The saber rattling on both sides of the demarcation line has continued to grow louder in recent weeks, with both Turkish and regime military buildups threatening to destabilize the fragile peace. With the massive arrival of new Turkish reinforcements, the total number of Turkish military points and bases in the region has now reached 79 in total. While the buildup is largely intended to provide deterrence against the regime’s territorial ambitions, clashes continue between the two sides, and the regime has continued to launch sporadic, and up to now unsuccessful, advances against rebel positions. This included notable incursions into Kafr Noran, in the western countryside of Aleppo, and along the Abu Ali axis, in Jabal Turkman, as pro-regime forces seek points of weakness in the opposition’s defences. Escalation in Idlib is a show of strength from the regime and Russia in response to Turkish ambition to launch operations to extend its territory into Tel Rifaat and Tel Timr further east in the “Peace Spring” area. With both sides flexing their muscles, longer military operations could result if either side is dissatisfied with a negotiated resolution.
Attached Map: Military Situation in North-West Syria – 4th November 2021
(The timeframe for this report is the month of October 2021)
Military Situation in Idlib
- Regime violations: The Assad government and an array of pro-regime militias continue to regularly violate the de-escalation agreement, launching mortar strikes against civilians and attempting military advances across the demarcation line in the southern countryside of Idlib and western Hama provinces. The regime shelling Sarmada near the border with Turkey was particularly striking, this is a commercial hub in north-west Syria and would have caused a stir with the Turks. In recent weeks, regime attacks have been recorded in over a dozen towns, mostly in the Jabal Al-Zawiya area south of the M4 have killed at least 26 civilians and wounding dozens of others. More than half of the casualties resulted from a devastating assault on the city of Ariha, where regime forces bombarded a neighborhood around a local school and marketplace, killing mostly women and children (20.10). The regime also attempted two major advances into rebel territory, one in the town of Kafr Noran in the western countryside of Aleppo, and another along the Abu Ali axis in Jabal Turkman, in the northern countryside of Latakia (9.10, 26.10). Both were successfully repelled by opposition factions.
- Russian violations: The Russian air force launched dozens of airstrikes targeting sites in the southern Idlib, northern Latakia, and western Aleppo countryside. Strikes were confirmed in the cities and villages of Tois, Bsanqul, Marea, al-Bara, Jericho, Jisr al-Shughur, Qah, Salwa, Tadel and Kafarama (7.10, 11.10, 12.10, 19.10, 20.10, 24.10, 27.10, 30.10). These attacks resulted in extensive material damage, and reports of numerous dead and wounded civilians, particularly in the Jericho offensive. Among the dead were a large number of women and children.
- Opposition and extremist violations: In retaliation against regime shelling, opposition factions struck regime positions in the city of Saraqib, as well as hitting military points along Bureji front in Jabal al-Zawiya with anti-armor guided missiles (5.10, 11.10). The Fatah Al-Mabin also shelled positions of the regime and supporting militias in Kafranbel, al-Ruwaiha. Basartun, and across the demarcation line following the regime’s bombardment of the villages Masran, Kawkaba, and al-Dana (7.10, 9.10, 20.10).
- Anti-Turkish attacks: Turkish forces suffered a string of attacks, including a booby-trapped motorcycle bomb near the city of Ariha, and two IED strikes along the Bab al-Hawa–Idlib international road (5.10, 15.10, 11.9). The attacks were claimed by an underground group calling itself “Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq”. At least three Turkish soldiers were killed and three others wounded in the blasts.
- HTS offensive: More than 100 HTS vehicles, loaded with heavy machine guns and 23-caliber cannons, crossed into the northeastern Latakia countryside in a major show of force against two rival factions, Jund al-Sham and Jund Allah/Soldiers of the Levant and Soldiers of God (25.10). HTS demanded the leadership of both groups leave their positions in the coastal region and Idlib province, and that all members hand over their weapons to HTS within a limited period of time. Following small clashes and mediation by the Turkistan Islamic Party, there are reports that the two groups have largely complied with the orders to disarm and leave Jabal al-Turkman as of last weekend (30.10). HTS has sought to systematically strengthen its position across Idlib through limited operations and intimidating shows of force. The organization is focusing especially on dismembering groups with large numbers of foreign fighters and jihadist ideology, seeing such groups as impractical and difficult to control amid the region’s simmering tensions.
- Factional mergers: The Azm Chamber announced that 6 new factions had joined its ranks, subsequently integrating into the group’s Third Corps (18.10). The Chamber said in a statement that the new factions were the Levant Front, Jaysh al-Islam, Corps of Glory, Division 51, Malakshah Division, and Brigade of Peace.