Turkey deploys troops in northern Idlib

Turkey deploys troops in northern Idlib

Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
Turkey deploys troops in northern Idlib

The Turkish Armed Forces have entered Syria with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) for a mission to set up observation posts in northwest Syria’s Idlib province, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated on Oct. 13.

“We said we ‘would come unexpectedly in the night,’ and last night ... we started the operation,” Erdoğan said during a televised speech in Ankara, addressing provincial heads of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

He stressed that “no one has the right” to question Turkey’s actions regarding developments on its border, particularly the military operation in Syria’s Idlib province.

The Turkish military also announced on Oct. 13 that its elements began forming monitoring spots in Idlib province as part of efforts to create a “de-escalation zone” to end the Syrian war.

In a statement issued on Oct. 13, the armed forces stated that the formation of monitoring spots began on Oct. 12 in coordination with surveillance activities launched on Oct. 8 and “within the rules of engagement.”

First convoy enters after reconnaissance

The first convoy of Turkish forces crossed into Idlib province late on Oct. 12 as part of efforts to create a “de-escalation zone.”

The military convoy included some 30 armored vehicles and over 100 soldiers, mostly special and commando forces. Experts say the Turkish deployment in Idlib will continue in the coming days.

Meanwhile, 15 tanks were also dispatched to the area between the Oğulpınar border post and an under-construction security wall near the border.

The Turkish military had announced on Oct. 9 that it had launched a reconnaissance mission into the area over the weekend “to establish surveillance posts as part of the operation to be carried out in Idlib province.” The Hürriyet Daily News has learned a total of 14 observation posts will be established.

HTS paved the way for Turkish deployment

Idlib is largely controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), dominated by a former al-Qaeda affiliate, which ousted more moderate rebels in recent months including Ahrar al-Sham.

Turkey is reportedly pursuing reconciliation among rival groups dominating the region and does not aim for a wide-scale confrontation with the HTS, having also mediated for negotiations between the HTS and Ahrar al-Sham to this end.

The Turkish Armed Forces entered Idlib after contact with certain fractions of the HTS, sources from the region told the Hürriyet Daily News. Turkish troops moved into Idlib after the HTS left control of a number of areas, in an apparent coordination by Turkey with the group.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP in Beirut that Turkish forces were escorted by HTS elements.

Turkey’s deployment also appeared to be aimed at preventing the expansion of Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), backed by the United States but considered by Ankara to be “terrorists” affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkish troops have deployed in towns of northern Idlib, across from YPG positons in Afrin province and Ankara has repeatedly vowed that it will not allow the YPG to form a “terror corridor” reaching the Mediterranean on Turkey’s southern border.