The next target within the scope of the anti-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) operation, which Turkey launched around one month ago, is Syria’s al-Bab, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sept. 19.
“Jarablus has been finished [cleansed of ISIL militants]. Are the residents [of Jarablus] turning back in joy? They are. Likewise, al-Rai has been also cleansed. Now we are going down as far as al-Bab,” said Erdoğan Sept. 19 in Istanbul before his departure for New York, where he will give a speech at the 71st General Assembly of the United Nations.
“’But why are you going down there?’ That is the question now. We need to rid these places from being a threat to us,” he added.
The ISIL bastion of al-Bab is 30 kilometers (18 miles) from al-Rai on the Turkish border and in the battleground province of Aleppo.
Launching Operation Euphrates Shield on Aug. 24, the Turkish army and Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), took the northern Syrian town of Jarablus from ISIL militants and continued to expand their operation to rid the area of both ISIL fighters and also the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey says is a terrorist organization as it is an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkey has also closed ISIL’s contact with the outside world via its border as a result of this operation.
“As part of the Euphrates Shield Operation, an area of 900 square kilometers has been cleared of terror so far. We are pushing this line to the south now,” Erdoğan said.
“We may evaluate this area as a total of 5,000 square kilometers as part of a safe zone.”
Turkey has long argued for the need for a “safe zone” or a “no-fly” zone along its Syrian border, with the aim of clearing out ISIL militants and stemming a wave of migration that has fuelled tensions in Europe.
But Western allies have so far balked at the idea, saying it would require a significant ground force and planes to patrol, marking a major commitment in such a crowded battlefield.
Erdoğan said the PYD’s aim in Syria was to join the cantons to Afrin and thus reach the Mediterranean Sea.
“Tel Abyad is inhabited by Arabs. With various operations, first Daesh [ISIL] left the areas it conquered here to the PYD and YPG. They started at the easternmost point. They came along [to the west]. The aim is to unite with Afrin and through this, reach the Mediterranean,” said Erdoğan.
He added that the Manbij region was also predominantly Arab-populated and that Turkey had told the U.S. and the anti-ISIL coalition that the PYD and YPG should not take part in the operations to liberate Manbij.
Meanwhile, Turkish jets hit ISIL targets in northern Syria late Sept. 18 destroying three targets including a weapons depot, shelter and local headquarters, Anadolu Agency reported.
A weapons depot, a shelter and the group’s headquarters in Baragitah/Sandarah regions were destroyed, the agency quoted anonymous military sources as saying.
Turkey, a member of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL, opened up a new line of attack in northern Syria on Sept. 3, as Turkish tanks crossed the frontier from the southern province of Kilis, starting a western leg in an operation to remove militants from its border.