Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front sent fighters across the demilitarized buffer zone in northern Syria this weekend, attacking Syrian military targets in Aleppo Province. At least 22 troops were killed, and over 20 wounded.
This has been a recurring problem at this buffer zone, the last of several zones established to try to limit fighting across Syria. While some are accusing al-Qaeda of “violating” the terms of the zone, al-Qaeda was never a party to the deal in the first place, and thus never expected to honor it.
Russia and Turkey signed a deal to establish a “de-escalation zone” in Idlib and three other rebel-held enclaves in May 2017 as a way to reduce the fighting and the dying, lower tension between them, and to allow the Syrian army to turn eastward and roll back ISIS.
Under the terms the Russians would hold back the Syrian government forces from attacking the non-AQ rebels, but these in turn would have to split off from the AQ rebels. That nowhere really happened and once the Syrian army was largely done with ISIS in the east it turned back and quickly rolled up the other three major rebel enclaves.
When the Syrians tried moving into rebel-held Idlib which borders Turkey, however, the Turks responded by crossing the border and entrenching themselves in military outposts on the front line between the rebels and the Syrian army.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) May 16, 2018
The Turkish outposts were subsequentally accepted by Russia in another deal which also established a 15-kilometer artillery-free buffer zone, but as part of that Turkey was supposed to eliminate al-Qaeda presence in Idlib (beginning with AQ in the buffer zone). Instead, the opposite happened and al-Qaeda established a near total hegemony over all the other Idlib Islamists.
So we have now a bizarre situation where the Turkish military is dug in on Syrian territory to prevent a Syrian assault on al-Qaeda.
More than that, as the news above illustrates, while the Turks are protecting al-Qaeda from the Syrian government, they are incapable of stopping AQ attacks in the other direction.
This doesn’t seem like a very tenable situaiton.