Turkish soldiers blame Russia for lethal 2020 air strike in Syria: MEE

Turkish soldiers deployed to Syria’s northwestern Idlib province blame Russia, not Syrian forces, for the Feb. 27, 2020, air strike that killed 34 personnel in that province, Middle East Eye (MEE) reported on Friday.

The report, which cites several anonymous Turkish military sources and Turkish-backed Syrian forces, recounted that the Turkish government did not reveal the attack and the casualties until hours after the incident, which was the largest loss of Turkish military personnel in a single incident in decades.

Rahmi Dogan, the governor of Turkey’s Hatay border province, described the attack hours later as “an air strike by regime forces in Idlib.”

However, Turkish troops at the scene of the strike, in the Balyun, were furious, insisting that it was Russian bombing that killed those soldiers.

The report notes that since Turkey entered the tripartite Astana Agreement with Russia and Iran, it has shown reluctance to criticize Moscow, even when Russian strikes in Syria kill civilians or are near the Turkish Army’s observation posts in Idlib.

However, soldiers who witnessed the Feb. 27, 2020, attack expected Ankara to condemn Moscow, which claimed confused Syrian pilots mistakenly killed those soldiers, for the incident.

Syrian and Russian jets were flying in formation over Turkish troops all day that day.

“Regime and Russian warplanes fly side by side,” a Turkish colonel told MEE. “In short, they shield each other to prevent the downing of their warplanes by Turkish forces.”

A Turkish solder who was deployed near Balyun also said the Russians “targeted areas very close to our convoys on that day at least four times.”

“There was an ongoing [Turkish] coordination with the Russians… They always knew where we were,” the source added.

Bombs exploded in front of and behind the convoy.

“The first direct hit struck the vehicles before some of our soldiers found cover,” the Turkish soldier recalled.

The report notes that Russian and Syrian air strikes can be plausibly distinguished by the types of bombs dropped.

According to Turkish military sources, if the strike is a precision-guided one then it’s most likely Russian, since Syrian warplanes don’t have such advanced targeting capabilities.

Two Turkish military officers that examined photos from the Feb. 27 strike concluded that it was a targeted one, meaning most likely carried out by Russia.

A retired high-ranking officer told MEE that “Russia gained psychological superiority with that. They already had military superiority.”

To add insult to injury, Turkish military sources told MEE that Ankara tried to secure safe passage for the dead and wounded in the strike from Moscow, which refused.

“We couldn’t open an air corridor and we had to send medics by foot under sporadic bombardment,” a high-ranking Turkish officer responsible for operations in Syria said. “[The Russians] first told us that they thought they hit the Syrian opposition… Later they denied their involvement altogether.”

The Turkish government never investigated the incident and investigations by military experts haven’t been published.

“The army’s only reaction was to dissolve the 65th mechanised infantry brigade, most of whose soldiers died in the attack,” the report said. “Survivors were assigned to other units.”

Furthermore, it added, some close to the Turkish government maintain that Turkey did the right thing by pretending Syria was responsible since Turkey isn’t militarily strong enough to challenge Russia.

“We could have seized Damascus in 40 days if there wasn’t a Russian presence in Syria,”a Turkish colonel told MEE.

“The Syrian army is total trash,” he added. “We can hit the Syrian army as much as we want, but it won’t create a deterrent, because the Russians were the ones who struck us.”

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