Speculative, but, interesting
“The top jihadist militia in northern Syria on Thursday reached a deal with Turkish-backed forces to take control of restive Idlib province, possibly clearing the way for Turkey to attack Syria’s Kurdish militia, according to analysts.”
In the past week, HTS captured several villages and aimed to acquire more territory to strengthen its hand against Russia and Turkey, Al Jazeera said on Wednesday. HTS is also making inroads into strategic areas such as Atareb, a town near the main highways.
Joshua Landis, director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, told Al Jazeera that the al-Qaeda-affiliated militia was stronger and better led, while Turkey-sponsored NFL collapsed.
“HTS's conquest of Atareb and Darat Izza dashes any notion that the National Liberation Front that was cobbled together by Turkey to act as a new Syrian national army is actually a cohesive or effective fighting force,” Al Jazeera quoted Landis as saying.
While the exit of Turkish-backed rebels put locals at risk, it also increased the possibility of an attack by the Syrian government and Russia.
Some analysts think Turkey and Russia may have quietly agreed that territories taken by HTS could be attacked and occupied by the Syrian army, in return for Russia allowing Turkey to do what it wants against the Syrian Kurdish militia, Al Jazeera said.
Elizabeth Tsurkov, Syria-focused Research Fellow at the U.S.-based Forum for Regional Thinking, tweeted a similar view on Thursday: “Fighters among the National Liberation Front and civilians expected Turkey to back them against HTS, but now many believe that Turkey is allowing HTS to take over Idlib to justify regime offensive on the area in return for Russian permission to take Manbij and Kurdish areas"
The effect of recent developments on the Russia-Turkey deal for Idlib is uncertain, according to Aron Lund, a fellow with The Century Foundation. He said the outcome would depend on the "big-picture dynamics" of the Moscow-Ankara relationship.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu on Thursday said the Idlib agreement had been successfully implemented despite some temporary problems. “We did not bring terrorist organisations to Idlib. The [Syrian] regime intentionally guided terrorist organisations to go Idlib,” he said. “Steps have been taken to end heavy fighting in Idlib.”
The taking back of Idlib and having Syrian troops present in the entire territory would be good on a number of levels
– Syria would have it’s territory back and be in control of it
– The block on Kurdish westward expansion would still be in place