The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) deployed roughly a division (over 20,000 soldiers) to Greater Idlib Province between Feb. 1 and March 31, 2020, according to a study published by the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
The deployments include experienced Turkish special forces, armored units and light infantry (aka “commando”) units that participated in prior Turkish operations in Afrin and northeast Syria, including the 5th Commando Brigade, which specializes in paramilitary operations and mountain warfare.
These forces established a new front line against regime forces west of the M5 highway, changing the military balance in Idlib and thereby compelling Russian President Vladimir Putin to agree to a new de-escalation deal on March 5.
However, Russia and Turkey have already failed to implement key elements of the deal, including joint patrols along the M4 highway. Turkey continues to reinforce its positions in Idlib in preparation for a possible resumption of hostilities.
A leader in the National Front for Liberation (NFL), speaking on condition of anonymity, said Turkey has begun, in the past few weeks, to withdraw elements from the opposition factions, according to the number of fighters in each faction, integrate them with Turkish soldiers inside the Turkish observation points in the region and let them move freely there except for entering the Turkish military operations room, the Enab Baladi news website reported.
The NFL leader added that Turkey aims to create an organized army in the region and to dissolve the structure of the armed opposition factions by slowly withdrawing their fighters. The leader described this step as positive to block the path for any party trying to come close to the Turks at the expense of others and create internal conflict.