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Turkish Drone Strikes Inflict Catastrophic Losses On SAA
South Front, Feb 29 2020

On Feb 28, the Turkish Ministry of National Defense released a 14-minute video of dozens of drone strikes on Syrian Arab Army (SAA) troops and equipment. While the beginning of the video shows strikes which were carried out over the last few days, the last part includes footage of dozens of strikes which were conducted within the last 24 hours. The Turkish strikes destroyed dozens of battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), rocket launchers, howitzers, pickup-mounted machine guns and trucks. One of the Turkish strikes also destroyed what appears to be a Pantsir-S1 air-defense system of the Syrian Arab Air Defense Forces.

Ankara claimed that a system of this type was destroyed, along with a Buk medium-range air-defense system. According to the Turkish Ministry of National Defense, 8 battle tanks, 4 IFVs, 5 howitzers and 2 rocket launchers of the SAA were destroyed in the last 24 hours. The strikes were most likely carried out by Turkish-made ANKA-S and Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial combat vehicles (UCAVs). The intense Turkish strikes begin after a series of Syrian airstrikes on southern Idlib which claimed the lives of 33 Turkish soldiers and injured dozens others. The SAA’s catastrophic losses will likely allow Turkish-backed militants including AQ-affiliated HTS to conduct more offensive operations in Greater Idlib.

Turkish Military Launches Heavy Rockets At SAA Positions
South Front, Feb 28 2020

On Feb 28, Turkish sources shared a video showing a T-300 Kasırga heavy multiple rocket launcher launching several rockets from southern Turkey at SAA positions in northern Syria. Syrian opposition activists claimed that the rocket strike targeted a large camp of the army near the town of Jurin in the north-western Hama countryside. This was not apparently the first attack by Turkish T-300 MRLs. According to the activists, the MRLs launched a day earlier a salvo of rockets at SAA positions in Aleppo and Lattakia. The attack was reportedly a response to a series of Syrian airstrikes on southern Idlib in which 33 Turkish soldiers were killed. The Turkish Armed Forces deployed several T-300 Kasırga MRLs in the southern Turkish province of Hatay last week. Developed by Turkey’s defense giant ROKETSAN, the T-300 is based on Chinese WS-1B with some modifications. The heavy rocket launcher is meant to provide the Turkish Armed Force with long range fire support. Each T-300 MRL can be armed with up to four 302 mm rockets, with ranges exceeding 100 km. The use of such heavy weapons by the Turkish military could lead to more escalation with Russia and the Damascus government.

Idlib Escalation Is Slowly Pushing Turkey Towards Open Conflict With Russia
South Front, Feb 28 2020

Protests in the front of the Russian Consultate in Syria

The Feb 27 incident in Idlib in which at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed caused a new wave of anti-Syrian and anti-Russian hysteria among Turkish media and top Turkish boxtops. Mesut Hakki Casin, an adviser to Erdogan, even claimed that Turkey had “fought Russia 16 times in the past, we will do it again.” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar accused Russia of causing Turkish casualties, claiming that strikes on Turkish troops continued even after the message to the Russian side. Akar said:

This attack occurred even though the locations of our troops had been coordinated with Russian officials in the field. Despite warnings after the first strike, the Syrian regime unfortunately continued its attacks, even targeting ambulances.

The Russian Defense Ministry emphasized that the killed Turkish soldiers were embedded with terrorists, members of HTS and other AQ groups that Ankara supports, and that Turkish troops had not informed Russia about their deployement in the area. Later, the Russian side once again emphasized:

  • No Turkish troops located at observation points were harmed;
  • Turkish troops hit by strikes were located in the combat zone, near terrorists;
  • Turkish observation posts had to prevent agression by militants, but failed to do so;
  • No Turkish troop should be outside observation posts and Ankara provided no data about its forces outside the established posts.

In other words, Moscow said that Turkey just faced consequences of its own actions. Furthermore, Turkey and Russia indirectly acknowledged fire contact between their forces in Syria’s Idlib. Earlier, Turkish personnel publicly used MANPADs against Russian and Syrian warplanes in the Greater Idlib zone.

An interesting fact is that despite all the Turkish efforts and the active MANPAD usage, the Turks shot down no Russian or Syrian warplanes. However, they were able to shoot down two Syrian helicopters. All these come amid Turkish loud requests fpr Pindo and NATO support in the Erdogan government’s Idlib gamble. No surprise. NATO demonstrated only a morale support to Turkish actions, and promised no real actions in support of the Turkish operation in Idlib. The Turkish military illegally deployed in Syria, supplied AQ terrorists with weapons and equipment, embedded own troops with AQ and attacked the SAA. When it got a real military response, it immidiately started complayining to the ‘international community’ and blaiming ‘the bloody Assad regime’ of agression. Despite the irony of the situation, Russia is also not interested in further escalation. Lavrov also said that Putin and Erdogan had held a phone call on Friday, during which they hashed over the implementation of the agreements on Syria’s Idlib. Je said:

Today, a phone call between presidents Putin and Erdogan has been held at the initiative of the Turkish leader. The talks were detailed. They discussed the need to do everything possible to implement the original agreements on the DEZ. The phone call was initiated by the Turkish side. The parties agreed to intensify relevant inter-agency consultations and explore the possibility of holding a top-level meeting in the immediate future. The fight against international terrorist groups was highlighted as a priority.

Therefore, it seems that Moscow and Ankara will try to avoid a direct military confrontation in Idlib. Furthermore, the Turkish Parliament, which according to Turkish and mainstream media was planning to vote on a bill declaring a war on Syria, appeared to be not planning to do so. According to official Turkish reports, at least 54 Turkish soldiers were already killed in recent incidents in Idlib and this number will grow drammatically if the real open war starts in the region. However, the problem with these de-escalation efforts is that Turkish troops are already embedded with their allied AQ-linked groups in Idlib. These groups have been excluded from the ceasefire by the Sochi agreements, and are a legal target of any anti-terrorist efforts. If the Erdogan government does not separate its own forces from terrorists, it risks even more casualties in the region. Such casualties will escalate the situation and lead to further escalation.

Putin And Erdogan Talk Over Phone, As NATO Says It Won’t Do Anything To Support Ankara In Idlib
South Front, Feb 28 2020

On Feb 28, Sergei Lavrov said:

Today, a phone call between presidents Putin and Erdogan has been held at the initiative of the Turkish leader. The talks were detailed. They discussed the need to do everything possible to implement the original agreements on the de-escalation zone. A possibility was discussed to shortly hold necessary contacts at this or that level. Literally an hour and a half ago, reports came that the Russian and Turkish negotiators who worked in Ankara yesterday and the day before yesterday, had agreed to continue work today. It is hard to explain their statements about a possible truce with bandits, which are made during discussions of the situation in Idlib. It has nothing to do with concerns about human rights. It is a surrender to terrorists, which would encourage them to continue blatantly violating universal conventions and numerous UNSCRs. Religious divisions are growing. Sacred sites are desecrated in various parts of the world in increasing numbers. Believers and priests are attacked, persecuted and killed. The number of Christians has dropped in many Middle Eastern countries, or even disappeared, while it is the land where Christians lived for centuries.

Currently there are presumably talks taking place, as on Feb 26 a Russian delegation was to arrive in Ankara, according to Erdogan, and on Mar 5 Putin, Merkel, Macron and Erdogan are supposed to meet and discuss Idlib. The Kremlin has said that Putin cannot make this date. But Lavrov said:

There is a process underway between Turkey and Russia regarding Idlib and Libya. We need to quickly resolve the Idlib issue. Russia provides the regime with the highest level of support, including air support. We have determined it despite their denial. With our 911 km limit increasing here, we will not be in such a struggle. Will they? Even if they deny it, we have evidence. We are forced to be in this fight.

Russian foreign minister on Feb 24 also said that Russia and Turkey are preparing talks on how to de-escalate fighting in Idlib. He told reporters in Moscow:

Now we are preparing another series of consultations, which, we hope, will lead us to an agreement on how to ensure that this is really a DEZ and that the terrorists do not rule there. I hope that the ongoing contacts between our military and the Turkish military, with the participation of diplomats and security services, will end positively, and we will be able to make sure that terrorists do not take over this part of Syria, as in fact they should not take over anywhere else.

There is yet no news on any progress in negotiations. On the side of NATO, following a meeting called by Turkey on Feb 28, the alliance offered little else than calls for a ceasefire and words of encouragement for Turkey. NATO continues to support Turkey with a range of measures, including by augmenting its air defences, which helps Turkey against the threat of missile attacks from Syria. There’s been no missile attacks from Syria towards Turkish territory. So, NATO said that it would do nothing to assist Turkey’s offensive.

Syrian-Turkish Conflict In Greater Idlib
South Front, Feb 28 2020

The week of Feb 24 became for the Turkish government and its AQ-linked proxies a silver of light in the realm of Assad darkness. Since Dec 19 2019, the SAA have taken control of approximately 2,400 sq km in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. In the course of the operation, they have repelled several Turkish-led counter-attacks and dealt several painful blows to the Turkish Army. However, towards the end of Feb 2020, Turkish military efforts finally produced results, and they were important ones. By the start of the week, the SAA had halted offensive actions east of Idlib city and redeployed most of its well-trained and motivated units from there to the southern part of the province. Troops and equipment of the 25th SOF Division and the 4th Armoured Division joined a ground operation to cut off the front salient south of the M4 highway. This weakened the army defense near Saraqib and Turkish-led forces immediately exploited this. On Feb 24, HTS, TIP, NFL and other AQ-linked groups directly supported by Turkish artillery, UAVs and SOF launched an attack on Nayrab. They employed over a dozen battle tanks and Turkish-supplied armoured vehicles. Turkish-led forces entered Nayrab on the same day and consolidated control over the town on Feb 25. Two battle tanks, four infantry fighting vehicles, a Shilka self-propelled gun, a GAZ truck, a 23mm gun mounted on a truck, two bulldozers and five Konkurs anti-tank guided missiles were seized. On the same day, the SAA shot down a Turkish TAI Anka combat UAV. Then, Turkish-led forces developed their advance towards Saraqib capturing the villages of Salihiya, Afis and entering the town of Saraqib itself. By the morning of Feb 27, they had gained full control over Saraqib and continued their advance. The M5 highway, which Damascus had officially declared reopened, was once again cut off. In the course of this attack, Turkish-led forces captured a T-90 battle tank, a T-72 tank and several other vehicles. Turkish forces also employed at least 2 MANPADs against warplanes of the SAAF bombing targets east of Saraqib but failed to down any aircraft. The fall of Saraqib demonstrated disorganization, an apparent lack of morale and the failure of the fortification efforts by SAA troops remaining in the area. Pro-government sources also blamed Russia for the lack of close air support during the fighting. At the same time, pro-militant sources reported dozens of Russian airstrikes on their positions. The villages of Dadikh, Jawbas and Kafr Battikh fell into the hands of Turkish-led forces after Saraqib. AQ propaganda claims that the goal of the Turkish-led push is to retake Maarat al-Numan.

Several counter-attacks conducted by SAA troops, including the most recent on the evening of Feb 27, resulted in no gains. It’s unlikely that the situation can be turned to favor of the Syrians without additional reinforcements from the 25th SOF Division and other battle-hardened units. Right now, the SAA is redeploying its elite units to the area and preparing for a large counter-attack. Pro-Turkish sources provide numerous and often conflicting reports on casualties among SAA forces. If one sums up the claims by the Turkish Defense Ministry on Twitter, one will find that about 500 SAA troops were allegedly killed or injured in Turkish-led operations. According to other pro-AQ sources, over 100 SAA troops were killed in Saraqib alone. The Syrian side does not release such claims, but developments on the ground speak for themselves. On Feb 26, the Turkish Defense Ministry said that 2 Turkish soldiers were killed and 2 others were injured in a Syrian airstrike. On Feb 27, Erdogan said that 3 more Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib. Overnight on Feb 28, a series of airstrikes hit a convoy and positions of Turkish forces near al-Bara, killing at least 30 Turkish soldiers and injuring at least 30 others. Commenting on the situation, the Russian side emphasized that Turkish personnel were embedded with terrorists. It should be noted that the Turkish gains in eastern Idlib took place amid the SAA’s rapid advance to the south. In the period of Feb 23-28, the SAA have taken control of over 30 villages and towns, including Kafr Nabel and deployed within striking distance from al-Barah, the last large militant stronghold on the way to the M4 highway. Turkish-led forces demonstrated no real resistance in the area because they threw most of their manpower and equipment towards Saraqib. Technically, the SAA liberated a much larger area than it lost during the week. However, the loss of Saraqib is a painful strategic setback that undermines the SAA control over the M4-M5 crossroad and limits its maneuverability along the front-line area in eastern Idlib. Furthermore, the threat of a new larger war in the region is increasing. The Erdogan government demonstrates that it is an active and consistent supporter of AQ and is ready to pay in blood to protect Turkish-backed terrorists in Idlib and consolidate its influence over Syrian sovereign territory in which it had invaded.

Russian Warplanes Rain Hell On Saraqib City
South Front, Feb 28 2020

On Feb 28 afternoon, warplanes of the Russian Airforce carried out a series of airstrikes on militants’ positions and equipment in Saraqib city in southern Idlib. According to opposition sources, the airstrikes were focused on the city center of Saraqib and the nearby town of Afis and Tronba. Iba’a, the news network of AQ-affiliated HTS shared a video showing some of the Russian airstrikes on Saraqib. Nevertheless, the network didn’t reveal the results of the airstrikes. HTS and the NFL captured Saraqib city a day earlier. The Turkish military provided the militants with heavy weapons and targeted SAA forces in the city and its outskirts with artillery and armed drones. The SAA is reportedly amassing its troops around Saraqib and preparing to launch a large attack to recapture the city. The intense Russian airstrikes on the city indicate that the attack may begin very soon.

SAA Cleared Al-Ghab Plain Of Turkish-Backed Militants
South Front, Feb 28 2020

SAA have cleared the al-Ghab Plain of Turkish-backed militants and secured the administrative border between the provinces of Idlib and Hama.

Briefly on Idlib
Colonel Cassad, Feb 28 2020

Around Saraqib today, the SAA with the support of Russian airforce continued fighting the militants, who were supported by Turkish artillery and drones. There have been significant changes on the front line there. On both sides there are serious losses, and the war correspondents indicate high activity of Turkish drones. Turkish aircraft in Syrian airspace is not allowed by Russia. Simultaneously, the Syrian attack continues to roll forward from the south Idlib. The SAA is approaching Jisr al-Shugur and the highway M4. At the same time the Syrians are trying to circumvent Kansaffra, a redoubt held by fighters rested and trying to stop the advance of the SAA. Today, the SAA released a pack of various villages. Even despite the exchange of blows, the SAA has no intention of stopping the offensive and continues to occupy the territory of the province of Idlib, despite the threat of the Turks. The Turks shelled the village of Hzorrin with long-range MLRS from within their territory, but this did not have any significant consequences for the situation at the front. The militants have retreated and are retreating.

The talks between Putin and Erdogan will be held on Mar 5-6 in Moscow. The meeting is now being arranged. The Turks continue to demand the withdrawal of SAA troops to the line “the Sochi deal,” but in the current realities, this requirement is absolutely not realistic. To agree to these demands for Putin and Assad means losing face. So Erdogan as before will be offered a deal. If he again refuses, the probability of war will increase dramatically and a lot of people will die. On 5-6 March the planned missile launches in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is not excluded that will be to demonstrate to batter “Kalibr” (cruise missiles) in Idlib. In Libya, Erdogan also came. In the morning the troops of Haftat covered from the “city” Mitiga airport. Traditionally, part of the missiles fell on residential areas, a standard history for Tripoli. 15 Turkish soldiers declared killed (among 7-10 killed Feb 27) and the destruction of the system was demonstrated. Haftar makes clear that he intends to act within the power of the script, without stopping before striking straight at the Turkish military. So the losses of Turkey will not grow only in Syria. Interestingly, with a number of coffins from Syria and Turkey, Erdogan will have serious issues in Turkey. It appears that a certain pain threshold in the Turkish society is definitely there. In Europe, there is slight panic about the flow of Syrian refugees, which is beginning to increase, as well as systematic calls for de-escalation in Idlib. NATO has not yet shown any readiness to fight for Idlib together with Turkey. Iran is still waiting.

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