Since 2012 the M5 Damascus-Aleppo had been under the control of jihadist forces. The Syrian Army has now liberated the M5 Damascus-Aleppo road and over 140 cities, villages and strategic hills. Turkey and the Uzbeks, Uighurs and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra) failed to protect their fortified positions, abandoning them and retreating towards the area surrounding Idlib.
This is the first time the Turkish Army has been shelled by the Syrian Army. Five Turkish officers were killed at Taftanaz military airport, the base used by Turkey and its jihadists gather. Ankara was forced to send its own army onto the battlefield to compensate for the weakness of its jihadist allies on the ground.
The liberation of the 432 km of the M5 from jihadists was stipulated in the Astana agreement signed in October 2018, a stipulation which Turkey failed to honour since then. The Syrian government carried out three major advances towards the M5 since then, but this time the decision to recover it was final. This is a Syrian-Russian message to President Erdogan that time is running out for Idlib. The Turkish-Russian bras-de-fer is also reaching beyond the Syrian borders. It is also evident in Ukraine and Libya, where Turkey is seeking a major role.
The Russians are providing the Syrian Army with advanced warfare equipment and dozens of T-90s, which help the Army to continue its military offensives at night. This, along with the hundreds of Russian Air Force strikes, helped to liberate the entire area on the east side of the road and many other areas on the west side where the military operation continues. Moreover, Russia offered unparalleled military intelligence and planning support to the Syrian Army in this successful operation, as well as bombing the jihadists’ lines, and behind their retreat position as well.
What was surprising was the discovery of kilometres of underground tunnels with field hospitals, ammunition and life support goods that could have sustained a very long siege in all liberated areas on both sides of the M5 and in main cities like Saraqeb and El-Eiss. These tunnels were linked together, linking villages under the ground and some even 20 metres deep, enough to protect from air bombardment. The Jihadists were in a rush–they evacuated all these positions leaving everything behind.