For the first time in about 8 years of the war, Syrian government forces have established control of the entire M5 highway, which runs from the border with Jordan through Damascus, Homs and Hama to Aleppo.
During the first half of February 12th, the Syrian Army and Iranian-backed militias recaptured the Rashidin 4 district from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other foreign-backed al-Qaeda enthusiasts in western Aleppo. By the end of the day, pro-government troops had taken control of Khan Asal and entered the villages of Abu Shalim, Wadi Shuha andWadi Al-Kabeer.
The Syrians also attacked “moderate beheaders” in Kafr Nuran, but were not able to break their defenses there. The interesting fact is that on February 10 army positions in the nearby area of Kafr Halab became a target of at least two suicide bombing attacks. Apparently regular suicide bombings conducted by members of Idlib groups are a strong signal of their democratic ideology.
Yet, Turkish artillery support and military equipment did not help them to regain the initiative near Saraqib, in eastern Idlib. Idlib groups announced a major advance there on February 11 and attacked the village of Naryab.
A supposed MANPAD missile launched from the area of Turkish positions in Qaminas shot down a Syrian military helicopter killing all on board. The Turkish Defense Ministry even officially announced that Naryab had been cleared of ‘Assad forces’ and claimed that 51 ‘regime fighters’ had been ‘neutralized’, and that 2 tanks, a gun position and a weapon depot belonging to the Syrian military had been destroyed in Idlib clashes. However, victorious tweets did not help and Turkish-led forces got clobbered by the evening. The Syrians restored full control over the town.
According to pro-government sources, up to 40 militants were killed there. Several airstrikes also hit joint positions of Turkish troops and Idlib militants near Qaminas. The damage and casualties caused by these strikes remains unclear.
At the same time, the city of Idlib itself appeared to be a target of several airstrikes. According to reports, 6 civilians were killed. Over the past years, Idlib rebels have successfully learned how to place their military positions, weapon depots and HQs in close proximity to civilian infrastructure.
The US and other NATO members that broke a few lances with Turkey over its operations against Kurdish groups in northern Syria, its participation in the Astana format, the S-400 deal and other cooperation projects with Iran and Russia, are now hurrying to show their ‘decisive support’ for the Erdogan government.
The NATO secretary-general condemned ‘Assad attacks’ on Turkish troops. Mike Pompeo said that the US would stand by its “NATO ally Turkey” and announced that Jim Jeffrey was going to Ankara “to coordinate steps to respond to this destabilizing attack.” In response, the Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar asked NATO allies for “concrete” moves to stop the ‘Assad aggression’. The only issue is that the most likely concrete move by the “allies” will be to slap Turkey on the back and advise to send more Turkish troops to die on behalf of al-Qaeda-linked Idlib groups.
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) successful operations in Idlib have helped establish a safe-zone under the 2018 Sochi agreement, the commander of the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria announced on February 12.
In his daily statement, Maj. Gen. Yuri Borenkov confirmed that the army has completely secured the M5 highway, which links the Syrian capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo.
The Russian commander stressed that the SAA’s large-scale operation in Greater Idlib against al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and its allies was necessary, saying that Turkey had failed to implement its commitment within the Sochi agreement.
“Government forces operations ended terrorist attacks and put an end to civilian losses as a result of militants’ attacks and shelling,” Maj. Gen. Borenkov said.
Earlier, the Ministry of Defense of Russia released a video showing Turkish troops moving within Idlib’s de-escalation zone and held Ankara responsible for the current escalation in the region.
Under the Sochi agreement, Turkey committed to establish a safe-zone in Idlib, reopen all highways and expel terrorist elements from the Syrian region. However, Ankara didn’t implement any of these commitments and even worked against some of them.