Turkish troops advanced into Syria’s Idlib province on October 8 as part of a deal with Russia and Iran to establish de-escalation zones and prevent Syrian Kurdish groups from creating a terror corridor, according to the Hurriyet Daily News. The operation in Idlib is part of Turkey’s strategy to eliminate perceived security threats and prevent them from spreading westward into the Mediterranean.
“When we don’t go to Syria, Syria comes to us,” said Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to members of his AK Party. According to Reuters, Turkey’s most formidable security threat along its border with Syria comes from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, who is fighting against the Islamic State in eastern Syria as part of a U.S.-backed alliance. Turkey regards the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has fought a 30-year insurgency in Turkey. In order to stop the establishment of a Kurdish corridor on Turkey’s southern border, Turkey plans to cut off Syria’s Idlib-Afrin corridor by establishing order in Iblid and blockading Afrin, reported the Daily Sabah.
The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) sent reconnaissance units and drones to Idlib to ensure the safety of Turkish troops crossing over into the region and to support the advance of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), according to the Hurriyet Daily News. No permanent Turkish military unit is currently stationed there.
The province of Idlib is largely controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), previously the al-Nusra Front that was al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, as per Al Jazeera. Musa Khaled, the commander of the thirteenth division of the FSA, confirmed that weapons had been fired between the HTS and the Turkish Armed Forces.
“Tahrir al-Sham hit a Turkish bulldozer on the border, so Turkish troops responded with fire. But things have calmed down now,” Khaled said.
Operations in Idlib are part of Turkish, Russian, and Iranian efforts to create four de-escalation zones in Syria in accordance with the Astana peace talks aiming at ending the Syrian civil war, according to the Hurriyet Daily News. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports that HTS was not part of the peace talks and has rejected the establishment of a de-escalation zone. On the other hand, residents of the Turkish village of Oğulpınar in Reyhanlı — where tanks and armored vehicles have been stationed — showed their support for the Turkish troops by marching on October 10.
“We organized this march to show that we are on the side of our army,” claimed Oğulpınar village head Hasan Şanverdi.
According to Al Jazeera, after the reconnaissance mission ends, Turkish soldiers will be deployed into specific areas to begin the second phase of the operation. The Daily Sabah reports that this phase involves the liberation of Afrin from YPG forces and the elimination of YPG threat to Turkey.