Syrian Airstrike Kills Over 20 Turkish Troops

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On Thursday a Syrian airstrike against Turkish forces in Idlib killed between 22 and 34 Turkish soldiers. The casualties inflicted in the airstrike are already having an effect from Ankara to Damascus and could end up expanding the Syrian conflict in the coming days.

Before today, Turkey has been calling for Russia and the Syrian government to end its offensive in Idlib, and for Syrian forces to end their encirclement of Turkish positions in the province. Although Turkey appeared to initially lay blame for today’s attack on Syria’s shoulders, Russian jets have been active in the area for some time. To be certain, Russia is complicit in today’s attack. The Russian military provides targeting information, and intelligence on Turkish forces to the Syrians.

Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan called an emergency security meeting in Ankara. As the meeting was taking place the first wave of Turkish retaliation was underway. Artillery attacks against Syrian forces in Idlib, and rocket attacks on government targets in Nubl, Zaharra, and Latakia. “We are hitting, with land and air backup, all known regime targets, and will continue to do so. We’ll continue our operations in Syria until the hands that attacked our flag is dealt with,” Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said.

There is a lot happening on multiple fronts with regards to Syria, Russia and Turkey’s reaction to the airstrike earlier today. Tomorrow we’ll discuss the growing crisis in Syria further and cover any new developments that might occur overnight.

Turkey’s Syria Fortunes Riding on Idlib

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Whether by design or reluctantly, Turkey is being drawn deeper into the Syrian conflict. Fighting has escalated as Syrian government forces are attempting to retake control of Idlib, the last rebel-held province in the country. Clashes between Turkish and Syrian forces have been going on since last week. Attacks against Syrian observation posts in northwestern Syria have been taking place since last week. Monday’s attack killed 5 Turkish troops, bringing the Turk military death toll to 14 while the Syrian number is undoubtedly higher.

Turkish government officials have been warning of stronger retaliation against Syria for the attacks on Turkish observation posts. President Recep Tayip Erdogan warned that Turkey will strike Syrian government forces anywhere in the country if any more Turkish soldiers are harmed in the last rebel bastion. Even more than protecting its own soldiers’ lives, Turkey’s tough talk and actions in Syria are also designed to prevent the government from capturing the Idlib province entirely. At least before Turkey can arrange some type of ceasefire, or partition of the territory.

Turkey’s motivation for acting in Idlib is more practical than ideological. Ankara has long supported the non-ISIS rebel groups opposing the al-Assad government in Syria. Lately the Turks have been using the relationship to send Syrian rebels to Libya in order to help support the Libyan Government of National Accord. In order to keep the stream of support going from Syria  to Libya, Turkey has to do whatever is possible to keep the government forces and Russians from occupying all of Idlib. Another practical reason is the refugee crisis on Syria’s northern border. As fighting intensifies, the number of Syrian civilians looking to escape has risen considerably. Turkey has closed the border, yet if Idlib falls it may have to accept hundreds of thousands of refugees in order to avoid a humanitarian crisis, and the bad PR it would bring.

 

Author’s Note: I was away for a few days and just getting settled back in. I’ll try and catch up on events around the world more between tomorrow and Sunday. Sorry for the short length of this post. –Mike

Turkish and Syrian Gov’t Forces Clash

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Turkey has urged Russia to restrain Syrian government forces in Idlib province following an attack yesterday that left eight troops dead. In response to the attack Turkey launched airstrikes, and artillery barrages against numerous targets around Idlib. Clashes between Turkish and Syrian forces have continued, and there are reports that government forces have surrounded a handful of the twelve Turkish observation posts established in the area as part of the 2017 agreement between Turkey, Iran, and Russia to create a de-escalation zone. The situation has evolved into one of the largest clashes between Syrian and Turkish forces in the war.

The latest action came as Syria intensified its offensive in Idlib which is the last province held by anti-government rebels. This offensive has caused hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians to flee north in search of safety along the Turkish border. Turkey closed its border to prevent additional refugees from crossing.

The developments have made Russia uneasy. It is firmly supporting the Syrian government but also has to consider its close relationship with Turkey, which could be in jeopardy now. Both sides want to avoid a clash, however if the Turks succeed in pushing back the Syrian offensive in Idlib it could potentially harm Russia’s designs for Syria. Both sides will eventually find a way to overcome their differences with regard to Syria, but the future of Turkish-Russian relations has suddenly become less certain and more complex.

As for Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he appears eager for a fight. Recently he’s made a habit of flexing Turkish muscle wherever possible. First it was Libya, and now Syria. Tomorrow it could be the Eastern Mediterranean given how things are going right now.

Does Maduro Have a Plan B?

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Nicolas Maduro is a survivor. Let’s be honest about this and give the Venezuelan leader credit where he deserves it. He has held onto power for years despite massive protests, a wrecked economy, international sanctions, and  worldwide condemnation. Through all of this, Maduro has maintained a vise-like grip on power, in large part because the Venezuelan military has remained in his corner. But the time might be approaching where that support disappears and when that happens, Maduro’s position will become tenuous in the blink of an eye.

The political situation in Venezuela has changed dramatically over the last month. International pressure on Maduro to either resign, or hold new elections is growing by the day. The opposition has united under the leadership of Juan Guaido and is gaining strength and momentum with each passing day. US sanctions have become a financial noose around the Maduro government’s neck, and the Trump administration can tighten the rope even more if it so desires. As conditions stand at the moment, Maduro’s level of power, and influence have nowhere to go except down. His supporters, and allies around the world do not have the economic, and political clout to effectively counter the US-led diplomatic, and economic offensive now underway against Maduro. Russia, arguably Venezuela’s closest ally, is not going to rescue Maduro in the same manner it did Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Reports have surfaced in the US media over the last 24 hours regarding a rumor that some of Maduro’s aides are putting together an escape plan for their embattled leader should it become necessary. If the rumor holds true, it reinforces Maduro’s reputation as a survivor, and also shows that Venezuela’s leader is more of a realist than his Utopia-themed, pipedreamish public speeches let on. One of his political role models is former Chilean President Salvador Allende, who was removed from power and killed by Chile’s military leaders in 1973. Allende was an avowed leftist who attempted to bring socialism to Chile. The experiment was rocky and brought on economic difficulties for Chile’s people. However, it was nothing compared to the humanitarian, and economic nightmare Venezuela is facing right now.

Like Allende, Maduro’s survival is directly linked to keeping the military in his corner. If it becomes clear to him that the relationship is starting to sour, his survival instinct will likely kick in. From there, Maduro could step down and leave the country. Not the most glorious conclusion for the most powerful man in Venezuela. However, it is preferable to being removed from power by his generals, and meeting a fate similar to that of Allende.

US Troops To Be Withdrawn From Syria

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US forces in Syria will be withdrawn in the coming weeks, according to President Trump. The decision has caught practically everyone in the Pentagon, Situation Room, and the State Department off-guard. Stressing that the only reason for the presence of US troops in Syria was to hasten the defeat of ISIS, Trump declared victory in that fight. “We won,” the president said in a video message posted on social media. “We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land. So our boys, our young women, our men – they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now.”

The decision has sparked concern, as well as surprise. Critics were quick to point out that the withdrawal of US troops from Syria will hand Russia, Assad, and Iran the keys to the kingdom, so to speak. There has also been a large amount of apprehension over the future of the Kurds in northern Syria once US troops depart. The pundits on television were especially quick to make these two points, and politicians from both parties were quick to give their opinions. Most of the reactions opposed Trump’s withdrawal. Comparisons were made between this decision, and Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw all US forces from Iraq back in 2009. Not exactly comparing apples to apples, but the talking heads, armchair strategists, and politicians care more about what’s going to earn them camera time, and less about how their words will be received by America’s friends and enemies overseas.

I really want to dive into this topic and present a detailed, concise analysis on why I believe withdrawing US forces from Syria will not end up  being the disaster so many are predicting it will be. Unfortunately, time is at a premium with trying to tie up  so many loose ends at work before Christmas.

So, I’ll shelve this subject until the Christmas break next week and come back to it then.