Alwaght- The campaign to liberate the Syrian province of Idlib as the last stronghold of a string of foreign-backed terrorist groups was launched on Thursday with massive attacks from the air and ground and through various fronts especially from the south. The Syrian government’s forces backed by the allied forces appear to make a final push to take back the terrorist-held province.
With the start of the campaign, the media reported fast advances of the government forces which liberated significant towns and villages in the vicinity of neighboring Hama province as the terrorist militias sustained substantial damages and retreated from their positions.
Idlib, home to nearly three million people, is held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and such allies as Jaysh al-Izaa and Turkistan Islamic Party, all recognized by the United Nations as terrorist groups. A large number of terrorists arrived in the Syrian province according to deals with the government to hand over their regions to Damascus. Reports suggest that they, with their families, are nearly 200,000.
Grounds and necessities of Idlib operation
The Syrian government, which over the past years made considerable advances against a large number of terrorist factions and cleansed large swaths of land of them, in several times launched operations to recapture Idlib and close the civil conflict case. In August 2018 and April 2019, it started anti-terror moves to Idlib suburbs.
Still, the central government’s operations each time were hampered by a factor. In September 2018, Turkey, finding the life of the Ankara-backed terrorists in a danger and to steer clear of continuation of the Syrian army’s attacks, signed a deal with Russia under which Ankara promised to disarm the internationally recognized terrorist groups.
Despite its promise, very soon it became clear that Turkey was far from able to disarm Tahrir al-Sham and prevent terrorists from carrying out attacks on the Syrian army positions and civilian areas under Damascus control. Turkey’s procrastination and failed Russian efforts to settle the dispute through on the one hand and the opposition’s decline to fulfill its commitments in the ceasefire deal finally persuaded Moscow that the use of military force was necessary to reclaim what remains unliberated of Syrian territories.
In the fourteenth, and last, round of Astana peace negotiations on Syria, Bashar al-Jaafari, Syria’s UN envoy and the head of Syrian negotiation delegation, announced that Damascus is committed to liberation of Idlib from the terrorists and foreign grasp.
The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in November said that Idlib liberation will not take a long time, adding that Damascus is hesitating to allow the civilians to move out of the conflict zone safely.
Despite the fact that Turkey has expressed its opposition to the Idlib campaign and even Erdogan threatens the West with unleashing waves of refugees to European countries to force the EU to raise its voice against the Syrian operation, the battleground developments show that Ankara has not made serious efforts to confront Idlib operation. Here is why:
First, odds are that the Russian green light to Turkish-sought safe zone in northern Syria after a meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin was in exchange for Ankara’s avoiding to not set roadblocks ahead of Idlib recapture operation.
Second, Turkey is aware of the consequences of potential clashes with the Syrian army that has international legitimacy to expand the sovereignty umbrella over the whole of the country by liberating all of the regions still controlled by the terrorists. Damascus is showing determination in solving the Idlib crisis. On Monday, the Syrian forces encircled 1 of the 12 Turkish posts established in the Al-Surman region in southeastern Idlib.
Third, Turkey may not to see a large number of its loyalist militias be killed by the Syrian army, especially that reports noted that Turkey is transferring these militants to Libya where they are expected to defend the Government of National Accord (GNA) against fast-advancing forces of strongman General Khalifa Haftar who is pushing to seize the capital Tripoli with help of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt.
Idlib operation’s challenges and obstacles
But as Syria and its allies make gains against the terrorists, militias and their foreign backers establish their operation rooms. Idlib operation will be certainly complicated and time-taking as various challenges rise in its way.
The main challenge is the presence of civilians. In earlier operations, the terrorist groups blocked the civilians' exit from Idlib and also used them as human shield amid clashes with the Syrian army, hence increasing the civilian casualties and providing the Western and Arab governments with the propaganda material. The terrorists more than once staged chemical attacks to attribute them to the Syrian government. One actor in this game is the Western-backed White Helmets group that under humanitarian cover entered the conflict scenes to forge evidence and reverse the truth about the battlefields.
Essentially, the humanitarian aids during the conflict years have served a Western agenda to influence the Syrian developments in favor of terrorist factions. Recently, China and Russia vetoed a Western-proposed UN resolution calling for sending the so-called humanitarian aids to Syria, a move infuriated Washington. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem during a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov said that the US, Turkey, and Israeli regime continue their efforts to hamper Damascus's push to obliterate terrorism.
The Russian Foreign Minister on Wednesday said that the Western countries use the humanitarian aid mechanism as a way to violate Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity. He said that according to the international laws and norms, humanitarian aids should be delivered to the government of a country with earlier consultations.
The US ill-intention behind the humanitarian aid resolution can be understood even better when we know that the US in 2016 announced Caesar Act, a bill that sanctions the Syrian government and especially Damascus pro-construction efforts. Many analysts agree that this is by nature economic terrorism.
Another obstacle ahead of Idlib operation is Turkish posts. The posts were set up to be used for overseeing the ceasefire. But Ankara used them as sites to limit the Syrian army’s campaign in southern Idlib.