At least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in Syria’s Idlib province on Thursday in an aerial attack by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces, Turkish officials said, raising the specter of a full-blown conflict.
Thirty-five soldiers were injured in the attack and have been evacuated to hospitals in Turkey, according to officials.
The attack comes days before a Turkish deadline on Syrian government troops to withdraw from areas recaptured in recent months from rebels in northwest Syria.
Turkish soldiers in Idlib under heavy airstrikes
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— monitoring (@warsmonitoring) February 27, 2020
After President Erdogan held an urgent top-level security meeting in Ankara, Turkish forces began conducting ground and airstrikes.
Turkey says it hit 200 government targets in response, “neutralizing” 309 soldiers.
Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said that in addition to the casualties inflicted, five Syrian government helicopters, 23 tanks, 23 howitzers, and two air defence systems had been destroyed.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the attack happened “despite coordination with the officials of the Russian Federation who were on the ground when this attack happened.” Akar said ambulances were hit during the strikes.
The Syrian government has not commented on the Turkish claim. The Russian Defense Ministry denied that its air force carried out strikes in the area of Idlib where the Turkish soldiers were located. Moscow said Turkish forces were “located near the areas where terrorist groups were situated” and then “came under fire from Syrian forces.”
According to the Russian defence ministry, the Turkish soldiers had been killed in a “bombardment” while operating alongside “terrorists” in the Balyun area where, it said, fighters from the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance (formerly the Nusra Front) were attacking Syrian government forces.
Russia said it was in constant contact with Turkey to ensure Turkish troops were not targeted in Idlib and had not been informed that Turkish forces were active at Balyun.