Some context on the situation in Syria.
Earlier this week, the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) has recaptured a town in northwestern Syria after heavy fighting with government troops. The Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have retaken the town of Nairab in northwest Syria’s Idlib province with the support of the Turkish military. This was the first area to be taken back from Syrian government forces since Assad’s forces began their offensive in the province.
Nairab is considered a gateway to the strategic town of Saraqeb, which lies close to a junction between two major highways. Saraqeb is where the main north-south highway linking the Syrian capital of Damascus and Aleppo meets the road west to the Mediterranean Sea.
Yusef Hamoud, a spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Army, said to the media: “With the help of our Turkish friends, we have regained control of the strategic town of Nairab, the gateway of Saraqeb, after expelling the terrorist Russian militias.” Turkish officials confirmed that they had supported the attack with artillery and bomb-disposal units helping to clear the town.
Syrian government troops loyal to President Assad have been trying to take the last bastion of rebel-held territory in Idlib, with the help of Russian air support. There have been nearly one million displaced Syrians in the latest round of fighting. With 3.5 million more displaced persons already in refugee camps inside of Turkey, the humanitarian toll of the nine-year civil war has been high. Turkey has since closed its borders with Syria.
Turkish military spokesmen said that the next goal is for rebel forces to clear Saraqeb, which they hope will be done soon. They reported that government forces had suffered huge amounts of losses in personnel and equipment.
The Syrians, through the official state news site SANA, disputed the claims and said “units of the Syrian army continued to progress in the south of Idlib” province after seizing 10 towns and villages south of the M4 highway, one of the major highways in question. The M4 links Aleppo with Latakia.
Since the Turkish military streamed in force across the border, it has lost approximately 50 of its soldiers in combat, with dozens more wounded. This has strained their relations with Russia which is backing the Assad government. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has set out a “road map.” He is trying to convene a summit with Turkey, Russia, France, and Germany on the fighting in Idlib, but there has yet to be an agreement regarding the summit.
“There is no full agreement yet between [French President Emmanuel] Macron…[German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, and Putin,” Erdogan said. However, both the French president and German Chancellor have urged Russian President Putin to rein in on the Syrians and stop the fighting, in order to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.
The latest Syrian offensive has been pushing closer to the camps where the displaced civilians have been staying near the Turkish border. The United Nations has been very concerned that the Syrian military was coming “dangerously close” to the displaced people’s encampments, thus risking an imminent “bloodbath.”
Erdogan has hinted that if negotiations fail the Turkish military may conduct an offensive of its own to push back the Syrian military. This will draw the Turkish military deeper into the civil war. But Turkey is wary of any direct conflict with Russia. They’ve spent the past several years, building deeper military and economic ties.
The fragile Turkish economy, still weak after a partial currency crash in 2018, is very dependent on the Russians. If the Russians close their borders with Turkey, this may result in an economic disaster.