Turkey Withdraws From Military Outpost in Syria Surrounded by the Syrian Army
Turks had been surrounded there since August 2019
Turkey has evacuated an observation station in Syria’s northwestern Hama province that had been encircled by Syrian government forces.
The outpost in Morek had been Turkey’s largest in the province, which is now under the control of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Assad’s troops encircled it last year after an offensive on the province of Idlib, which is the last opposition stronghold in the country.
“After midnight Turkish forces began to evacuate Morek, and this morning a large convoy left” the area, an Ankara-backed Syrian rebel commander told AFP.
He said the troops would be redeployed to Turkish outposts in Idlib.
Morek is just one of around eight or so Turkish military outposts in Syria surrounded by the Syrian army. Morek being the southernmost outpost, that had been surrounded for the longest.
Turkey established these outposts on the front lines between the Syrian army and the Islamist rebels, just behind the rebel positions, as a way to try and obstruct Syrian army advances, but this did not happen. Instead, the Syrian army with Russian backing went around the Turkish bases and pushed the rebels back anyway, thus encircling the Turks in many places.
The Syrians did not attack the vulnerable, surrounded bases even when Turkey openly entered the war on the jihadi side in February and March of this year.
Erdogan meanwhile refused to withdraw from them, even though it was clear that fully surrounded the bases were of no military value, but were merely providing Syrians with potential hostages. Instead, he made a deal with the Russians where they could continue to be resupplied over Syrian territory, under Russian escort.
Russian forces 'escort' turkish supply trucks to their surrounded observation post in Morek HAMA. https://t.co/quFLVgBIeC
— Danny Makki (@Dannymakkisyria) February 16, 2020
Now the most vulnerable of the bases is being evacuated possibly as an overture into a withdrawal from a number more:
Two people familiar with the decision told MEE on Monday that the Turkish military would be withdrawing from four observation stations and two military sites that were surrounded by Syrian government forces.
“The observation stations are in the areas that are hard to defend in the current predicament, such as Morek and Shir Maghar,” one of the people said.
“The military sites are near Saraqeb.”
— Mohamad Rasheed محمد رشيد (@mohmad_rasheed) October 19, 2020
Initially, Erdogan likely did not want to withdraw because of the optics at home. However, since then the Turks have managed to turn the tide of the war in Libya against Haftar, and are contributing to an Azeri offensive in Karabakh that is making gains, so he has some prestige to spend. Besides eyes in Turkey are more focused on the Armenian-Azeri fighting in Karabakh now.
Another factor may be that with Turkey and Erdogan fanning the flames of war in Karabakh and destabilizing the Caucusus on the Russian southern border, the Russians had become less interested in guaranteeing the Turks’ safety and logistics in northwestern Syria:
MEE’s sources said the Turkish military had decided to withdraw following a series of developments.
First, they said, Russia either blocked or severely impeded Turkey’s ability to resupply its positions.
“The regime also brought so-called civilians in buses to near the military stations, pushing them to attack the Turkish soldiers. These were regime provocations,” one said.