Turkey Escalates against Pro-Assad Forces to Protect Afrin Operation
By Elizabeth Teoman and Jennifer Cafarella with the ISW Syria Team
Key Takeaway: The Assad regime and Iran attacked Turkish forces that deployed into Syria with apparent Russian permission to establish a blocking position near a critical front line south of Aleppo City. Turkey’s goal was to deter Assad and Iran from providing military support to Kurdish forces defending Afrin against a Turkish offensive. Turkish forces stopped short of their objective after coming under fire and it is unclear whether they will resume their advance. Iran and Assad are acting as spoilers to demonstrate that Russia cannot fully control them.
Pro-Assad regime forces attacked a Turkish convoy that deployed from Turkey into Syria on January 29. The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) deployed a convoy of up to 100 armored vehicles with air support from Turkish F-16 fighter jets to establish a blocking position near a key front line between pro- and anti- Assad regime forces south of Aleppo City on January 29. Turkish forces previously reconnoitered an area near the frontline village of al Eis, on January 24. Turkey coordinated its deployment with al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Unidentified pro-Assad regime forces attacked Turkey’s convoy with artillery fire as it transited through opposition and al Qaeda-held terrain, forcing the convoy to stop short of its objective. It is unclear whether Turkish forces will fortify in place, resume their advance, or withdraw. The establishment of a Turkish position near al Eis would provide Turkey leverage over Iran and Assad by blocking a future offensive to lift a siege on two Shi’a-majority towns, Fu’a and Kafraya north of Idlib City. The liberation of these towns is a priority for Iran and Assad in Syria.