At the beginning of 2017, Turkey established 12 observation posts in the provinces of Aleppo, Hama and Idlib, under what’s known as the de-escalation agreement signed between Russia, Turkey and Iran, for the aim of separating between the Syrian regime forces and the opposition forces. Later on the number has increased at least three times more.
Turkey later has reinforced those posts rendering them to semi-military bases in the Syrian territories, like the post established near the town of Morek in the middle of Syria, which is 88 kilometers from Turkey’s borders, and in which Turkey deployed hundreds of soldiers. Turkey has also some military bases in al-Bab, Jarablus, Azaz and Afrin, and these areas are completely under Turkey’s control.
Last August, a Turkish military convoy led by a military vehicle belonging to the Ankara-backed opposition factions, was hit by a warplane believed to be Russian, which led to the death of the Syrian fighters who accompanied the convoy, however Ankara didn’t respond to that attack.
Soldiers and Turkish vehicles in North Syria
In addition to the bases of Jarablus, Azaz, and al-Bab, Turkey has turned its observatory posts into military points where it deployed officers, non-commissioned officers as well as Turkish soldiers.
Until last summer, Turkey has sent around 166 tanks, 278 armored vehicles, 18 rocket launchers, 173 mortars, 73 vehicles equipped with heavy machine gun, and 41 anti-tanks platforms, according to reports. This number, however, has increased significantly last month, following the Russian-Turkish tensions in Libya and consequently in Syria.
Within the past 45 days, the number of Ankara’s soldiers and military vehicles in North Syria has been doubled, reaching 8000 to 10,000 troops in the fourth se-escalation zone, which equals more than two armored brigades and a regiment of Special Forces, compared to eastern armies.
Since Feb. 22, Turkey support its ground forces with the Turkish drones Bayraktar, TB2, that can fly for 24 hours continuously, and carry a load of 100 kg, in addition to the TAI Anka drones that carry 200 kg of ammunition.
Last week, 40 Turkish soldiers were killed and more than 50 were wounded in attacks carried out by Assad regime forces or Russian artillery and jet fighters, according to Turkish Ministry of Defence.
Turkish observation posts and how they were turned into military points.
Since October 2017, Turkey has established many observation posts in North Syria, starting from Idlib, within an agreement signed in September 2017 by Turkey, Russia and Iran in the Kazakh capital Astana.
Despite the agreement, Turkey wasn’t able to send its troops and establish the posts before obtaining the approval of the group that controls the area; Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), where the HTS fighters accompanied Turkish officers in their reconnaissance missions to establish the points. Moreover, all the Turkish convoys that equip the observation posts had to pass through the HTS check points.
Turkish observation posts in Syria are distributed as follows:
- First post: Salwa village in Idlib’s northern countryside, established in 12 October 2017.
- Second post: Qalaat Sama’an in Aleppo’s western countryside, established in 23 November 2017.
- Third post: Al-Sheikh Akil in Aleppo’s western countryside, established in 27 November 2017.
- Fourth post: Tal al-Eis in Aleppo’s southern countryside, established in 5 February 2018.
- Fifth post: Tal al-Toqan in Idlib’s eastern countryside, established in 9 February 2018.
- Sixth post: Al-Sarman in Idlib’s southern countryside, established in 15 February 2018.
- Seventh post: Jabal Andan in Aleppo’s northern countryside, established in 17 March 2018.
- Eighth post: al-Zaytouneh in north Latakia, established in 4 April 2018.
- Ninth post: Morek in south Idlib, established in 7 April 2018.
- Tenth post: Southern al-Rashideen in Aleppo’s western countryside, established in 9 May 2018.
- Eleventh post: Sheer Maghar in Hama’s western countryside, established in 14 May 2018.
- Twelfth post: Ashtabraq in Idlib’s Jisr al-Shughour, established in 16 May 2018.
In the past four months, the number of these posts has increased, reaching more than 40, as in the town of Batbo in Aleppo’s countryside near Idlib, Turkey established a military base, where military vehicles entered the town’s school, and dozens of vehicles were deployed in the town.
With this, the number of the observation posts mounts to 40, including Salwa, Qalaat Sama’an, Tal al-Eis, al-Sheikh Akil, Tal al-Toqan, Sarman, Jabal Anda, al-Zaytouneh, Morek, Southern al-Rashideen, Sheer Maghar and Ashtabraq, in addition to the newly established posts of Andan, al-Rashideen, Maar Hatat, posts in Saraqib, and al-Trinbeh, al-Nayrab, al-Maghir, Qminas, Sarmin, Taftanaz airport, Maarat al-Naasan, Maarat Masrin, al-Jineh, Kafr Karmin, al-Tawameh, regiment 111, al-Mastoumeh camp, Tirmanin, al-Atareb, Darat Izza, al-Bardakli, Nahlaya, Maatram, Bsanqoul, al-Nabi Ayoub, Bazabour and Batbo.
What happened recently?
Recently, Turkey has used its observation posts as bordering points for its areas of control in Syria, so it warned Assad regime of entering its areas and gave it till the end of last February, to withdraw beyond its posts, but this did not happen, which prompted Turkey to announce its latest military operation Spring Shield in the Syrian north, in which it shot down 4 Assad jet fighters just in the first four days.
In the middle of last February, things seemed to be the opposite of what they look like today, as Assad’s forces recaptured dozens of towns and villages in Idlib, and Aleppo airport worked again as first flight took off from Aleppo to Damascus after nearly seven years of closure. But Ankara today seems more determined to restore areas beyond its observation posts, although its strikes basically aim at exhausting Assad’s army and showing Russia its military power.
On Wednesday, the Arabic-speaking Russian news agency quoted Bashar al-Assad in his latest incomprehensible statements as saying: “There are no disputes with Ankara, and everything that happens is illogical.”
Russia Today news outlet said Bashar al-Assad, the head of the Syrian regime said Wednesday that his country has not committed any hostilities against Turkey and the current disputes are illogical.
“What are the small or big hostilities that Syrian carried out against Turkey? There are no hostilities.. There are Syrian-Turkish families, and vital common interests. Cultural interchange has occurred through history, so it is illogical to have serious disputes with them,” the news outlet cited Assad as saying.
Evacuating the fighters from the region
Idlib, the Syrian opposition’s last stronghold is going through a very critical stage, being the centre of conflict between Assad backed by Russia and opposition factions, some of which backed by Turkey. However, Ankara has evacuated the fighters from Idlib.
At the beginning of this year, it was confirmed that Ankara sends Syrian fighters to Libya, to fight alongside the forces of the Government of National Accord led by Fayez al-Sarraj.
Reliable sources confirmed to MENA that many of them have been killed because they were fighting in strange terrains and strange fronts where they should be away from.
In that period, Assad had gained significant advance in the evacuated fronts as their fighters were fighting and being killed on the fronts of Tripoli.
The evacuation process coincided with the accusations by Syrian activists that the HTS has withdrawn its heavy military vehicles and chased the fighters stationed on the front lines against Assad army.
All that has paved the way for the Assad regime forces backed by Russia, to advance in the liberated Syrian north, and to enter areas for the first time in 7 years. So Turkey would come after all as the hero who intervenes to support the oppressed and liberate the land.