Turkey to relocate its troops in Syria’s Idlib

Turkey to relocate its troops in Syria’s Idlib

The world’s attention has been overwhelmingly focused on Libya recently, a conflict theater in which multiple actors have interfered politically and militarily, including Turkey, Russia, the United States, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France, the European Union and NATO.

Almost all these actors are also active in the Syrian theater in different ways and intensity, but the conflict in the war-torn country seems to be calmer nowadays. There are several reasons for this.

First, a status quo was reached in northeastern Syria after Turkey made deals with the United States and Syria in the aftermath of the Operation Peace Spring against the presence of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) on its border. The deal has created a safe zone between Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn under the control of Turkish troops that stipulated the withdrawal of YPG troops 30 kilometers from the Turkish border in the east and west banks of the zone. Russian and Syrian troops are controlling these areas, and there have been not many violations of the status quo in the region except for a few terrorist attacks against civilians.

Second, a similar status quo is in the process of making in western Syria, particularly in Idlib province. A deal between Turkey and Russia sealed on March 5 to cease armed conflict between Turkish and Syrian troops is holding as Turkish-Russian joint combined patrolling missions continue along the M4 highway despite difficulties.

The situation in Idlib, an enclave that shelters tens of thousands of radical terrorists, is still fragile and open to provocative moves that could ultimately break the ceasefire. That’s why Turkish and Russian authorities are working on a plan to sustain the state of affairs in Idlib, according to Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

In an interview with the CNNTürk late June 18, Çavuşoğlu elaborated that the March 5 deal with Russia is working although some groups are trying to provoke the local people against the Turkish and Russian presence in Idlib.

Recalling that the deal stipulated the creation of a security corridor stretching 6 kilometers to the north and 6 kilometers to the south of the M4 highway, Çavuşoğlu provided an update on the ongoing arrangements to make the area safer.

The creation of a new safe zone in Idlib is one of the objectives, the minister said, hinting that it could lead to a new defense line for the Turkish troops deployed in the enclave. That would result in the relocation of the Turkish troops in the area, including its observation posts in the southern parts of Idlib under full control of the Syrian and Russian military, he added.

Turkey had established 12 observation posts in Idlib in line with the country’s Sochi deal with Russia in late 2018, but half of them are now surrounded by the Syrian army as a result of a months-long operation by regime forces against opposition groups in the area. Russia has long pressed Turkey to withdraw these troops, but Turkey has been reinforcing them against a potential regime attack.

Çavuşoğlu implied that the Turkish troops may be relocated in line with the new realities in the field and arrangements to be made with the Russians. That would practically end the Sochi deal that led to the de-escalation zone in Idlib and replace it with a new order and a map in the region.