The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is “completely besieged” in its last major stronghold in Syria’s Aleppo province, a war monitor said on Feb. 6, after pro-regime forces cut a road on the south of the town, while the rest of it surrounded by Ankara-backed rebel forces.
ISIL fighters were cut off in the northern Syrian town of al-Bab after forces loyal to the government of President Bashar al-Assad severed a road into the northern town, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, according to Agence France-Presse.
“Al-Bab is now completely besieged by the regime from the south, and the Turkish forces and rebels from the east, north and west,” said the Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources on the ground for its reports.
It came after “the regime’s forces and allied militia seized the only and last main road used by the jihadists between al-Bab and Raqqa,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, referring to the jihadists’ de facto capital in Syria.
Regime forces were backed by fighters from Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah and by Russian artillery, said the Observatory.
The town of al-Bab, 25 kilometers south of the border with Turkey, is seen as a prize by nearly all sides in the complex war.
Since December last year, Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel fighters have edged toward al-Bab from the north wing with the backing of Turkish forces, artillery and air strikes.
In January, Turkey’s air force began carrying out joint bombing raids around al-Bab with al-Assad’s ally Russia.
The two parties back opposing sides in the war but have joined forces in recent months to try to bring an end to the conflict.
U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition forces have also recently conducted air strikes in the al-Bab region in support of Turkey.
Al-Assad has refocused on ISIL since fully recapturing Aleppo city in December 2016, in the biggest blow to rebel forces fighting to topple his regime for nearly six years.
As Ankara-backed forces and Syrian regime troops edge closer to al-Bab from different sides, the Turkish military said on Feb. 6 in a written statement that a total of 21 ISIL militants were “neutralized” in northern Syria as part of its ongoing Euphrates Shield operation.
Authorities use the word “neutralized” to refer to militants who are killed, incapacitated or captured.
In a statement, the Turkish Armed Forces also said 256 ISIL targets, including defensive placements and shelters, had been hit.
Turkish jets destroyed 65 ISIL targets in al-Bab and Bzagah, including 59 buildings used by militants, the statement added.
In addition, a total of 57 mines and 3,704 improvised explosive devices have been defused since the start of the operation on Aug. 24, 2016, according to the statement.
The Euphrates Shield operation aims to tighten border security, eliminate terror threats along Turkish borders and support FSA opposition forces in Syria.
ISIL is among several jihadist movements that have shot to prominence during the Syrian war, which has left more than 310,000 people dead and has forced millions more from their homes.
Al-Assad’s forces were also locked in fighting with ISIL in the central province of Homs on the weekend, the observatory said.
On Feb. 4, U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters comprising the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced a new and third phase in their campaign to capture Raqqa, but said they needed more weapons to win.
The SDF launched their offensive for the key jihadist stronghold in November last year and have taken some ground further up the Euphrates Valley but are still some distance away.
SDF fighters have received training and air support from the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL. Last week Washington said it had provided them with armored sports utility vehicles (SUVs) for the first time