of fire’

    The Iranian Advisory Center in Syria, which takes part in the fighting in northern Syria, issued a press release through the news agency U-News in reaction to the recent confrontation between the Syrian army and the Turkish army. It should be noted that the Iranian Advisory Center is made up of the group of Iranian experts who advise the Syrian State and its armed forces, and that this is the first statement it has issued since the beginning of the war in Syria.

    Full text of the statement:

    In reaction to the latest confrontation between the Syrian Arab Army and the Turkish Army, it is important for us to inform the public of the following:

    First: We fought alongside the Syrian Arab army and supported it, at the request of the Syrian State, to open the M5 highway, with a Syrian force led by elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and of Hezbollah, and with the participation of factions of the Resistance within the force; and we have helped civilians and residents of the liberated villages.

    Second: Protected by the Turkish army, the armed (terrorist) groups attacked the positions of the Syrian army, and so we participated in the fighting aimed at preventing the M5 highway to fall again in their hands.

    Third: Since the beginning of the presence of our forces, the Turkish positions located in the Syrian territories have been in the sight of our forces, whether they comply with the Astana Agreements or violate them, but the elements of the Resistance did not strike these Turkish forces out of deference to the decision of their (respective) leaders, and this decision remains in effect until now.

    Fourth: Four days ago, foreign elements, Tajiks from the Turkestan Party, elements from the Al-Nusra Front, as well as other terrorist factions, carried out a large-scale attack on the positions of the Syrian army. Our forces directly supported the Syrian Army to prevent the liberated areas from falling into their hands.

    Fifth: Despite the defensive nature of the action of our forces, the Turkish army targeted our elements and our forces from the air, with precision missiles and artillery support, which prompted us to send mediators to the Turkish army to end its attacks and renounce this approach

    Sixth: Our mediators announced to the Turkish army that the terrorists attacked our positions with their support, that our forces are there to confront the terrorists, and that we are on the side of the Syrian army for this mission; but unfortunately, the Turkish military ignored this request and continued its bombing, and a number of our fighters (Iranian & Hezbollah’s) were martyred.

    Seventh: Syrian army artillery responded by striking the source of the fire; for our part, we did not retaliate directly, and once again, we announced to the Turkish army through mediators that we have no objective or decision to confront the Turkish army and that our leadership is determined to reach a political solution between Syria and Turkey.

    Eighth: We have informed our forces since morning not to target Turkish forces inside Idlib in order to spare the lives of their soldiers, and our forces have not opened fire, but the Turkish army continues to shell the points and locations of the Syrian army (where we are also located) with artillery fire.

    Ninth: The Iranian Advisory Center and the fighters of the Resistance front call on the Turkish forces to act rationally in the interest of the Syrian and Turkish peoples, reminding the Turkish people that their sons (soldiers) have been in our sights for one month and that we could have targeted them in revenge, but we did not do so in accordance with the orders of our leaders; we call on them to pressure the Turkish leadership to rectify its decisions and avoid spilling the blood of Turkish soldiers.

    Tenth: Despite the current difficult circumstances, we reaffirm our continuing position alongside the people, the State and the army in Syria in their fight to defeat terrorism and preserve their full sovereignty over the Syrian territories, and we all call on actors to be rational and aware of the great risks of continuing the aggression against Syria.

    Iranian Advisory Center in Syria
    Source: Al-Manar, February 29, 2020


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    PS: This is an important document as the Turkey aggression against Syria unfolds, the first time the Iranian Advisory Center, aka Military Advisory Center, has issued an statement ever, and is warning Turkey their forces will be targeted if they continue to attack and kill IRGC/Hezbollah soldiers. Contrary to some foolish copy and paste “analysts” who wrongly concluded Turkey was “bluffing” (Moon of Alabama, followed by Pepe Escobar), underestimating Erdogan’s ego and his need to satiate the thirst for blood of his proto-fascist political base, Erdogan is bound to create serious problems for Syria, given his party‘s geopolitical ambitions of a Greater Turkey, part of the pan-Islamic, neo-Ottomanism sponsored by former foreign minister Ahmed Davutoglu.

  4. Many people who had begun to respect Putin and Russia, will now feel very let down by his inaction in this whole muddy mess. I do not understand why Putin would put any store in anything the Turkish weasel would say – Erdogan worked closely with ISIS during the war and he is a truly greedy and practised liar who cannot be trusted for one minute.
    I now wonder just what Putin and Erdogan discussed in their meetings and feel he has not just badly let down Assad and the Syrian people, but actually betrayed them. If that proves to be the case, then he is indeed no better than the US and UK and his perfidy will lose him much respect from many. Right now, Putin looks to be either a gullible fool or worse – a conniving, self serving geopolitical imperialist. All the goodwill and admiration he has painstakingly engendered will unravel very quickly if he does not respond decisively and his status on the world stage will plummet, which will be a disaster for Russia.

  5. “We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors.”

    Sun Tzu, The Art of War, “Maneuvering,” Chapter 8, verse 12.

    Grateful for your prolific work keeping us updated on recent developments in the Levant.

    I have been concerned about the way Syria has been conducting the Idlib campaign, allegedly in coordination with the Russian high command. The “blitzkrieg” over Idlib was not a typical Russian military tactic, since the pockets left in southern and western Idlib called more for a proverbial cauldron than a race to take as much territory as possible. I was afraid the consolidation of these gains, made possible by the sacrifice of the 25th Special Mission Forces Division, was going to be left to lesser troops that could easily retreat under pressure from the taqfiri scum and their Turkey masters.

    As it happened, in both Nayreb and Saraqib, endangering Syrian Arab Army control of M5, and putting into question their Idlib offensive.

    There were two possible cauldrons in the making a couple of weeks ago, both on either side of M4, one west from Shumayyisah to Al Mashta on the border with Turkey, another one south east and parallel to M4, from Maarrat al Nu’man to any point across the Jabal al Zawiyya pocket. The advantages of the cauldron over the blitzkrieg are many, mainly the determination to exterminate an enemy, instead of pushing it out and away, which has been the case in Idlib. “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day,” (Bob Marley).

    The other advantage is the economy of forces, less forces are needed to close a cauldron than to launch a blitzkrieg, and once closed, pincers and counter-pincers can be launched on either side to eliminate the enemy pockets. Closing a cauldron southeast and parallel to M4 would have allowed the 25th Special Forces Division to prepare for an even advance towards M4, leaving no pockets behind. As it is, the same taqfiri scum they pushed out from the towns in Southern Idlib, are coming back to hunt them, and are now taking back several towns they lost less than a week ago.

    The loss of Nayreb and Saraqib point to a weakness in the SAA, a serious gap between their special forces and regular army. The 25th is already stretched, cannot be fighting and consolidating recaptured territory, and their backups are unable to hold the line against the taqfiris. This is preoccupying vis a vis an expanded conflict with Turkey’s regular army, plus the taqfiri scum. Now Hezbollah is again generously shedding their blood getting the Syrian nuts out of the fire, pushing the taqfiris out of Saraqib and the M5/M4 junction. I am sure they are the ones leading the lesser Syrian troops, along with the Fatimiyoun, in close coordination with the Iranians.

    If, as it was announced, the Russian military coordinated the Idlib campaign with the Syrian high command, their decision not to use a cauldron reveals their sitting on the fence commitment to their efforts in Syria, dancing one step forward, two steps backward with both Israel and Turkey. They are clearly in Syria not as allies, but looking after their own interest, i.e. access to the warm waters of the Mare Nostrum.

    The Syrians and the Iranians should take note of this backstabbing the Russians are prone to. They are no different from the US when it comes to their exceptionalism, by which other people are disposable and can be sacrificed for the sake of Russia’s selfish geopolitical interests.

    Lone Wolf

  6. If Putin imagines that Erdogan can be trusted even for a millisecond he must indeed be more stupid than I took him for. The Ottoman war criminals are in Syria illegally, are intermingled with headchoppers, and deserve nothing but extermination. They have no protection, not even under the Geneva Conventions.

    Also don’t forget one thing: this is directly harming Russian credibility as a dependable ally. Someone should tell Putin that.

  7. Please refrain from using the term “de-confliction”, as it is not a real word, as correctly stated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. It was newly coined by US military-industrial hegemony, & has no real equivalent in non-Anglo languages. Please replace it with the more correct, more widely understood, & more commonly used term, “de-escalation”. Thank you.

  8. Big mistake from Putin but this error was done by the syrian army too. THIS WAR is from 2012 and from that date Syria is running against the devil Cerdogan. They have to know how they work and how they traitor the their friends and deals. They want is land and will betrayed anyone that try to impede this thinking.

  9. This is terrible – I read that Russian and the US are on the same side (Israel first).

  10. poutin can act white and look white but he will never ever be considered white and he will be destroyed.

    The only 2 countries which have acted appropriately in the time they have had are Iran and North Korea. I respect Emperor Kim a lot because since very young he has been amongst whites and understand them very well. Everyone else wants to be one of them rather than knowing the true nature of the beast….

  11. Thanks for explaining the situation in Idlib/Syria .
    Very difficult situation for the Syrian , basically Turkey is under very nasty , land grabbing , radical Islamist leadership , I blame Putin who tipped off Erdogan about the military coup .

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