Tigers are taking selfies in front of the old castle in Qalaat Al-Mudiq (pre-war population: 15,000). Reportedly they took it without a fight after the Islamists who held it retreated deeper into Idlib jihadistan ahead of them. That means one of three things:
1.) The jihadis retreated because having lost Kafr Nabudah the day before they were left open in three different directions. (Look bottom map.)
2.) The jihadis retreated because the outcome of the offensive has long been determined in Turkish-Russian negotiations and there is no point in dying for land that has already been traded.
3.) The jihadis retreated because while there hasn’t been a “sale”, a bunch of people believe that and morale is shot.
A lot of people believe 2.) is right. In a war where Damascus offensives lately clearly require Moscow-Ankara consultations and a joint green light you cannot blame them.
Significant advances by regime forces in northern Hama today. This is prompting conspiracy theories about "surrender", "sale" of areas by the rebels to the regime, further damaging the (already poor) reputation of the rebels among civilians in rebel-held Syria pic.twitter.com/LtMOTD9SLP
— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) May 9, 2019
That said, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the rebel coalition led by al-Qaeda, has staked its reputation on being independent of Turkey, and fighting when others won’t. The mere fact that the Syrians and the Russians are advancing in the vicinity of Turkish outposts and Erdogan isn’t raising a voice in protest is no reason why they couldn’t fight and fight hard if they wanted to. Papa Erdogan so far isn’t riding to their rescue but he was supposed to be a lightweight, and barely a Muslim anyway. But maybe they believe Turkey will guarantee the Syrians/Russians do not take too much.
On the other hand, on the Latakia section of the front (where terrain is more rugged and which is substantially manned by Central Asians who can’t lay down their arms) the Syrian probing attacks didn’t go anywhere, and from now on it’s an uphill battle for the government side:
Bonus: Russian Su-30 escorts a US Reaper drone:
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) May 8, 2019