Moon of Alabama
Southfront has an excellent longread on the Turkish role in the war on Syria from its very beginning. The piece includes a list of the groups Turkey currently supports and gives an outlook on Turkey's plans:
In the contemporary military and diplomatic reality surrounding the Syrian crisis, Ankara is pursuing the following tactical goals:
- To eliminate or at least disarm and limit influence of US-backed Kurdish armed groups in northern Syria;
- To strengthen a united pro-Turkish opposition Idlib and to eliminate any resistance to it, including in some scenarios the elimination of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and its allies;
- To facilitate return of refugees from Turkey to Syrian areas under its own control;
If these goals are achieved, Ankara will significantly increase its influence on the diplomatic settlement of the crisis and on the future of the post-war Syria. The returned refugees and supporters of militant groups in the Turkish-controlled part of Syria will become an electoral base of pro-Turkish political figures and parties in case of the implementation of the peaceful scenario. If no wide-scale diplomatic deal on the conflict is reached, one must consider the possibility of a pro-Turkish quasi-state in northern Syria, confirming the thesis that Erdogan is seeking to build a neo-Ottoman empire.
What is clear so far is the certainty that President Assad is not ready to give up Idlib to President Erdogan. Assad is said to be ready to start the attack in a few weeks even alone, at the cost of dragging everybody behind him onto the battlefield.
The operation has to wait until the Congressional elections in the U.S. are over and the danger of a U.S. escalation for domestic policy reasons recedes. Russia also fears that an attack on Idelb right now could re-unite the U.S. and Turkey and lead to a new coordinated onslaught on Syria.
Thomas Seibert at The Arab Weekly points to an upcoming change in the balance that will lower this risk:
Moscow would wait until October or November before ordering an all-out attack because the Kremlin expects the crisis in Turkish-US relations to deepen even further by then…
“Comprehensive action will start at a time when Turkey desperately needs Russian support” and Ankara is unlikely to add a crisis with Russia to its difficulties with the United States, [Kerim Has, a Moscow-based analyst of Russian-Turkish relations,] said. US sanctions against the Iranian oil industry starting in November are one reason why tensions between Turkey and the United States could worsen soon. Turkey buys about half its crude oil imports from Iran and has said it will not abide by the new sanctions.
But Turkey still does not want to remove al-Qaeda from Syria. It wants to move the group around while keeping it under its own control. They are excellent shock troops which, if transferred to Jarabulus in Turkey's Euphrates Shield area, could potentially be used against the U.S. supported Kurds in the northeast of Syria:
Erdogan’s government is proposing to transfer extremist groups such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, out of southern and western Idlib into the northern part of the province or to Afrin and Jarabulus, two Turkish-controlled areas in northern Syria…
News reports said Turkey would then deploy rebel forces of the Ankara-backed National Front for Liberation (NFL) to take up positions abandoned by HTS.
The chance for Turkey to achieve that is quite small. Just today HTS published a fatwa against showing the Turkish flag in Idleb. Other Jihadi groups in Idleb also issued statements against the "apostate Turkish army" and its presence in Idleb.
It is likely that the situation in Syria will now calm down for a while only to escalate again in two month when the operation to liberate Idelb will get its final go.