Well-informed military analyst Metin Gürcan has detailed what transpired on the day of the attack that targeted Turkish troops in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib.
A columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse, Gürcan based his report on local sources and said the deadly attack was carried out by two Russian and Syrian jets “in coordinated action.”
“At around 5 p.m.[on Feb. 27], a Turkish mechanized infantry battalion, comprised of about 400 soldiers, became the target of an airstrike on a road between al- Bara and Balyun, some 5 kilometers (3 miles) north of Kafr Nabl in southern Idlib. According to local sources contacted by Al-Monitor, two Russian Sukhoi Su-34 and two Syrian Su-22 fighter jets had launched intensive bombings of Turkey-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) targets in southern Idlib at around 11 a.m. that day. The same jets hit the Turkish convoy in coordinated action, the sources said,” the columnist wrote.
“A first, a relatively lighter strike by the Su-22s forced the convoy to stop, after which the pounding intensified, forcing the soldiers to take shelter in several roadside buildings. What followed next was likely the dropping of KAB-1500L bombs — a variation of advanced laser-guided bunker buster bombs capable of penetrating to depths of up to 20 meters (65 feet) — by the Russian jets. Two of the buildings collapsed in the attack, leaving the Turkish soldiers under the rubble,” Gürcan said.
'Actual death toll is somewhere between 50-55'
Although Ankara’s official death toll currently stands at 33, it is unclear whether any soldiers could be still trapped under the rubble, Gürcan wrote. “According to unconfirmed information obtained by Al-Monitor, the actual death toll is somewhere between 50 and 55,” he said.
Gürcan also wrote that Turkey's putting the blame just on the Syrian government forces and not making any reference to Russia is “an important sign that Ankara is unwilling to break ties with Moscow immediately.”
“Remarkably, Ankara singled out the regime as the culprit, with no reference to Russia, in its initial reactions, vowing a powerful retaliation. This is an important sign that Ankara is unwilling to break ties with Moscow immediately, which suggests it will maintain a rhetoric blaming the regime for the attack on the convoy,” he wrote.
He also said that Moscow rejected Ankara’s request to open the Idlib air space to Turkish helicopters to airlift the casualties, as a result of which the killed and injured soldiers were transported by road to Turkey's border district of Reyhanlı in the Hatay province.
The well-informed analyst also wrote that he believed the escalation in Idlib is "a deliberate, well-calculated Russian move and Moscow’s attitude could hardly be taken for granted as a sign that it is willing to step back to de-escalate the crisis."