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(Russian?) Warplanes Drop Bombs Next to Turkish Column in Syria, Force It to Halt Advance

Turkey tried sending troops to get in the way of renewed Syrian offensive against the southern tip of Idlib pocket. Didn't work.

Most of the 7,000-strong Turkish force in al-Qaeda-held northwestern Syria is concentrated just to the east of Idlib city to block the advance of the Syrian army toward the biggest city (and only provincial capital) still in rebel hands.

Yesterday Turkey attempted to change that and dispatched a force southward, to try to establish a bigger presence in the southern part of the Idlib pocket, where the Syrians had just started the second phase of their offensive (and already took a couple of villages).

However, as the Turkish column was underway it came under attack — according to SOHR by “regime artillery fire”. Except that in the video of the incident you can clearly hear jets:

Yeah, some of those explosions are much too large for a shell. That’s because it wasn’t only an artillery strike, it was also an airstrike, most likely by the Russians.

It seems what happened was that Russian warplanes dropped bombes — not on top of the Turkish column, but in close proximity to it — as a warning and the Turks got the message.

Depending on which reports you believe the Turkish column then either turned back north, or started setting up another “observation post” in the village where it was struck.

However al-Bara is far from the fighting at the southern tip of the Idlib enclave, and only a short way from the M4 highway. If the Turks stay there they will be irrelevant to the fighting. It is unlikely this was their original destination when they set on the road.

The Russian state-owned TASS news agency issued a very unconvincing, and completely unofficial, denial that Russia had anything to do with halting the Turkish march:

MOSCOW, February 23. /TASS/. A Russian military source has rejected the reports appearing on some Telegram channels that the Russian Aerospace Force’s aircraft barred a Turkish military convoy from entering Al-Bara in the Syrian region of Idlib.

“It is fake news,” the source said.

Yeah, a one-liner from an anonymous source, you’re going to have to do better than that.

Both, that bombs merely landed near them, and that Turks halted their march rather than pulled out their MANPADs, are both circumstances that make it more likely the warplanes were Russian rather than Syrian.

But there was indeed also artillery fire (according to rebel reports with some Turkish WIA) likely by the Syrians in conjunction to the airstrikes:

It should be said Russia has warned Turkey before that only its original 12 observation points are covered by the Sochi Agreement but not its 7000-strong contingent dispatched this month.

Meanwhile, the Turkish death toll from Erdogan’s adventure in Idlib to protect al-Qaeda’s jihadistan from the Syrian government rose to 16 as another Turkish tank crewman was killed, according to one Turkish claim it was by a Syrian tank shell.

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