Syria – Army Moves To Liberate M4 Highway – Turkish Russian Standoff Continues

25 February 2020 — Moon of Alabama

The Syrian Arab Army continues its campaign to liberate Idleb governorate. The current main area of operation is in the southeast of the terrorist held area where the SAA attacks in a northern and western direction. The aim of the operation is to bring the M4 highway from Latakia to Aleppo under government control.

Idleb governorate Feb 17 2020
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During the last two days more than 20 towns and villages in the southeast have been liberated. The enemy lines in the area have broken down and the remaining resistance is not strong.

Idleb governorate Feb 25 2020
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A fighter and ‘war correspondent’ on the ‘rebel’ side explains why the Syrian army can make such fast progress:

[T]he Russians use their reconnaissance drones very well which makes you unable to move your forces on the frontlines and use your supply routes as you wish. Everything the drone sees moving is getting hit after maximum 2-3 minutes by Russian war planes. I hope and believe that now since the frontlines are more hilly and mountainous areas the Russian and Iranian-backed Assad militants will have more difficulties and face much stronger resistance by the fighting factions.

Planes and drones don’t care about mountains.

More fighting is taking place west of Saraqib in the town Nayarb next to the M4 highway. Strong Turkish supported terrorist forces have counterattacked there and over the last week Nayarb has changed hands four times. It is currently considered no man’s land.

Nayrab-Saraqib Feb 25 2020

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The Turkish plan is obviously to reconquer Saraqib and to thereby interrupt traffic on the M5 highway which the SAA has only recently liberated and reopened to civilian traffic. But every attack soon got stuck in Nayarb and lots of the new Turkish equipment that was used was destroyed.

Since its invasion of Idleb Turkey equipped its mercenaries and the Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) terrorists with U.S. made M-113 infantry carrier vehicles and with light armored infantry tanks. They also received more anti-tank missiles. The Turkish army is supporting them with artillery. The Turkish army also fired man portable air defense weapons (MANPADs) against Syrian helicopter and Russian warplanes. A Turkish drone which earlier today had entered Syrian airspace was shot down.

Several Turkish convoys which attempted to move further south have been attacked by the Russian airforce. Russia claimed that at least 13 Turkish troops died or were wounded yesterday though Turkey has not issued any news on that.

Today the military airport near Taftanaz north of Saraqib was bombed by Syrian and Russian planes. The airport is not in use but the Turkish army has used it as an artillery and logistic position.

The Russians seem to have returned the airplanes to the contingent in Syria which were previously withdrawn. They are currently back at flying more than 200 missions per day.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is still trying to argue with Russia about the Syrian army campaign. He will not reach any new agreement unless he commits to the points Russia proposed:

1- 16-km border strip in Idlib under Turkey control

2- Russia controls crossing between Idlib strip and Afrin

3- M4 and M5 opened under joint Russian-Turkish supervision

4- Retreat of observation points to border strip

An attempt to arrange a March 5 meeting with France, Germany, Turkey and Russia has not yet been accepted by the Russian side. It would likely be useless as Russia has nothing to gain from changing its position.

Today Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov again defended the Russian standpoint in a speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council:

According to him, the international community and the Human Rights Council need to create a barrier against extremists because some forces tend to justify the atrocities of radical and terrorist groups. “Otherwise it is hard to explain their statements about a possible truce with bandits, which are made during discussions of the situation in Idlib,” Lavrov pointed out. “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 United Nations Security Council resolutions,” the Russian top diplomat added.

The U.S. has made clear that it will not support Erdogan’s Syria adventure except by words. This was evident last week when the spokesperson of the U.S. anti-ISIS campaign said that Idleb governorate is a “magnet” for terrorist groups who are a “nuisance, a menace and a threat” to the hundreds of thousands of civilians in Syria.

Erdogan’s threat to attack with his whole army should Syria not withdraw to the previous lines by March 1 is obviously empty. The Russian airforce would pulverize the Turkish forces before they would reach the front lines.

Erdogan is in a challenging position. If he orders his army to attack in full force he will have to justify the likely very high losses in an unwinnable war. If he retreats from his harsh rhetoric and accepts the Russian points those nationalists who still support him will have further doubts about his leadership.

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