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Deciphering Russia's delivery of Tell Rifaat to Turkey

Now that Russia has reportedly handed over the area around Tell Rifaat to Turkey, all eyes are on Turkey’s performance in the expanded area controlled by its allied Free Syrian Army forces west of the Euphrates.
Turkish-backed Free Syrian army members ride on a motorbike near a Turkish military vehicle in Afrin, Syria March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi - RC1F92C97600

While speculation was rife this week about whether Turkey's next move in Syria would be toward Tell Rifaat or Manbij, Russia unexpectedly withdrew its troops March 27 from Tell Rifaat.

The Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) now controls the area around Tell Rifaat, while according to unconfirmed reports, the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad control the city proper. The area is important for Ankara because the Menagh military air base in the city is a critical logistics point to reach northern Aleppo and Idlib. Thus, control provides the FSA with the strategic and psychological upper hand in the region.

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