Ankara (GPA) – Ankara has sent more troops into Idlib in a move that is clearly a joint operation between the forces of Turkey and Al-Qaeda.
Over the last week or two, things have been getting tense in northern Syria, near the last large “rebel” enclave in the region around and inside the city of Idlib. Currently, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is moving into the edges of Idlib with air support provided by the Russian military but at the same time, other forces are at work to keep Idlib safe for terrorism, including the Turkish military which has launched a new operation in the region.
While Turkey has been operating in the Idlib area since the earliest talks with Russia and Iran in Astana they have, once again, sent in another set of ground forces on yet another illegal operation in Syria. Even though Turkey has been the guarantor of the “de-escalation zone” around Idlib since the start of the Astana process it now seems painfully obvious that was never considered to be the actual end of their role in Syria by President Recep Erdogan.
Instead, what Turkey has done in Idlib – despite being in dialogue with Damascus’ allies in Tehran and Moscow – is spend most of their time antagonizing the nearby Kurdish enclave of Afrin and aiding the forces of the “Syrian opposition.” This latest operation seems to be just another extension of this real project of Erdogan’s as Turkey as the latest group of Turkish soldiers move into positions around Afrin, but seemingly with no intention of aiding the SAA’s final push against these “rebels.”
While western media may not be explaining this properly right now, there are several fairly damming pieces of evidence showing this to be the case.
The first red flag that should throw Turkey’s operation in Idlib into question appeared the moment the latest Turkish convoy crossed the Syrian border. There are only a handful of land routes available to Turkey to enter Syria since most of the territory is now controlled by groups that oppose Ankara (primarily the Kurds) so, much like every other time they’ve gone in, Turkey had to find a friendly route.
This friendly route used by Turkey this time though just so happened to go through territory controlled by the local Al-Qaeda affiliate, and Turkish-designated terror organization, Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jahbat Al-Nusra). While the casual observer may question how a US ally managed to get through jihadist controlled territory it was actually fairly simple…because the Turkish soldiers had an armed escort provided by Tahrir al-Sham!
Yes, that’s right, the local arm of al-Qaeda has apparently decided to no longer pretend they oppose Turkish ambitions and have instead embraced the fact that they’re the same. Erdogan has also made the same admission (again) recently by stating the same objective as the “opposition groups” that aim to topple Assad in a guest op-ed for the Wall Street Journal calling for the ouster of the Syrian President.
Despite this pretty obvious synergy between Turkey and Al-Qaeda, Ankara still denies that they are aiding the terrorist group and has instead opted to not give any real explanation for why they’ve entered Idlib. The problem with this non-explanation is that Turkey’s last close partner in Idlib was the now-defunct Ahrar Al-Sham. Ahrar Al-Sham was allegedly slightly less Salafist that Tahrir Al-Sham even though the groups had worked closely together in the past, but Ahrar was later crushed by Tahrir in the fight to control Idlib earlier this year.
This is all to say that if Turkey is going to help the “opposition” in Idlib, as they claim, Tahrir Al-Sham is the only opposition they could mean. While there is an insignificant amount of other smaller groups operating inside Idlib, even including some former elements of Ahrar Al-Sham, all of these organizations only exist due to their alliance with Tahrir Al-Sham.
One such Tahrir Al-Sham local subsidiary is the official Turkish-backed opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) which has also been caught red-handed in alliance with Al Qaeda and is led by a council that includes members like Ahrar Al-Sham commander Jaber Ali Pasha. This group provided a pool of fighters during Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch and now apparently expects that favor returned in Idlib. Turkey has apparently obliged and said they would send more weapons to Syria, which means there are now more Turkish weapons on their way to Tahrir Al-Sham including stockpiles of GRAD rockets.
This was apparently confirmed by on FSA commander who also told Reuters that Ankara “pledged complete Turkish military support for a long, protracted battle.” Again, this means that arms will be flowing into Syria to the FSA to be used by Tahrir Al-Sham which is a known Al-Qaeda affiliate.
Tahrir Al-Sham isn’t quite as bashful as Turkey though and is slightly more open about the objectives of Turkey’s mission. Instead of moving in the jihadists in Idlib, Turkey has actually helped them by having this most recent convoy take up more positions where they can keep an eye on the Kurds rather than the terrorists. There’s obviously no reason for Tahrir Al-Sham to oppose this move which is why they seem to openly consider themselves partners with Turkey.
Turkey still somehow tries to deny this. According to Ankara, there will be more phases of this latest operation in Syria which they claim will involve moving more Turkish troops farther into Syria to pursue Al Qaeda. If this second phase were to happen it would likely only be after Turkey has dealt with the Kurds but if the SAA is already moving on Idlib, it’s not clear where exactly Erdogan’s services will be needed in Syria.
Erdogan has a valid reason to worry about the Kurds in Afrin due to the fact that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) a Kurdish terror organization operates out of the enclave but at the same time Turkey has also been attacked by groups similar to Tahrir Al-Sham in the recent past. The Turkish President clearly has his eyes set on the Kurdish terrorists but if he doesn’t keep a close eye on the Salafists he’s currently protecting, they’re likely to break from Ankara’s leash.