In Focus |The Turkish Military Activity in Ayn Issa and Idlib
Turkish military activity in the Ayn Issa area in the countryside of al-Raqqa and the Jabal al-Zawiya area in Idlib governorate has escalated. The Turkish military points deployed in the countryside of Tal Abiad have been launching artillery attacks since the end of November of 2020. In addition, the Turkish forces have established military bases near the city of Ayn Issa.
The Turkish artillery bombardment focused on sites held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) north and west of the city of Ayn Issa, which led to speculation that Turkey is preparing to launch a military operation.
The military escalation coincided with the arrival of additional reinforcements to Idlib province. On November 30, the Turkish army established a base in Tal Badran in the town of Kansafra in the Jabal al-Zawiya region. On December 2, Turkish forces reinforced their positions in al-Mastumah camp, west of Idlib, and in the towns of Ablin, al-Bara and Kansafra in Jabal al-Zawiya.
The developments in the two areas came after Turkey withdrew several of its observation points located within the Syrian regime’s control areas in northwestern Syria, starting from Morek north of Hama to Maarat Hattat and Shir Maghar.
The developments can be analyzed as follows:
1- The withdrawal of the Turkish points that are under the control of the Syrian regime automatically means Turkey retreating from its demand to return to the Sochi Memorandum. Thus, the withdrawal of the regime forces to the borders of Morek demonstrates flexibility with Russian demands in exchange for gains in other regions.
2- The establishment of the Turkish observation points near the city of Ayn Issa and the continued bombardment of SDF fortifications and sites continue without any intervention by the Russian forces deployed in the region. This indicates that Russia has started to respond to Turkey’s security concerns according to the points outlined in the Sochi Memorandum.
3- Turkey holds on to its positions the Jabal Al-Zawiya area, located south of the international M4 highway in Idlib governorate, because of the great importance of the mountain site, overlooking the international M4 and M5 highways. In addition, it overlooks major cities including Jisr Ash Shughour, Ariha and Maarat al-Numan.
4- The launch of a Turkish military operation in the Ayn Issa area in the short term depends on several factors, the most important of which are:
- The extent of Russian acceptance of Turkey carrying out such an operation. Russian approval will be linked to the extent Turkey responds to Russian demands.
- The SDF responding to the Turkish-Russian understandings, thus limiting military activity near the borders, including the digging of tunnels and establishment of fortifications.
- Turkey and Russia want to impose a status quo on the ground before the new American president takes office.
Unit of Analysis and Thinking - Jusoor for Studies