Turkey Launches Military Operation against Assad Regime in Syria
Turkey has launched a full-scale military operation against the Assad regime in Syria, just days after more than 30 of its soldiers were killed by pro-government forces in northwestern Idlib Province. “Some 2,200 Syrian regime troops, a drone, eight helicopters, 103 tanks, tens of howitzers and three air defense systems were neutralized,” Turkish Defense Minister Şule Akar was cited by media as saying when announcing the beginning of Operation Spring Shield. He made clear, however, that Ankara did not want to become entangled in a direct confrontation with Russia, which, along with Iran, is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main backer. Instead, Akar said the goal was to “stop the Syrian regime’s massacres, radicalization and [resulting forced] migration.” Turkey has long maintained troops in northern Syria, where Ankara backs mainly Islamist opposition groups and has taken great pains to rid the area of US-allied Kurdish fighters who were instrumental in the battle against Islamic State. For months, however, the Syrian army, backed by Russian air power, has been waging a fierce offensive to retake Idlib Province, the last major rebel-held bastion in the war-torn country. Tensions had already been rising between Ankara, on the one hand, and Moscow and Damascus, on the other, over the assault, which has killed more than 300 civilians since December and displaced close to one million others. Despite mounting international calls to end the violence, repeated diplomatic attempts to forge a cease-fire have failed.