Five Turkish soldiers have been killed in an attack by advancing Syrian government forces against a Turkish military post in northwest Syria, Turkey’s Defense Ministry says.
According to a statement by Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense on Monday, the attack on the base in the Taftanaz area in the volatile Idlib province also wounded five Turkish soldiers.
Taftanaz is situated some 17 kilometers northeast of the eponymous provincial capital.
Reuters quoted an unnamed source from a Turkish-backed militant group as saying that the Syrian army troops had shelled the Turkish base. It also cited some witnesses that Turkish choppers flew into the area to evacuate the wounded.
Last week, seven more Turkish troopers were killed in Idlib after their position came under shelling from Syrian government forces.
The Syrian army, backed by Russian air cover, has already regained almost all territories once controlled by terrorists, except portions of Aleppo and large swaths of Idlib, the last stronghold of Takfiri militants.
Turkey claims 115 Syrian govt. targets hit, 101 destroyed
Later on Monday, Ankara claimed that its forces have hit 115 Syrian government targets and destroyed 101 of them in retaliation for the attack on Turkish soldiers in Syria’s militant-held northwest.
Issuing a statement, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said its forces will continue to retaliate any attacks on its troops, who are manning observation posts in the far northwest of Syria.
“Up to now, 115 (Syrian) … targets were immediately fired upon, and 101 … elements were neutralized according to initial information from various sources,” the ministry added.
The statement then said, “It was found that three tanks and two mortar positions were destroyed, while one helicopter was also hit.”
In August last year, Syrian troops commenced an ongoing full-scale offensive to flush terrorists out of these two regions and so far have made significant advances. The Syrian army says it is resolute to crush militants in these two regions and pave the way for the safe return of the displaced to their homes.
However, Turkey, which supports some militant groups in Idlib, has recently boosted its military presence in the flashpoint province to impede increasing advances by the Syrian army troops.
An unnamed militant commander told Reuters that militants had launched an attack against the Syrian army troops near the recently-liberated Saraqib city with the help of Turkish military earlier on Monday. The news agency also cited witnesses as saying that Turkish troops had shelled Syrian military positions in the region.
Turkey, which currently hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, claims that the Syrian government’s operation in Idlib will send more refugees to the Anatolian country and that it cannot absorb any more.
Ankara has also called on Damascus to pull back in Idlib by the end of the month or face Turkish action.
Over the past four years, the Turkish military has staged at least two unauthorized invasions into northern Syria to push back against Kurdish militants, which Ankara accuses of harboring subversive intentions against the Turkish administration.
Syria has denounced the offensives, saying it would respond in kind if the need arose.
The fresh Turkish deployment in Idlib came as Turkish and Russian officials, whose countries support opposing sides in Syria’s nearly nine-year war, met in Ankara to discuss the fighting in the last major enclave of militants.
The two sides held three hours of inconclusive talks over the weekend, agreeing to meet again next week.