March 19, 2020:
Recently in Syria, a UAV overhead captured a truly unusual encounter between a Syrian army T-72 tank and a Turkish ACV-15 APC (Armored Personnel Carrier) based on the American M-113 tracked vehicle. The incident occurred near the contested town of Naryad on February 20th as Turkish forces clashed with Syrian troops in northeastern Syria (Idlib province). The one minute UAV video showed a lone Syrian tank firing shells at some distant buildings. Down the road, behind the T-72, comes the ACV-15, also alone and probably acting as a scout for a larger force advancing to drive the Syrians out of Naryad. The semi-desert area is wide open and, if anyone in the T-72 had been standing up in the turret hatch as a lookout, this bizarre incident would never have occurred as it did.
The T-72 weighs about three times as much as the ACV-15 and is armed with a 125mm gun (with a 7.62mm machine-gun adjacent) and a 12.7mm machine-gun on the turret. The ACV-15 only has a 12.7mm machine-gun. With that in mind the Turk ACV-15 speeds in front of the T-72 to get its attention and the T-72 begins moving and turning its turret and 125mm gun around to get a shot at the APC. But the APC gets behind the T-72 which is now gaining more speed to get away from ACV-15 so it can use its 125mm gun. None of the tank crew open the turret hatch to man the 12.7mm machine-gun while the APC has at least one guy standing up manning the machine-gun and apparently shouting instructions to the driver. The APC rams the tank in the side as the turret swings around and this collision may have damaged the gun or the turret because at that point the T-72 speeds off down the road while the APC moves quickly in the opposite direction.
This incident explains a lot about what is going on in Syria at the moment. While the Syrian Army has been on the offensive for several years now, it has relied on Iranian (mainly Shia Afghans) and Russian (contractor) mercenaries along with some Russian army special operations troops to carry out the most difficult ground combat tasks. Russia also supplies lots of air support and heavy artillery while the Syrian army now has a rebuilt (by Russia) air force and artillery to also supply firepower. Syrian troops have been fighting for nine years and most of the remaining veterans have moved over to artillery and support units or local defense forces plus training new recruits. There are few new recruits and they are not enthusiastic. Apparently the crew of the T-72 was inexperienced because any well-trained tank crew would have had the commander with his head and shoulders out of the turret observing and supervising the operations of a lone tank. But that 125mm gun is loud and the tank commander stayed inside the tank because he thought he could get away with it. The tank commander may have panicked as well as the Turk APC outmaneuvered and rammed his tank. Since the APC was apparently not armed with ATGM (anti-tank-guided missiles) it was safe for the tank to just run away.
While the APC was Turkish the crew was not. Most of the Turkish APCs at the time of this incident were used by Turkish mercenaries belonging to the FSA (Free Syrian Army). These mercenaries are well trained and pretty confident after several years of battlefield success. The FSA was one of the few secular (non-Islamic terrorist) rebel groups and was initially (since 2011) supported by the U.S. and Turkey with training bases in Turkey and Jordan. The FSA were vastly outnumbered by Islamic terrorist, especially ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) rebel groups. The U.S. eventually halted support for the FSA operating out of Jordan. Turkey took over the ones in the north and imposed more discipline and higher training (by Turkish instructors) standards. The Turks also put their 10,000 of so FSA men on the payroll and provided sanctuary and eventual Turkish citizenship for families in Turkey. Until 2020 most of the “Turkish” troops in northern Syria were FSA, not actual Turkish army forces. The FSA were supplied with Turkish army weapons, vehicles and uniforms with insignia indicating they were FSA, not regular Turkish army. By 2018 the FSA were well-trained veterans and the Turks used them as they would Turk soldiers. The FSA took most of the “Turkish” casualties in Syria but the wounded were well cared for while the families of the dead received death benefits and were allowed to remain in Turkey. That was enough compensation to keep the FAS going. FSA personnel were Sunni Syrian Arabs and marked for death by the Shia Assads and their Iranian patrons.
To make the February 20 incident even more bizarre the UAV taking the video was not Turkish but a quadcopter operated by pro-Turk HTS (an al Qaeda affiliate) Islamic terrorists in Idlib. The current (since 2000) Turkish government is Islamic in outlook and inclined to tolerate or support some Islamic terrorist groups and most of the Islamic terrorists trapped in Idlib, often with their families. Those would like to take refuge in Turkey but the Turks are not that Islamic and wants the Syrian government, the UN or someone to take care of these last remaining Syrian Islamic terrorists without just murdering most of them. That is the method the Russians, Iranians and Syrian government favor. The current fighting in Idlib is about the Syrian government trying to force the issue and the APC versus T-72 incident was part of that. The HTS will cooperate with the FSA and Turks out of self-interest and it was the HTS that distributed the APC versus T-72 video.