While, with the ISIS threat off the table and PYD having too much political and firepower, Assad Regime’s target will have to be Idlib in the Civil War and it will last for a while.
As we all know in 2018 Russia, Turkey, Iran and Syria started the Astana Negotiations in order to resolve the conflict in the Idlib area without major civilian casualties and as a result of the negotiations, parties agreed on a plan called Sochi Agreement. Sochi agreement created temporary borders with Rebel Forces and established a ceasefire. Turkey built 12 observation posts throughout the newly decided border to monitor and help the ceasefire. However, occasionally parties went on offensive causing minor clashes.
Syrian Forces attack and bombardments gradually increased by the time claiming Rebel posts attack their military bases and units. Moreover recently they started an all-out offensive conquering decent amount of territory around east of Idlib including the critical objectives Saraqib and theM5 road, at least the most of it. Syrian Forces believed to continue their offensive in the short term until they control M4 and M5 main roads.
In the meantime, the Syrian Forces also attacked one of the Turkish observation posts, killing 13 Turkish soldiers in two separate attacks and wounding many, Turkey extremely displeased with the recent events threatened Syria and Russia and swiftly increased its military equipment in the region transporting nearly 1000 military vehicles in the last thirty days. Today Turkey started counter offensive mission in the are claiming to hit over 100 strategic locations as well as 3 tanks and 1 helicopter of the regime.
Even if the numbers given by Turkish Defense Minister are true, it still is a hopeless war for Turkish side as for most of the Turkish people it is an unnecessary war, previous operations were on the borders of Turkey therefore there was the excuse to secure the borders. On the other hand, Erdogan government is having a hard time explaining the reasons behind the Idlib operation and people feel like their soldiers are dying for the ambitions of the Erdogan government. Thus, even if Turkish military manage to hit a hard blow to the regime or neutralize ten times more soldiers, on the long run it is not sustainable for the Turkish side as most people feel like it is not their business to defend Idlib especially when it is against the Regime forces and think it is a lost cause.
In the end Erdogan will have to withdraw as the popular vote does not support the operation considering economy in Turkey is still not stabilized after the Lira crisis and as the public polls show people wants the government to focus on economy instead of operations that risk the life of Turkish soldiers. Many families suffered casualties due to PKK in the last thirty years and people do not want more Mehmet’s* lost in the battle that is not even theirs.
Turkey has been training rebels and given a lot of Turkish made military equipment, but Russia did as well and Russia has military technology in all military equipments while Turkey’s military technology is limited in terms of variety and no match to the Russian military technology that has been competing with the USA for decades. More importantly, since it is Syrian land and Russia has given anti aircraft systems to Syria, Syrian-Russian side has absolute air superiority which is the key in the battles of 21’st century as we have seen in the Syrian-Russian ambush to USA base in Syria couple years ago.
I believe offensive will slow down soon with major Syrian-Russian earnings both in terms of territory and political power in the region. Russia agreed to discuss the conflict with Turkey this week and I believe parties will come up to an agreement soon, it is just Syria-Russia side wants to make a deal when their hand is strong.
On the other hand, in the long run, Idlib conflict will stay for longer and I cannot see a peaceful end game in this story unless Turkey gives up and personally I do not see a way Turkey can win. Turkey wants to get a portion from the pie when the whole Syrian Civil War ends, therefore trying to keep his hand strong with a military power that supports Turkey in the Idlib region to have military power and some sort of legitimacy.
However, Syrian forces are stronger than ever with Russian air superiority, Iranian Militias, and Russian Mercenaries. While Turkey cannot sponsor the Rebels in an all-out war both due to economic and political reasons and will ask for a truce and give up Rebel territories and gradually all the are in a couple of years time as it is not sustainable in the long run.
*Mehmet or Mehmetçik refers to soldiers in Turkey it started to be called like that after the Tripoli War in 1912, as first fallen soldier was named Mehmet and it was also the most common name in Turkey back in the day.