The Turkish army suffered mass casualties in a Russian airstrike, Turkish officials say, an attack that could dramatically shift the course of the Syrian war.
- Feb. 27, 2020, 4:57 p.m. ET
ISTANBUL — The Turkish army suffered mass casualties in what Turkey said was a Russian airstrike in northwest Syria late Thursday, an attack that could dramatically change the course of the Syrian war and risk opening a direct conflict between Russia and Turkey, a NATO member.
At least 22 Turkish soldiers were killed, said Rahmi Dogan, the Turkish governor of the southern province of Hatay, where the Turkish casualties were arriving. News reports citing social media messages and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, put the number of Turkish dead as high as 34.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey held an emergency meeting Thursday evening in Ankara, Turkish media reported. He has been calling for Syrian government and Russia forces to cease their two-month offensive in Idlib Province and to pull back from Turkish positions, which have been encircled and cut off by Syrian government forces.
Turkey has lost 13 soldiers since deploying reinforcements into the province in recent weeks which has caused growing concern in Turkey. The main opposition party has questioned the wisdom of Turkey’s involvement without air support or American or NATO support.
The attack occurred on a Turkish observation post at Al Bara, south of Idlib city. The post is one of 12 Turkish positions set up over a year ago as part of a de-escalation agreement with Russia.
A Turkish military convoy traveling to resupply the post on Thursday first came under attack and then jets bombed the post itself, Abu Yahya, a senior official of the Turkish-backed Syrian fighting force in Idlib province, said in an interview.
No Syrian fighters were hurt in the bombing. The resupply convoy and the post were solely Turkish.
The Turkish-backed Syrian fighters have made significant gains in battles against Syrian government forces further east recently. They captured the town of Saraqib on the main M5 highway through the province on Wednesday and were engaged in fierce battles further south on Thursday.
Carlotta Gall is the Istanbul bureau chief, covering Turkey. She previously covered the aftershocks of the Arab Spring from Tunisia, reported from the Balkans during the war in Kosovo and Serbia, and covered Afghanistan and Pakistan. @carlottagall • Facebook