Syria demands withdrawal of Turkish forces from Idlib province

World Today

As Turkey sends more troops into Syria’s Idlib province, Syria is demanding their complete withdrawal.

The Turkish government says the operation is necessary to enforce the de-escalation zones approved in a multi-state agreement earlier this year.

But Syria is calling it a “flagrant aggression.”

CGTN’s Michal Bardavid reports.

Follow Michal Bardavid on Twitter @michal_bardavid

Under a full sun, soldiers place a Turkish flag on their military vehicle.

They are part of the Turkish convoy heading into Syria’s Idlib province where they are to set up observation posts.

The operation is part of the agreement between Russia, Turkey and Iran, the guarantor states of the Astana Syrian peace talks.

In September, the three countries had agreed Idlib would be part of the de-escalation zones deal and Turkey would be responsible for monitoring and maintaining security within the province.

But Syria is rejecting that claim.

Its Foreign Ministry released a statement calling the incursion a “flagrant aggression” and violation of the agreement forged in Astana, Kazakhstan. It wants those forces withdrawn.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said the operation was not only necessary for the safekeeping of Idlib, but for Turkey’s security as well.

“Turkey shares a border with Idlib,” he began. “Thus, we should take our own measures. It is us that shares a 911 kilometer-long border line with Syria. It is us who are under constant abuse and threat.”

Idlib is mainly controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist group formerly affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Whether they resist or surrender to Turkey’s presence remains to be seen.

Military observers say they see potential for dangerous complications if clashes break out.

“If Turkey needs air support, it’s going to have to ask Russia,” explained Gareth Jenkins, a security expert.

“And that’s problematic on an operational level because you’re talking about two different militaries who have never cooperated on an operation like this before. So really it’s a very delicate, and risky, operation, and there’s going to be a lot of concern.”

One of the difficulties with dealing with groups like Hayat Tahrir Al-sham (or HTS for short) is their method of fighting.

“It is not just a question like a conventional war, where you’re going to have one unit of HTS attacking one unit of the Turkish military,” Jenkins said.

“What we’d expect to see—if things become very hostile—is a lot of suicide car bombings.”

Though Turkey has focused on this operation being in line with the rules of engagement it agreed to with Russia and Iran, President Erdogan has also vowed to prevent Kurdish YPG forces from forming what he called a “terror corridor” to the Mediterranean.