Russian airstrikes killed dozens of Turkish-backed fighters in Syria’s northwest Idlib province on Monday. The strike targeted a camp for Faylaq al-Sham, one of the larger Turkish backed groups in Idlib.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), 78 fighters were killed, and more than 90 were wounded in the airstrikes.
Turkey sent thousands of fighters into Idlib earlier this year to halt a Syrian government offensive to retake Idlib, which is mostly controlled by Hayat Tahir al-Sham (HTS), an al-Qaeda affiliate formerly known as al-Nusra Front.
Russia and Turkey brokered a ceasefire in March to halt the violence in Idlib. While there has been shelling and minor offensives by both sides, the ceasefire has held relatively well. Monday’s airstrikes appear to be the largest Russian operations since the truce was reached.
Last week, the US carried out a drone strike in Idlib that killed 17 al-Qaeda-linked fighters and six civilians. According to the SOHR, the US strike killed former members of HTS who sided with Hurras al-Din, another al-Qaeda affiliate that recently split from HTS.
The US Joint Special Operations Command, with help from the CIA, is waging a covert drone war against Hurras al-Din in Idlib. The US also supports Turkey in its efforts against the Syrian government.
Turkey does not outright back HTS, but Ankara has coordinated closely with the al-Qaeda affiliate in Idlib, and Turkish-backed fighters have fought alongside the group.