Damascus (GPA) – In an effort to protect their “moderate rebel” friends, Turkey has launched a new military operation in; violating the national sovereignty of Syria.
Last week, Turkey deployed troops into the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib. According to Ankara, the operation is meant to ensure the area’s status as a “deconfliction zone.” The other unofficial status of this area now protected by Turkey is its role as the base of operations for the militant group Tahrir al-Sham.
Tahrir al-Sham is also known as the group formed earlier this year as the result of a merger between several Salafist militant groups, including Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. Jabhat Fateh al-Sham is, of course, the al-Qaeda affiliate better known by its previous name Jahbat al-Nusra. Al-Nusra claimed to have broken ties with al-Qaeda last year; a claim most experts doubt.
Despite the newfound spirit of cooperation between Turkey and Syrian ally Russia, this latest operation proves that Ankara still has ulterior motives as far as their involvement in Syria. The stated position of Turkish backed militants in Idlib province is the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which still remains a Turkish aim for Syria. The militants in Idlib also aid the Turkish policy of containing Kurdish militias in the area, including those backed by the US, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The militants in Idlib also aid the Turkish policy of containing Kurdish militias in the area, including those backed by the US, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF controls an area to the north of the Turkish troops and Syrian controlled Aleppo, in a pocket of territory between two jihadist controlled regions.
Now, obviously, Turkey isn’t officially entering Idlib to back these al-Qaeda affiliates, but instead, claim to be moving to reinforce their allies in the Free Syrian Army (FSA). This excuse may have worked a few years ago, but today we are all well aware that there is very little of the ‘FSA’ remaining in Syria, and the group is notorious for fighting alongside al-Nusra and other Salafist organizations, possibly including Daesh.
It’s with this in mind that the declaration by Damascus that this latest Turkish operation is illegal makes perfect sense. Damascus (along with most of the world) is aware of the character of the “moderate rebels” in Idlib, and can clearly see the problem with these groups gaining support from an actor like Turkey, a major member of NATO.
On Saturday, this sentiment was voiced by a source within Syria’s Foreign Ministry, who called for the “immediate and unconditional withdrawal” of Turkish forces, saying this was an obvious act of “aggression” by Ankara. The Foreign Ministry source also addressed the Turkish claim that this move was to ensure their obligations to the latest Syria negotiations in Kazakhstan, saying the Turkish deployment has “nothing whatsoever to do with the understandings reached by the guarantor countries in the Astana process.”
According to the Syrian state outlet SANA, the actual story behind Ankara’s decision is that “Turkish troops dashed into Idlib province accompanied by Jabhat a-Nusra terrorists which shows clearly the close relationship between Turkish regime and terrorist groups.” According to SANA, the Foreign Ministry also stated that this latest incursion is “a matter that the international community should pay more attention to and take a firm stance in order to oblige Turkey to end its support to terrorism.”
The Turkish force launched in Idlib on Thursday reportedly includes about 100 soldiers, including special forces units and around 30 armored vehicles. According to reports, more Turkish forces also entered Idlib on Saturday in a trend that is likely to continue until Ankara is made to withdraw all of their troops.
James Carey is an organizer based in Detroit, Michigan, founder of Geopolitics Alert, and an experienced analyst on Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Turkey. He also covers topics ranging from Latin America and Asia to Europe. You can also hear James in his weekly podcast; The Left is Dead which he co-hosts with investigative journalist Jake Anderson.