Syria Daily: Is Turkey’s Erdoğan Bluffing Over Idlib “Landmark Operation”?

Syrian opposition fighters near the village of Hawar Killis along the Turkish border with Syria's Aleppo Province, October 6, 2017 (AFP)

Is Erdoğan’s operation a cover to move against Kurds in northwest Syria?


  • HTS Announce Defeat of Regime at Abu Dali in Northern Hama

    UPDATE 0800 GMT: Claimed footage of Turkish mortars falling upon camps inside Syria, close to Deir Hassan, with displaced Syrians fleeing the area:

    Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has proclaimed the imminent start of a “landmark operation” in Idlib Province in northwest Syria, but questions have already arisen about the claimed offensive against the jihadist bloc Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

    Erdoğan told his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Saturday that Free Syrian rebels will move against HTS, which has taken control of parts of Idlib this summer in gains from the rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham. He presented the operation as a natural extension of Turkey’s intervention in August 2016, alongside the FSA, to take territory from the Islamic State in northern Aleppo Province, adjacent to Idlib.

    See Turkey’s Erdoğan Declares Start of Operations in Idlib in NW Syria

    However, Erdoğan set an immediate limit on the offensive, saying there would be no Turkish ground involvement: “The FSA is currently carrying out the operation and our soldiers are not there.”

    Erdoğan and the FSA also differed sharply over Russia’s involvement in the operations. The Turkish President said Moscow — which, as an essential ally of the Assad regime, had been a foe of Turkey over Syria until their reconciliation until summer 2016 — will provide aerial support.

    But Mustafa Sejari, a senior official in the Liwa al-Mutasim faction, responded, “As for the Russians, they will not have a role in the areas of our control at all. The role of the Russians is limited to areas under regime control.”

    Turkey joined Russia and Iran in announcing a “de-escalation zone” for Idlib last month. The three countries said Turkish personnel would deploy as monitors in the province, with Russians and Iranians overseeing the ceasefire on the borders.

    However, Russia and the Assad regime soon put the arrangement in doubt as they renewed bombing across the province, killing more than 200 people and targeting infrastructure and hospitals.

    Erdoğan did not refer to the strikes in his Saturday statement.

    Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu tried a different focus in his Saturday remarks, portraying any Idlib operations as support for a political process to stabilize Idlib and the Syrian conflict.

    Referring to talks in the Kazakh capital Astana, where the de-escalation zone was declared, and in Geneva, Çavuşoğlu said, “Astana is a platform which in a way will stop clashes to boost confidence-building measures but our main goal is to revive the Geneva process.”

    He was far more cautious than Erdoğan about the scope of military action, saying intelligence units and troops will evaluate the situation on the ground and will take steps accordingly.

    Meanwhile, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham avoided any reference to Ankara and focused on the Free Syrian Army in its response. It said warned that Idlib would “not be a picnic” for the FSA: “The lions of jihad and martyrdom are waiting to pounce.”

    Cover for an Attack on Kurdish Afrin?

    Some observers — and the pro-Erdoğan Daily Sabah — saw the President’s speech more in terms of a push against the Kurdish canton of Afrin in northwest Syria.

    Ankara has vehemently opposed the consolidation of an autonomous Kurdish area in northern Syria along the Turkish frontier, led by the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) and its YPG militia. The Afrin canton is separated from the larger two Kurdish cantons in north and northeast Syria, Kobani and Cezire, by the opposition and Turkish-supported areas in Idlib and northern Aleppo.

    Erdoğan did not explicitly refer to the conflict during his address. However, he reiterated that Ankara will not allow separatist operations in Iraq and Syria, just as “we haven’t allowed such operations within our borders” in facing the armed insurgency of the Turkish Kurdish PKK for more than 30 years.

    A Daily Sabah columnist was more direct in linking the Idlib intervention to an offensive against the PYD and YPG:

    Ankara has made a plan to block the the PKK and its Syrian affiliate Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) efforts to establish a corridor on its southern border. The first step of the plan is to cut off the Idlib-Afrin corridor by providing order in Idlib and blockading Afrin.

    Asked if Russia would accept a Turkish push to take Afrin, a local source replied, “I guess Russia sold afrin for the sake of a nuclear plant and a miltech [military technology] joint venture.”

    In June, Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) was given the go-ahead to build a $20 billion Akkuyu nuclear power plant in southern Turkey. In mid-September, Turkey signed a deal to obtain Russia’s advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems.

    Erdoğan hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of September and visited Iran last week in further consultations.

    The Kurdish outlet Hawar said on Saturday that “the Turkish occupation army” had begun removing a barrier on the border of Idlib to prepare for an advance, chanting, “Idlib, we are coming.” It did not mention any potential operations against Afrin.

    US Backs Turkey

    The Trump Administration ignored the Kurdish dimension as it backed Erdoğan’s announcement.

    “We support the efforts of Turkey, our NATO ally, in the fight against terrorism and its efforts to protect its borders,” said Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon. “The Syrian regime has allowed northwest Syria to become a safe haven for Al Qa’eda terrorists that not only threaten the Syrian people and regional security, but also support international terrorist networks.”

    Referring to HTS through its leading faction Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, Pahon said, “The Nusra Front has publicly declared itself an Al Qa’eda affiliate. It shares Al Qa’eda’s terrorist aims and agenda, not those of the Syrian people.”

    HTS Announce Defeat of Regime at Abu Dali in Northern Hama

    The jihadist bloc Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has declared the defeat of regime forces at a key trading point in northern Hama Province, claiming that it inflicted numerous casualties and seized substantial equipment and weapons.

    HTS has attacked Abu Dali (see map), one of the few points of contact between opposition and regime areas, for several days. It announced the capture on Saturday night.

    A pro-Assad blog says some National Defense Forces militia are still fighting but are “fully besieged“.

    Russian aircraft dropped incendiary munitions last night in an attempt to halt HTS.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


  1. “Mark Retweeted
    UmawiSupremacist‏ @AbuHumamAlUmawi 26m26 minutes ago
    Replying to @AbuHumamAlUmawi


    Turkish mortars falling upon refugee camps on the Turkish-Syrian border close to Deir Hassan and refugees are fleeing the area:”
    Now that Erdogan has gained the powers of a dictator he is behaving like one. When will the free world wake up to the fact that this is a war of dictatorships against democracy?

  2. “Stork Retweeted
    Ibn Nabih‏ @IbnNabih1 23m23 minutes ago
    Replying to @IbnNabih1

    Ibn Nabih Retweeted قناة الجسر الفضائية

    Video said to show a small Turkish forces/envoy being escorted by HTS to Darrat Izza area.”
    Watch this video and note the ‘dancing’ stones on the left-hand side of the road. This video has been tampered with and cannot be believed.

    • immagine the laughs if at the end they go for Afrin……Better chance of survival for sure than hitting HTS at home.

  3. I think its wrong to call HTS a “jihadist” bloc because since in the mass media, jihadist is associated with terrorists and HTS is not a terrorist organization. We should know jihad simply means struggle and it inplies a struggle for just ends that is all. HTS has a nationalist program not even an Islamist one like Ahr al Sham. If HTS has made a deal with Erdogan against Kurds, it is a bad mistake. But I read that HTS denied such a deal.

    • Les,Jolani has a 10 million dollar US bounty on his head.HTS has not been officially placed on terror list,yet,because they continue to change their name.Core leadership is sympathetic to Alqaeda.Their goal is an Islamic Caliphate,similar to ISIS,just implemented from bottom up,rather than ISIS elite jihad.They are not nationalists at all.

      • You can’t go by what US says. US calls anyone terrorist who won’t make deals with them. Al Queda disowned Al Nusra for giving up islamist project. HTS adopted a nationalist program. They are not Al Queda and not terrorists.

        • Could you provide a link from someone like Al Tamimi or Aron Lund explaining this radical shift in their ideology for me to read please?

        • You can’t go by what US says. US calls anyone terrorist who won’t make deals with them.

          Al Qaeda disowned ISIS. I guess ISIS is no longer a terrorist group either.

          Where is the evidence HTS is 99% Syrian?

          • I am saying HTS has to be judged on its own merits or demerits, not by a supposed link to Al Queda. Almost all foreign fighters left to join ISIS when Al Nusra refused to merge with ISIS. locals joined to get arms to fight with, not for the ideology of a few leaders. I can’t prove the exact composition and neither can you.

            • You seem to have swallowed their propaganda hook line and sinker. I know that Islamist revolutionaries have a soft spot in the hearts of the hard left and the alt-left. But it is beyond pale to think Nusra (now HTS) are benign. Just a month ago they attacked other rebel factions and killed and looted their territories, and installed themselves. Now they are inviting Turkey to step in and attack the Kurds.

        • HTS rules with a totalitarian and repressive hand in Idlib. For the population of Idlib, they are terrorists. Les, in your opinion a religious fascist organization that rules and represses any dissent with violence is considered benign if they don’t send terrorists to shoot down concert goers in Paris?

    • “Jihad is a struggle for just ends, and that is all”?

      “Just ends” according to whom? One man’s justice is another man’s reppression. Under Jihad, any desire or opportunity, and often they are loaded with self-interest, can be a “just end”, as long as you can rationalize that it helps Islam.

      Don’t tell me you are so gullible that anyone who claims to be seeking social justice or Islamic justice is automatically right, with no vetting needed? This is what Apo wants – subjective justice. Jihad is synonymous with terror. Have you not read the Quran that beheading unbelievers is “justice”?

  4. Looks like the SDF have finally gotten the hint that instead of fighting ISIS in remote inland dusty villages, they need to progress along the Euphrates to block SAA from crossing the river. That SAA is the problem, and not some deranged ISIS stragglers.

    SDF has now reached the confluence of the Khabur river and Euphrates, and poised to take the Omar oilfields.

    Funny how SAA is too scared to repeat the crossing of Euphrates – it seems they have taken US warnings seriously.

    I can see Putin blinking already.

  5. Interesting. ISIS leaders in Iraq have told their armies to disband and surrender, not to the government or the Shiites, but to surrender to the Kurds. The government hands them to the Shiites and the Shiites have and will routinely kill them and their families.

    So why is it that in Syria, ISIS leaders are telling their armies to fight the Kurds and be nice to the Shiites and to Assad’s SAA?

    Because ISIS was put together by Syrian Baathists who were part of the Assad regime and close to him. Their goal was to co-exist with Assad. But now that they have been wiped out, they are told to fight the Kurds because of some deal that they have made with Assad. Surely Assad will re-admit these Baathist leaders into his Muxâberâti regime and take good care of them. They did a good job to backstab the rebellion and build an excuse for the Russians and Iranians to invade. No wonder Al Nusra never got cozy with them – them being a fifth column, while supposedly they were all Salafis.

  6. Turkey’s Terrorist group called Grey Wolves share armed photo to threaten Kurds regarding Kirkuk 10/1/2017

    “The MHP will side with the president as long as consistent policies continue and counter-terrorism efforts are not dismayed … It is evident that there is consistency in the president’s policies on Syria and Iraq. It is understood that when the time comes all efforts would be made. In this respect, I believe the developments in Idlib occurred following necessary consultations,” Bahceli said Saturday. 10/8/2017

    Military sources in Idlib told the ANHA that Turkish officials had a meeting with Al-Nusra commanders and the two sides made an agreement on Idlib.

    According to the reports, Al-Nusra accepted to withdraw from Dariz Ize town and surrounding villages.

    The agreement was completed when Turkish supported Ibin Temima group took over Darit Ize on October 2.

    Darit Ize town is on the border between Afrin Canton and Idlib. The Turkish supported gangs use these positions to attack YPG and YPJ forces defending Afrin. 10/8/2017

  7. Turkey’s Idlib move aimed at Kurds’ Mediterranean ambitions 10/8/2017

    In an interview with ANF Turkish, Hewre Penam said the most powerful weapon of Kurdish people against threats by Iran, Iraq and Turkey is national unity. 10/2/2017

    In addition to repairing internal KRG rifts, all Kurdish political parties must set aside differences in order for Rojava to prosper long after the current conflict. This is in the interest of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) as well, led by Masoud Barzani. Rojava will provide economic routes not currently available to the KRG. The current oil pipeline from Kirkuk into Turkey is not a stable option, the economic crises in the KRG has proven this to be true. Turkey has also shown that it is willing to sever any preexisting ties with the KRG if it declares independence or even raises its national colors. 5/23/2017


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