Snapshot: Syrian Conflict / Idlib Offensive (first week of March 2020)

Disclaimer: This post is meant to provide a brief glance at a few of the dimensions on the ongoing conflict in Syria. It cannot cover everything, but instead should provide a basic idea of current events.

The conflict in Syria has raged on for a few days shy of nine years. It is so far the deadliest conflict of the 21st century. There many parties with shifting alliegiances and goals involved, which can make it confusing to keep track of who is doing what with and against whom.
As it stands currently, ISIL, although decimated has not yet been entirely defeated, and according to some sources on the cusp of a resurgence.
Turkey has a long and complicated history with Syria but stepped up its offensives in North-western Syria in 2018, specifically in Afrin and Manbij. 
The United States has supported a number of purportedly pro-western, anti-Assad regime rebel groups since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011.
The Russian Federation has been propping up the Syrian government forces with mercenaries and Air power since September 2015, and has been a vocal supporter of the Assad regime, which it regards as the legitimate government of Syria, since the start of the conflict.
Israel has been involved in a number of clashes along its northern border with since the start of the conflict, although it has repeatedly expressed a posture of non-involvement in the conflict. That being said, Israel is not in favour of the Assad regime remaining in power, nor is it willing to support the various rebel factions.
Iran views the survival of the Assad regime as a vital national interest and continues to support pro-Iran militias and proxies throughout the entire region.
Kurdish groups were instrumental the fight against ISIL, and have carved out a region for themselves in northeastern Syria.
According to the latest information on the LiveMap of the conflict the situation is as follows:

Red: Syrian Government / Russia controlled area
Yellow: Kurdish controlled areas
Light Green: Free Syrian Army / Moderate rebel group areas
Dark Green: Turkish Troops and Free Syrian Army groups
Dark Blue: Coalition / US forces
Light Blue: Golan Heights between Syria and Israel
Black: ISIL / Da’esh controlled areas
Source: Syria Livemap

On 01 March 2020 Turkey announced a renewed offensive into Idlib. The attack against the Bashar al-Assad regime comes as a retaliation for the heavy losses turkey suffered at the end of February with approximately 35 soldiers killed and up to 30 others wounded. Turkish Defence Minister, Hulusi Akar, said that the goal of Operation Spring Shield was not to face off against Russia but instead to stop the bloodshed and prevent radicalisation. Akar continued by expressing an expection that the Russian government will uphold its side of the 2018 Sochi Agreement to end fighting in Idlib.

In the days since the start of Operation Spring Shield, the Turkish military has stepped up its use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to destroy Syrian government tanks and installations. In doing so the Turkish army have been able to effectively stop the Syrian Government march to Idlib.
On the northern edge of the frontline the city of Saqareb has changed hands a number of times in recent weeks but now seems to be under Syrian Government control as of 04 March.
The Syrian Government has paid heavily for its gains as the Turkish Army have successfully downed two Sukhoi-24 attack jets and an Aero L-39 ground support jet in the past week.

Close up of Idlib region as seen on 10 March 2020 on Syria live map
Red: Syrian Government / Russia controlled area
Yellow: Kurdish controlled areas
Light Green: Free Syrian Army / Moderate rebel group areas
Dark Green: Turkish Troops and Free Syrian Army groups

On the 3rd March the Russian large landing ship Novocherkassk (142) passed through the Bosphorus Strait towards the Mediterranean. This comes days after two guided missile Frigates Admiral Makarov (799) and Admiral Grigorovich (745) steamed through the straits towards the Mediterranean. While Russia is strengthening its forces in the region, on 05 March Moscow received a delegation from Turkey. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Recep Erdogan spoke for over 6 hours and were able to come to a ceasefire agreement that at time of publishing has been up held by both sides.

As the dust begins to settle in Idlib, the human cost of Operation Spring Shield and the intense fighting leading up to, it remain to be seen. Some reports suggest that around one million civilians have been forced to flee from Idlib province since the beginning of the year. A recent UN report indicated that Operation Spring Shield has displaced over 100,000 people. Furthermore, the aid effort in Idlib is struggling to cope with the harsh weather conditions; the number of civilians in need of aid and restricted movement due to military operations. One can only hope that in these days of a seemingly lasting ceasefire as much as possible is being done by international aid organizations to support the displaced women and children in Idlib.

While it is uncertain how long the ceasefire in Idlib will last, it is clear that much of the international community has turned its back on the conflict in Syria. Calls from the UN and the US Special Envoy to Syria for renewed support and an increase in aid fall upon deaf ears. Amid panic buying, economic uncertainty and hysteria at the spread of coronavirus, hospitals are bombed and children freeze to death in refugee camps in northeastern Syria.

***
Sources:

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/battle-idlib-turkey-drones-war-200303170724302.html

https://www.aljazeera.com/topics/events/idlib-battle-syria.html

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/turkish-soldiers-killed-syria-eve-key-moscow-meeting-200304091742338.html

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/turkey-shoots-plane-syrian-forces-retake-town-200303135102188.html

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/saraqeb-situation-flux-syrian-forces-rebel-groups-battle-200302182528360.html

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/erdogan-putin-announce-idlib-ceasefire-moscow-meeting-200305172818996.html

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/syria-closes-airspace-idlib-plane-shot-200301094353040.html

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-51537145

https://www.britannica.com/list/8-deadliest-wars-of-the-21st-century

https://www.ft.com/content/9afd5cf2-5bc6-11ea-b0ab-339c2307bcd4

https://www.militaryfactory.com/ships/detail.asp?ship_id=admiral-makarov-799-guided-missile-frigate-warship-russia-navy

https://migflug.com/jets/l-39-albatros/

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/02/kurdish-leader-isis-conflict-iraq-iran/606502/

https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/03/03/russia-sends-4th-warship-to-syria-amid-turkey-tensions-a69497

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/01/world/middleeast/turkey-syria-assault .html

https://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2020/8-march-two-explosions-and-gunfire-are-heard-near-the-sugar

https://www.un.org/press/en/2020/sc14132.doc.htm

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1058651

 

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