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September 16, 2018

Syria - The Rationale Behind The Delay Of Idleb's Liberation - Updated 2x

Updated (twice) below

Southfront has an excellent longread on the Turkish role in the war on Syria from its very beginning. The piece includes a list of the groups Turkey currently supports and gives an outlook on Turkey's plans:

Turkish Strategy In Northern Syria: Military Operations, Turkish-backed Groups And Idlib Issue.

The conclusion:

In the contemporary military and diplomatic reality surrounding the Syrian crisis, Ankara is pursuing the following tactical goals:
  • To eliminate or at least disarm and limit influence of US-backed Kurdish armed groups in northern Syria;
  • To strengthen a united pro-Turkish opposition Idlib and to eliminate any resistance to it, including in some scenarios the elimination of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and its allies;
  • To facilitate return of refugees from Turkey to Syrian areas under its own control;
If these goals are achieved, Ankara will significantly increase its influence on the diplomatic settlement of the crisis and on the future of the post-war Syria. The returned refugees and supporters of militant groups in the Turkish-controlled part of Syria will become an electoral base of pro-Turkish political figures and parties in case of the implementation of the peaceful scenario. If no wide-scale diplomatic deal on the conflict is reached, one must consider the possibility of a pro-Turkish quasi-state in northern Syria, confirming the thesis that Erdogan is seeking to build a neo-Ottoman empire.

bigger (pdf)

Elijah J. Magnier confirms our take that the Syrian-Russian operation to liberate Idleb is on hold but not canceled:

What is clear so far is the certainty that President Assad is not ready to give up Idlib to President Erdogan. Assad is said to be ready to start the attack in a few weeks even alone, at the cost of dragging everybody behind him onto the battlefield.

The operation has to wait until the Congressional elections in the U.S. are over and the danger of a U.S. escalation for domestic policy reasons recedes. Russia also fears that an attack on Idelb right now could re-unite the U.S. and Turkey and lead to a new coordinated onslaught on Syria.

Thomas Seibert at The Arab Weekly points to an upcoming change in the balance that will lower this risk:

Moscow would wait until October or November before ordering an all-out attack because the Kremlin expects the crisis in Turkish-US relations to deepen even further by then.
“Comprehensive action will start at a time when Turkey desperately needs Russian support” and Ankara is unlikely to add a crisis with Russia to its difficulties with the United States, [Kerim Has, a Moscow-based analyst of Russian-Turkish relations,] said. US sanctions against the Iranian oil industry starting in November are one reason why tensions between Turkey and the United States could worsen soon. Turkey buys about half its crude oil imports from Iran and has said it will not abide by the new sanctions.

But Turkey still does not want to remove al-Qaeda from Syria. It wants to move the group around while keeping it under its own control. They are excellent shock troops which, if transferred to Jarabulus in Turkey's Euphrates Shield area, could potentially be used against the U.S. supported Kurds in the northeast of Syria:

Erdogan’s government is proposing to transfer extremist groups such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, out of southern and western Idlib into the northern part of the province or to Afrin and Jarabulus, two Turkish-controlled areas in northern Syria.
News reports said Turkey would then deploy rebel forces of the Ankara-backed National Front for Liberation (NFL) to take up positions abandoned by HTS.

The chance for Turkey to achieve that is quite small. Just today HTS published a fatwa against showing the Turkish flag in Idleb. Other Jihadi groups in Idleb also issued statements against the "apostate Turkish army" and its presence in Idleb.

It is likely that the situation in Syria will now calm down for a while only to escalate again in two month when the operation to liberate Idelb will get its final go.

Update (Sep 17 - 16:30 utc):

President Erdogan of Turkey and President Putin of Russia met today in Sochi. The main discussion point was the Idleb operation.

Elijah Magnier provides a first insight of the results:

Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai - 16:21 utc - 17 Sep 2018

#Syria #Idlib postponed until 15 of #Decembre to start with, with a 15km buffer zone and an engagement of #Turkey to disarm Nusra ( or merge it) and neutralise all other jihadists.

#Moscow has accepted to give #Ankara more time (for after the US sanctions really) to sort out #Idlib and the jihadists in the city, defusing the #US intention to bomb #Syria.
So: no job for warmongers for the next couple of months. Find another war.

#turkey wants the #idlib case to be postponed until the constitutional changes and the peace process to kickoff in #Geneva: more time for Idlib and Turkey to sort out its affairs with Syrian proxies. [...]

More: #Turkey has the right to pursue any group in #Idlib and to bring further military forces in the city to stop Jihadists. #Damascus approves the Moscow-Ankara signed' agreement between the two defence Ministers (Russian and Turkish).

What is huge is: #Russia signed a military agreement with a #NATO member (#Turkey) in #Syria. NATO won't like it at all.

Turkey will get one month more than expected. The Turkish controlled Jihadis will attempt to kill the al-Qaeda aligned Jihadis and vice versa. The Turkish army will also pay a death toll. The al-Qaeda aligned groups, coming under Turkish attacks, will likely try to slip into Turkey to commit attacks there.

Update (Sep 17 18:00 utc)

More information:

  • Turkey will not be allowed to give air support to its proxy forces or to its own forces when they fight in Idleb.
  • An additional 'demilitarized area' with 15-25 kilometer depth will be created and patrolled by Turkish and Russian forces. This area will allow transports on the M5 highway. It is of high value for Syria and its economy.


Posted by b on September 16, 2018 at 11:05 AM | Permalink

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redrobin @100

I am frequently wrong and don't mind admitting it. I also change my mind and adapt to new information and developing situations. You strike me as being fairly inflexible and rarely wrong.

But I am not insulting you; I am mocking you. I do this because you are high-handed and snooty.

You're the one who took issue with me, for what, I don't know (truth be told I am an avian fan). (Actually, I do know; it's because I won't countenance a conflict with Turkey [at least at this time] because it would be a tactical mistake).

(Btw: have you noticed your strange hostility to Turkey, you being a chicken and all?)


The action you propose (bombing the rebels regardless of Turkey) would have ignored Turkey's view and put Turkey in the firing line. You are being inconsistent (though consistently vague). This action would have seriously damaged the (developing) relationship between Russia and Turkey (which is more than just about Syria).

You might say that Russia shouldn't care about their relationship with Turkey, but look at any map and you would see (if both your eyes were placed to the front of your head) that Russia has to care.

Again you show no sign of understanding my point that Russia won't (can't) get into a conflict with Turkey. Russia won't ride roughshod over Turkey views.


Russia has never just 'bombed' the rebels mindlessly. It was always been tactical. Russia also does not have magic bombs that can avoid hitting Turks.


Syria is actually already partitioned and has been for sometime. It is just not legally (internationally) recognised, as such, and probably never will be. There have already been huge costs in recovering Syrian land and there are likely to be even more huge costs to be incurred. Concessions for Idlib might well be necessary and might well be less costly that war. But that discussion is premature.

The US occupation is a different thing entirely and will probably not be amenable to such concessions.


Implicit in your comments is the idea that Russia can take on Turkey and the US (and presumably France, UK and Israel too) all at the same time with one-hand tied behind there back. Any fool can see that this is just not possible.

Posted by: ADKC | Sep 18, 2018 7:23:13 AM | 101

littlered @101

I tend to agree with b's analysis in his most recent posting:

So take your disagreements there. I won't be back here.

Posted by: ADKC | Sep 18, 2018 7:31:08 AM | 102

ADKC @101

Since you are quite willing to accept the outcome of a partitioned Syria any further discussion would be pointless.

You might as well come clean and openly support the "Assad must go" camp, because that is part of the concessions Syria would have to give to the occupiers.

Syrian rebels see Idlib deal as victory, Damascus as test for Turkey

Posted by: redrooster | Sep 18, 2018 8:26:35 AM | 103

There is also this which I fail yet to understand:
Furthermore, Putin stated that the demilitarized zone area will be between 15-20 kilometers deep.
Posted by: b | Sep 17, 2018 1:47:06 PM | 46

President Putin seems to be twisting Erdogan's arm to carry out part of the de-escalation tasks he committed himself to ages ago but did nothing. It seems to be a way of reducing the size of the terrorist enclave, releasing (hopefully large) numbers of civilians from terrorist control, and forcing Turkey to take action against the terrorists.

For the sake of argument let's assume for a moment that Turkey and Russia are able to set up the agreed de-escalation zone. The area of the zone is quite large, a little under a third of the total area of the terrorist enclave. What is the population of this area? There appear to be no major cities in the middle, but Khan Sheikhoun, Maarrat al Numan and Saraqib on the edge, possibly included - logically the aim must be to include them. Even Idlib city is not far away, maybe 8 km. The de-escalation zone is to be patrolled by both Turkish and Russian forces, therefore - assuming for the moment that the proposed situation is achieved - this gives an automatic guaranteed escape route for many civilians, probably including those three cities. For other civilians further into the enclave, potential liberation is also that much closer. Perhaps some civilians from deeper within the enclave might be able to move into the proposed de-escalation zone in advance, so that they will be liberated.

Perhaps Russia could later push for further de-escalation zones going closer and closer to the Turkish border, until the terrorist enclave no longer exists (or is inside Turkey)?

The hard part is achieving the agreed de-escalation zone patrolled by Turkey and Russia, but at least Russia has now recruited 4 new proxy ground forces to help them:

al-Qaeda jihadis killing Turkish jihadis
Turkish jihadis killing al-Qaeda jihadis
al-Qaeda jihadis killing Turkish invaders
Turkish army (supposedly) killing non-compliant al-Qaeda jihadis

The Syrian army and Iranian forces can sit back and watch the show. Russian forces will be facing real dangers, though.

Posted by: BM | Sep 18, 2018 10:03:43 AM | 104


It all depends on what Ergodan's intentions are. If he wants to keep Idlib he will make some failed attempts at pacifying the Jihadis while the Jihadi's actually grow in strength. Then on December 15th he will plead for more time, claiming that his new plan will surely work. USA will back this new plan and (again) claim that Assad plans a CW attack.

Posted by: Jackrabbit | Sep 18, 2018 10:50:32 AM | 105

@105 jr.. that is basically how i read it too, although a lot can happen from here to december and it generally doesn't favour turkey..

Posted by: james | Sep 18, 2018 8:23:05 PM | 106

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