An airstrike has killed two Turkish soldiers and wounded five others in Syria's Idlib, Turkish Defense Ministry said on Feb. 20, as the province witnesses a sharp escalation of tensions.
Turkish Defense Ministry said that "over 50 regime elements, 5 tanks, 2 armored personnel vehicles, 2 armed pickups, 1 howitzer were destroyed" in Idlib in retaliation.
Turkey's Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said the soldiers, who were in Idlib to "establish peace and manage humanitarian aid operations," were killed by "an attack carried out by the [Syrian] regime."
As tension in the region continues to build up, Turkey reportedly asked the United States to deploy two Patriot missile-defense batteries on its southern border to free it to punish any future attacks by Syrian troops backed by Russian air power.Idlib dispute 'won't affect S-400 deal' with Russia
Ankara could use F-16 warplanes to strike units loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Idlib if the Patriots were deployed in Hatay on Turkey’s border to provide protection, a senior Turkish official, who’s familiar with Turkey’s policy in Syria, told Bloomberg.
Turkey is yet to receive a U.S. response to the request, which was relayed last week to James Jeffrey, the U.S. envoy for Syria engagement, the official said, asking not to be identified discussing sensitive information.
While Turkey is requesting the deployment of U.S.-operated Patriots, the two countries have wrangled for years over Turkish requests to buy the missiles. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has refused to agree to a deal unless Turkey first scraps an advance Russian missile-defense system it bought last year that Washington considers a threat to NATO’s capabilities.Turkey, Russia 'discuss joint patrols option' in Syria's Idlib
Turkey doesn’t see the Patriot request, made to a NATO ally at a difficult time for the country, as requiring any concessions on its part, the official said.
After suffering deaths in Syrian attacks, Turkey is determined to push back Syrian forces before the end of this month even at the cost of straining ties with Russia in tourism and trade, said the official.
Turkey would target Syrian forces in its offensive to defend Idlib, where about 40,000 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels as well as about 20,000 al-Qaeda linked jihadists are holed, according to the official.
Russia hits Turkey-backed militants
Earlier, Turkey-backed militants launched an offensive to take back two locations from the Syrian army, sources told Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency.
According to the sources, the militants entered the village of al-Nayrab and the city of Saraqib and began fierce clashes.Trump praises Erdoğan for 'trying to avoid tragedy' in Idlib
Simultaneously, Russian Defense Ministry said that Russian Air Force carried out airstrikes against the militants who burst through Syrian government positions in the aforementioned two areas of Idlib province, allowing the Syrian army to repel the attacks.
"So as not to allow the armed groups to make it deep into Syrian territory, Russian Su-25 aircraft carried out a strike… on the armed militant groups that burst through," it said.
Moscow also said Turkey provided artillery support to the militants, wounding four Syrian soldiers.
"The actions of the militants were supported by artillery fire from the Turkish armed forces, which allowed the terrorists to break through the defense of the Syrian army," the Russian Defense Ministry said.Russia warns Turkey on nationalist leader's 'provocative' remarks on Syria
The incidents come a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned of an imminent Turkish military offensive in Idlib, where Syrian forces, backed by Russia air power, have mounted an offensive to capture the region.
Earlier this month, 13 Turkish soldiers were killed in Syrian attacks, prompting Erdoğan to say that Turkey will strike Syrian forces "anywhere" in Syria if another soldier was hurt.
Throughout the Idlib standoff, Ankara and Moscow have kept channels of communication open in an effort to keep alive their uneasy partnership in Syria, where they are backing opposing sides. But Moscow and Damascus haven’t been deterred by the Turkish troop buildup, and on Feb. 19, the Kremlin retorted that a Turkish military operation would be “the worst option.”