Turkish and Syrian forces appear bound on a collision course in Idlib - National Interest

Escalating tensions in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib and Turkey’s recent massive military deployments in the rebel-held enclave suggest that Turkish and Syrian ground forces might engage in more deadly confrontations in the near future, analyst Sébastien Roblin said

Thirteen Turkish soldiers and one Turkish contractor were killed by Syrian shelling in one week in Idlib. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to strike Syrian forces anywhere if attacks continued, while Ankara has been deploying additional equipment and troops in the province.

The Russia-backed Syrian government launched an attack on Idlib in April, saying that a 2018 deal between Ankara and Moscow failed in driving extremist fighters off the province, which is home to 3 million people.

“Turkey had already begun arming the rebels with anti-tank guided missiles—sophisticated weapons which can be used to ambush armoured vehicles from miles away,” Roblin said in the National Interest on Friday.

Anti-tank guided missile attacks in Idlib surged from a low of 63 in 2018 to 162 in 2019, according to the statistics shared by Jakub Janovsky, who has maintained a video archive documenting the Syrian civil war for years. Janovsky has identified 53 such attacks in the first five weeks of 2020.

Since the Syrian army recaptured Saraqeb, a key town in Idlib, on Feb. 6, “reports indicate the Turkish Army has moved more aggressively to shield the rebels and effectively create a narrow corridor in which rebel forces are under protection,” Roblin said. 

“The question looms: how far is Turkey willing to go to support the Idlib rebels? And to what extent will that possibility deter Damascus from consolidating its victory?” the analyst asked. 

“While Turkish artillery has ample deadly firepower to support rebel forces and retaliate against attacks, halting the momentum of Assad’s forces would likely require direct intervention of infantry and armour that can actually defend ground,” Roblin said. 

Defending Idlib indefinitely would surely be a quagmire for Turkey with continual losses of troops and equipment, while Russian air defences may prevent the Turkish military from calling on air support, he said. 

“For now, Turkish and Syrian ground forces appear bound on a collision course, though what endgame Ankara sees in the conflict remains unclear,” Roblin said.