U.S. has not yet backed Turkey in Idlib, Erdoğan says

The United States has not yet given support to the Turkish military operation in Syria’s Idlib province, Turkish President­ Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday.

“The biggest problem we have is that we cannot use the airspace [in Idlib]. We will hopefully resolve it soon,” he said in a speech to members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), broadcasted by A Haber.

Erdoğan said he was told that Washington did not have any Patriot missile defence batteries to give Turkey for the time being, but will speak with U.S. President Donald Trump on the issue, Reuters reported.

A total of 17 Turkish soldiers have died by Syrian shelling in the country’s last rebel-held enclave of Idlib since the beginning of February, as Russian-backed Syrian forces escalated their offensive on the northwestern province. 

Turkey has 12 observation posts built in Idlib according to a 2018 agreement made with Russia to prevent a potential attack by Syrian government forces on the province, which is home to 3 million people, a large part of whom are civilians that fled from fighting elsewhere in the country.

Erdoğan has set an end-of-the-month deadline for the forces to pull back from the observation posts, recalling the deadline in his speech on Wednesday.

“We will definitely take the regime out of the boundaries we set [by the 2018 agreement], and make people return to their homes,” he said. “We are planning to liberate our observation posts from the encirclement by the end of this month, one way or another.”

Erdoğan said he will likely meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Istanbul on March 5 to discuss the situation in Idlib.