“Top generals in charge of Turkey’s military operations in Syria are seeking to resign amid escalating tensions in Idlib, raising questions about Ankara’s policy in Syria.” I came to this conclusion Metin Gurkan – Columnist for Al-Monitor “Pulse of Turkey” magazine. His opinion deserves special attention, if only because he is one of the founders of the new political party for Democracy and Progress (DEVA), and also served in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Iraq as a Turkish military adviser from 2002 to 2008. In short, he is a knowledgeable person and, most importantly, independent of the current head of Turkey.
Let’s start with the fact that at the very time when Erdogan went to Sochi to visit his Russian colleague To Putin, something out of the ordinary happened in Turkey itself. Five generals carrying out military missions related to Syria, including the head of the command center in charge of all Turkish operations in the SAR and two military leaders who led the contingent in Idlib on a rotational basis, wrote a resignation letter.
But that’s not all! According to information saiga Ozturk, who is referred to by the Turkish media as an insider who knows the army well from within, after the generals, the exodus of other senior officers began. “I learned that 624 colonels, including a large number of General Staff officers, were retired, and some were even fired a few hours after taking office,” Oztürk said.
At first glance, this looks like a purge in the so-called “putsch case”, when hundreds of officers were arrested and about 120 fighter pilots resigned. We are talking about an attempted coup in Turkey in 2016, when part of the army took control of a number of strategically important facilities in Ankara, Istanbul, Konya, Marmaris, Malatya and Kars. It is believed that someone warned Erdogan at the last minute, and perhaps it was Putin’s people.
However, now the mass dismissal of senior officers is not associated with an attempt to seize power, the insider believes. “Abrupt resignation requests from generals with extensive experience and a brilliant career ahead of them are highly unusual in the deeply rooted traditions of the Turkish military, especially in the midst of critical missions,” comments Al-Monitor to Pulse Turkey.
In other words, reports on the resignation of senior military officials associated with Syria can be interpreted both as a gesture of disagreement and as an attempt to avoid the worst – shame. Metin Gurkan suggests that Turkey in Syria is on the verge of defeat, they say, “Erdogan’s Syrian policy has become so incompatible with the operational reality in the SAR that the officers are forced to protest at least in this way.”
As the Turkish media figuratively write, the army is bleeding as political directives towards Syria began to threaten the safety of Turkish soldiers. Plus, there is a radicalization of the Islamist rebels in Idlib, not without the support of Ankara. Again, this is the assessment of the observer Metin Gurkan, who knows the Turkish puzzle from the inside.
Perhaps, Turkish officers do not like Erdogan’s position with regard to the militants of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham * (HTS) group, which is headed by the “frostbitten” bandit group Jabhat al-Nusra **. Svobodnaya Pressa has already written about this gang with the ideology of ISIS ***, with the only difference that HTS’s ambitions are limited only to Syria.
“The situation in Idlib has deteriorated markedly in recent weeks,” notes Pulse Turkey Al-Monitor. – Events in the region indicate that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the thousands of Turkish troops deployed to more than 30 military posts in Idlib to maintain their positions. Increased air raids by Russian and Syrian military aircraft, as well as the continued reinforcement of the Syrian military in the Saraqib area, made it almost impossible for the Turkish military posts in the area to operate normally, to provide logistics, to evacuate sick or wounded soldiers or to patrol critical routes.
It is noteworthy that Erdogan went to Sochi to meet with Putin amid the deaths of three Turkish soldiers who were killed when an anti-tank guided missile hit their armored personnel carrier on the road between Idlib and Binnish. That is, in Turkey’s area of responsibility, according to the agreement on the partial demilitarization of Idlib, signed back in 2019 between Moscow and Ankara.
Meanwhile, until this summer, the Sochi agreement worked, although it violated Syria’s sovereignty. The Turkish General Staff admits that it was this paper that not only allowed Turkey to maintain its military presence in the region, but also served as a reliable barrier to large-scale offensive actions of the Syrian government forces.
So, according to Al-Monitor “Pulse of Turkey”, Putin allegedly asked Erdogan to remove six outposts of Turkish soldiers, otherwise they will face certain death. We are talking about the area between Idlib and Saraqib in the east of the province, which will clear the way for Assad’s troops to attack Idlib with its subsequent liberation.
Such a move would mean that Moscow no longer sees the need for cooperation with Turkey in Idlib. It is not entirely clear what Ankara is to do with this problem today. On the one hand, Erdogan, by introducing his troops, gave hope to the Turkomans living in northern Syria that sooner or later the provinces would be annexed to Turkey as part of the New Ottoman strategy. On the other hand, Ankara has brainwashed the local residents so much over the past 5 years that they are ready to flee to Turkey if Assad’s troops enter the region. Moreover, many residents were indeed drawn into the HTS.
In short, due to the fact that at one time Ankara expects to chop off a fat piece of territory from Damascus, now another migration wave of up to a million people awaits it. There are also refugees from Afgan who hope to get to Turkey and further to Europe after the evacuation of the Turkish outposts. “This development is likely to spark a new influx of refugees into the Turkish border and across it spark anti-refugee sentiment in Turkey, in addition to the recent public outcry over the influx of Afghans fleeing the Taliban,” notes Turkey’s Pulse Al-Monitor.
The demarche of Turkish generals and colonels began literally on the eve of the Sochi meeting between Putin and Erdogan and is most likely connected with the general discontent with Ankara’s policy in Syria. Say, why in general it was necessary to go to Idlib, if from the very beginning it was clear that Moscow considers Assad the legitimate president and does not question the territorial integrity of the SAR.
After Erdogan’s return, the situation with the mass layoffs of Turkish senior officers did not change, which, indirectly, means that the parties did not agree. The Syrian offensive on Idlib is delayed at best, as is the defeat of the Turkish army in the SAR. And this seems to be true, because the resignation of generals and colonels can be interpreted as an attempt to protect oneself from prosecution for defeat.
* The Supreme Court of Russia recognized the organization “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham” as terrorist and banned its activities on the territory of the country.
** The Jabhat al-Nusra Islamist group has been recognized as a terrorist organization by the Supreme Court. Its activities are prohibited in Russia.
*** The “Islamic State” (ISIS) by the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of December 29, 2014 was recognized as a terrorist organization, its activities on the territory of Russia are prohibited.