A strategic hill overlooking the Syrian town of al-Bab has been captured by the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) while clashes have resumed for the town’s control, the Turkish military said in a statement on Feb. 8.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said the forces of the Euphrates Shield operation have surrounded al-Bab on all sides, while presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın also said on Feb. 8 that Turkish units had entered the center of al-Bab were engaged in cleaning operations in the city.
Five Turkish soldiers were killed during the operation, Doğan News Agency reported on Feb. 8.
In a written statement, the Turkish General Staff said 15 other soldiers were also slightly injured during clashes with ISIL militants earlier in the day.
The military also offered condolences to the families of the soldiers killed.
The military said 58 militants had been killed in clashes, air strikes and artillery fire. Army units pounded 189 ISIL targets, including shelters, defense positions, command centers and heavy weapons, while air strikes destroyed 65 ISIL targets, including shelters, checkpoints, tunnel entrances, headquarters and a technical area, the statement read. The U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition also carried out seven air strikes in the al-Bab region, destroying 10 shelters, a tunnel entrance, a defense position and an armored vehicle.
Next target Raqqa: Turkish FM
The Euphrates Shield Operation has made important progress in capturing al-Bab and the next target will be the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said, speaking at a joint news conference with his Saudi counterpart, Adil al-Jubeyr.
He noted that there were three key remaining cities – al-Bab, Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq – in the fight against ISIL, adding that Ankara and Washington would “cooperate on these cities and in general” against ISIL.
“For this reason, the al-Bab operation should be completed as soon as possible. In recent days, our special forces, our troops and the soldiers of the Free Syrian Army have made serious progress. The air support from the coalition and Russia’s operations against Deash have also contributed to this. We want to complete this operation as soon as possible,” Çavuşoğlu said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.
He reiterated Ankara’s position that members of the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition could send special operations teams to seize Raqqa from ISIL without relying on the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Washington’s main local ally against ISIL but a group detested by Ankara for its alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party(PKK).
Turkey presents plan for Raqqa
Turkey has presented a detailed plan to drive ISIL out of its Raqqa stronghold in northern Syria and discussions on the issue are underway, Kalın told broadcaster NTV. The plan envisages military incursions by the Turkey-backed FSA to take control of Raqqa, which is the subject of an offensive by the PYD-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at present.
Kalın said a possible Turkish move on Raqqa was discussed with former U.S. administration officials, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford in his recent trip to Ankara.
Kalın said there had been better coordination with the U.S.-led coalition on air strikes in the last 10 days and that Ankara’s priority was to establish a safe zone between the Syrian towns of Azaz and Jarablus.
Necessary precautions have also been taken as a result of coordination with Russia to avoid confrontation with government forces around al-Bab, he said, as the Syrian army is conducting military operation in the southern part of the city.