Turkish Forces Prepare To Back Anti-Assad Rebels In Idlib

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced that Turkish forces are prepping to enter the Idlib province in support of the rebel forces- those opposing both the Syrian regime and the Jihadi forces.

Backed by the Turkish forces, the Syrian rebels are preparing to launch a major military operation in the North West region of the country. Idlib and the surrounding areas are a stronghold for those fighting the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, but is also controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group led by al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate.

There have been reports of Turkish authorities taking down sections of the border wall. The aim of the operation seems to be to curb the influence of the Tahrir- al-Sham Jihadist group, in the aim of securing Turkey’s frontier.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced in his speech: ‘“We are taking new steps to ensure security in Idlib. Today there’s a serious operation in Idlib and this will continue because we have to extend a hand to our brothers in Idlib.” He added that the operation was key for stopping the ‘terror corridor’ occurring on Turkey’s border with Syria.

Though troops are not said to be on the ground in Syria yet, media reports have picked up on a heavy deployment of military hardware and personnel by the Turkish army to its Southern borders. In the meantime, airstrikes by Russian jets have reportedly killed 120 Islamic State fighters, alongside 60 foreign mercenaries.

According to Mustafa Sejara, a senior official in the Liwa al-Mutasem Syrian insurgent group, Russia is reportedly not supporting the rebels. He states that “they [Russia]will not have a role in the areas of our control at all. The role of the Russians is limited to areas under regime control.” However Ankara, Moscow and Tehran have announced a deal to establish and patrol a ‘de-escalation’ zone in the Idlib region.

This situation has had significant civilian implications- with 13 being killed in the airstrikes and many civilians fleeing to Idlib from the nearby Aleppo province. Furthermore, Idlib’s population has ballooned to at least two million due to both civilians and combatants fleeing other parts of the country. A resident of the town near the border crossing voiced concerns that the fighting would take a huge toll on civilians because of the increased population there. “One bullet kills three,” the resident said.

Turkey has been one of the primary supporters of the rebels fighting Assad during the six and a half year war. Their focus now seems to have shifted towards securing their border. The alliance seeks to control the fighting, however, by bringing more fighting to the region, civilians who have fled fighting are once again threatened, thus perpetuating the crisis.