Wounded and Shaken the Syrian Army Goes on the Counter-Offensive, Wins
Erdogan has bloodied the Syrian army alright, but after initial shock the force has responded with tenacity rather than panic
The scope and effect — particularly of Turkey’s aerial offensive — in recent days shouldn’t be underestimated. In terms of numbers Turkey’s armed drones, and drone-guided artillery inflicted very significant losses. The dead alone are likely in the low hundreds, with probably over a thousand wounded, and close to a hundred tanks, APCs and self-propelled artillery lost.
Footage released by Turkish military clearly shows why Assad regime collapsed near Sarakib
They hit everything from tanks to howitzers to infantry with armed drones pic.twitter.com/pPRplpg5l7
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) February 28, 2020
More than that the Turks have killed a fair number of high-ranking officers (colonels and generals), heavily disrupted Syrian troop movements, forced Syrian warplanes out of the sky and scrambled Syrian air defenses and communications with powerful jammers.
Aside from organizing two Turkish-rebel combined arms offensives (against Saraqib and then another in the south) the Turks have forced the Syrian army into unfamiliar territory where it can not count on the support of its own air force (albeit the Russians are still flying some missions), but is instead itself being relentlessly targeted from the air.
It has not been pretty. A concurrent redeployment of the elite Tiger Forces was probably a contributing factor but the initial result were two withdrawals in the face of the Turkish-rebel onslaught, as well as high losses in Turkish interdiction attacks on Syrian forces moving on the M5 highway.
And yet there is also a reason to believe the learning curve while painful has perhaps been remarkably short. Under fire from Turkish drones and with only paltry Russian air support the Syrian army has thrown itself into a counter-attack against the key town of Saraqib on the M5 highway and has successfully entered it.
they can,t fight just wast of time & loser foreign pic.twitter.com/UXCzhYi519
— SyriaWarNews🇸🇾🇳🇴🇮🇷🇮🇶🇵🇰🇦🇿 🇾🇪🇱🇧 (@ilias90s) March 2, 2020
The Syrian Army have liberated Saraqib again. pic.twitter.com/PDXoiWl92c
— Paul Antonopoulos (@oulosP) March 2, 2020
It is not yet clear if the national army has succeeded in capturing the entire town or if fighting continues on its western outskirts. However, that is not even the really important thing. The key is that the Syrian re-entry into a town they lost to a Turkish-rebel force last week signals that the extensive Turkish involvement on the jihadi side may not be the decisive factor that automatically sees the Syrian army rolled back to its 2019 positions.
Erdogan has proven true to his word that come February-end if the Syrians have not withdrawn he will enter the war. In this sense, the (probably) Russian warning strike that killed 33 Turkish troops failed to deter him. But entering wars is easy, the question is what is his endgame?
The Syrian Arab Army fully recaptured Saraqib, Hazzarin and Dayr al-Kabir from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham & allied forces despite many Turkish drone strikeshttps://t.co/49Hh6dZ1GA pic.twitter.com/dFGHg9MZxF
— Syrian Civil War Map (@CivilWarMap) March 2, 2020
If it proves that Turkish drone bombings of Syrian troop transports, artillery and tanks, coupled with long-range anti-air missiles from Turkey against their warplanes, and Turkish artillery and armor support for jihadi infantry are not enough to dislodge the Syrian army to its starting positions then what?
At that point does Erdogan add his infantry into the fight and goes against the Syrians chest-to-chest? If he does it will be the first time. This is already Erdogan’s fourth cross-border invasion into Syria (one against ISIS and two against Kurds) and each time Syria’s Islamists were expected to do the bulk of his fighting on foot, with Turkish forces staying in more withdrawn, force-multiplying roles.
I think if it the coming days Putin and the Russians come through for Damascus and back them with renewed determination I think it may be because of how the Syrian forces are accounting themselves at Saraqib. They are showing they are capable of standing on their own two feet in adversity and need only that little extra help that counteracts the worst of what their foreign enemies are doing, rather than being a permanent welfare case that is always going to need more yet more help just to stand still.