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Oct 10 2018

Disarming rebel groups in Idlib will prove difficult for Turkey: analysis

Turkey took on a “Herculean task” when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agreed to disarm several radical groups in Idlib, Syria.

Looking to prevent a regime-led massacre in the last rebel stronghold of Idlib, Erdoğan struck a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin to create a cease fire in the province last month. Enforcing that deal will be difficult but of top importance to Turkish security in Erdoğan’s viewpoint.

Heyet Tahrir-el Sham, the Syrian offshoot of the former Nusra Front, is the largest terrorist group Turkey must convince to retreat, said a report from the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. There’s also the Free Syrian Army, a rebel, armed Sunni group that has the backing of Turkey opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Further complicating the picture are the dizzying array of factions within the Free Syrian Army that occasionally fight each other. Begin-Sadat Center lists 21 brigades within the Free Syrian Army.

“Then there is the bigger problem of identifying terrorists in a population of three million,” the report said. “Terrorists do not wear badges, and a considerable number of non-terrorists in the region are armed people who oppose Assad.”

The report notes Turkish intelligence and military can do their best “to convince the greatest number of former comrades, especially leaders, to give up arms in order to be protected from Syrian and Russian fire.” However, many rebels may retreat to the Turkish-protected Afrin province, which was acquired with the Turkish military’s Olive Branch operation. After Idlib, the Assad and Putin may press to clear Afrin.

Erdoğan feels “feels indebted to [allied rebels] for their help to the Turkish army in two cross-border operations,” which explains the urgency in seeking a peaceful solution. When Russian airstrikes and Syrian troops looked ready to attack Idlib, Erdoğan sought the ceasefire deal in order to avoid a mass deaths and a new rush of refugees.

But Erdogan also wants a peaceful solution in order to maintain, the report said, “a force that can eventually fight either or both of his two nemeses in Syria: Assad and the Syrian Kurds.”