5 questions on Turkish military's plan in Syria's Idlib
Elements of the Turkish military are not aiming for an operation but seek deployment in Syria's Idlib. They are not seeking conflict with the Assad regime or local elements in the area.
According to the deal between Turkey, Iran, and Russia, preparations for the deployment of some elements of the Turkish Armed Forces to Syria's Idlib province is now almost complete.
Turkey's wants to ensure security in Idlib, a region where the most violent conflicts have taken place between anti-regime armed groups and opponents, including Damascus-based Bashar al-Assad regime.
During a meeting in Kazakh capital Astana on May 4, the guarantor countries -- Russia, Turkey, and Iran -- signed a deal to establish de-escalation zones in Syria, which included Idlib in northwestern Syria, on the Turkish border.
After intensive negotiations between Turkey, which backs the Syrian opposition, and the guarantor of the regime, Russia, the deal came to the implementation phase.
Idlib is under the control of anti-regime armed groups and some opposition groups.
What will the Turkish army do in Idlib?
Elements of Turkish Armed Forces, also known as TSK, will be positioned within the borders of the tension reduction zone determined for Idlib. Their task will be to make the truce between the regime and the local military elements more permanent. For this purpose, the TSK elements will form control and observation points.
Is the Turkish army organizing an operation? If so, then against whom?
Military and diplomatic sources point out that the actions of the elements of the TSK are not an operation but a deployment. No conflicts with local elements or the Assad regime are aimed at during and after the deployment. However, the Turkish military has taken all possible security risks into account during preparations.
What is expected from the deployment?
For the deployment to happen without trouble, the situation of local armed groups is being evaluated.
Tahrir al-Sham, a group of anti-regime groups, has come to the forefront with increasing activity in Idlib recently. The group has had considerable armed power in spite of the large number of its components getting separated in the last few months.
Tahrir al-Sham has not made a direct statement against the deployment of Turkish troops to the region. On the other hand, the group and some opponents oppose the entry of various Free Syrian Army groups to Idlib, which are prepared to come from the Euphrates Shield Operation Area. The group justifies the opposition, saying that other groups expected to arrive in the region get support from the United States.
The TSK also assesses the sensitive situation in the region and expects the safest conditions for the transfer to be achieved.
Why is Idlib so important?
Idlib is one of the regions where the biggest wave of violence has been witnessed during the ongoing Syrian civil war. After Idlib went out of the Assad regime's control and Russia entered the conflict in October 2015, airstrikes in the area began.
On the other hand, Idlib became an area where millions of people were pushed into, when civilians fleeing inner areas of Syria sought refuge there.
It is considered certain that the Assad regime, Russia and Iran-backed powers will start a big wave of violence in the near future in Idlib, if the cease-fire is not protected. In that case, millions of people are expected to be pushed to the border seeking entry into Turkey.
More than 1 million people are already living in camps in a belt that can be called zero point along the border. According to local civilian administration records, 2.4 million local population and 1.3 million internally-displaced people are living in Idlib. The deployment of Turkish Armed Forces will protect the cease-fire in Idlib and prevent the possible migrant wave by providing security to civilians.
How is Idlib linked to PKK threats?
Afrin town of Aleppo, located northeast to Idlib, has been under the PKK/PYD terror organization's occupation since 2011.
The organization needs to get parts of Idlib under its control in order to secure a corridor to the Mediterranean.
As part of Turkey's Astana deal, the military line formed in Idlib will also serve as a security wall to stop the terror group to pass into Idlib.
The three guarantor states, as well as representatives of the Damascus-based Assad regime and some opposition factions, met in Astana in September for a sixth round of talks aimed at ending the six-year conflict.
A December cease-fire in Syria brokered by the three countries led to the Astana talks, which are being held in parallel to UN-backed discussions in Geneva, to find a political solution to the six-year conflict.
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict, according to the UN.