After losing three soldiers in a bomb attack in Idlib, the last bastion of Islamist rebels in Syria, Turkey pounded Syrian Kurdish targets last week, sending a misleading message of revenge to its public. The episode underscores Ankara’s growing predicament in Idlib, where jihadi forces target Turkish troops even as Turkey’s military presence shields them against the Syrian army.
In Idlib, Turkey has sought to use the dominant Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) group to suppress smaller jihadi groups, eager to create the impression that terrorist groups are being eliminated in the region, as its deals with Russia require. Meanwhile, it has kept reorganizing its allies from the Syrian National Army, an umbrella group for various opposition forces. Ultimately, all those efforts have been aimed at preventing a fresh Syrian-Russian offensive to retake the region. This calculus seems to be failing, and tensions in Idlib are on the rise.