Turkish Defense Ministry says airstrikes kill two troops near Idlib

Turkey’s Defense Ministry announced that pro-government airstrikes in northwest Syria killed two of its soldiers and wounded five others on Thursday.

The latest casualties brought Turkish military fatalities to 15 so far this month in the Idlib region.

The ministry said more than 50 Syrian forces members had been killed in retaliation in Idlib, where nearly a million citizens have been displaced since early December.

The attacks come a day after President Tayyip Erdogan warned of an imminent Turkish military offensive in Idlib, where Syrian forces backed by Russia airpower have mounted an offensive to capture the rebel-held region after the country’s nine-year war.

Earlier this month, 13 Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib after the Syrian attacks, prompting Erdogan to warn that Turkey will strike Syrian forces “anywhere” in Syria if another soldier was hurt.

In a statement, the defense ministry said five tanks, two armored personnel carriers, two armored trucks, and one howitzer were also destroyed in retaliation. It said designated targets had been hit and were still being targeted.

Later, Turkish Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said the soldiers were killed by “an attack carried out by the (Syrian) regime.”

Following the announcement of the Defense Ministry, Turkish Armed Forces posted a tweet from its official account saying that General Chief of Staff Yasar Guler had a phone call with his counterpart from the United Kingdom.

The tweet said parties discussed “the current affairs.”

Bloomberg reported earlier the same day citing a senior Turkish official that Turkey had asked for Patriot missiles from the US to deter Russia in Idlib.

The move came after the relations between the NATO allies came under strain following a series of steps by Ankara, including a cross-border military operation against US-backed Kurdish militia in NE Syria and the purchase of S-400 air defense systems from Russia.

The latest attacks come amid clashes between Turkey-backed rebels and Syrian forces in Idlib, the last rebel-held enclave in the country. Turkish artillery provided cover for rebels looking to capture the town of Nairab in Idlib, prompting Russia to accuse Turkey of supporting militants in the region.

Turkey, which backs rebels looking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and already hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees, has said it cannot handle another wave of migrants and has closed its border.

Ankara and Moscow have held talks to stop the escalation in Idlib but have yet to find a solution. Turkish officials on Thursday were optimistic that an agreement could be reached, saying the talks had not been “completely without a result.”

But the escalation of violence in Idlib and the risk of a confrontation between Turkey and Russian-led Syrian forces have sent Turkish financial markets skidding.

Reuters, IPA

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