Sixteen Turkish soldiers killed in fierce Bab battle
A total of 16 Turkish soldiers were killed in an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attack on Dec. 21 in the northern Syrian city of al-Bab, as Turkish troops and Ankara-backed Syrian rebels battle to take the town from jihadists.
Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Işık parliament on Dec. 22 that the number of Turkish soldiers who had been killed in al-Bab the previous day had risen to 16, hours after the death toll was given as 12.
Three other soldiers wounded in the attacks remain in critical condition, Işık said, adding that a total of 1,005 militants had been “neutralized.”
The fighting came as Turkey and Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters faced increasing resistance from militants in a battle to take the key town ISIL-held town of al-Bab.
Four soldiers were killed in attacks earlier on Dec. 21, the army had previously announced. The 12 others were killed later on Dec. 21.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Dec. 22 that around 200 ISIL militants were killed in the latest clashes.
“Our struggle is not an ordinary struggle. We have 16 martyrs; around 200 Daesh fighters have been killed,” said Erdoğan in Ankara, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.
“We could not stay silent against those that threaten our country, and we are doing what is necessary,” he added.
The Turkish Armed Forces gave the death toll of ISIL militants for Dec. 22 as 160. It said all of them were killed either in clashes or air strikes.
Five FSA members were killed and another 38 were wounded in the clashes, the military said.
A total of 228 ISIL targets were destroyed, it added.
The fierce fighting erupted as Turkish officials said the army was entering a key phase in the fight for al-Bab.
The town has become the main target of Turkey’s Euphrates Shield Operation, in support of FSA fighters against ISIL, President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) forces. The operation started on Aug. 24.
The army said the clashes erupted around a weapons depot that had been used by ISIL for the last two years.
“Turkey is in the midst of a great struggle – our fight against terror continues both in our country and outside our borders,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Dec. 22.
“This is an existential struggle for Turkey. This is a great battle in the name of Turkey’s unity. We will always guard this unity to the end in the face of terror,” Yıldırım added.
Speaking at a news conference with Albanian President Bujar Nishani on Dec. 21, Erdoğan expressed confidence that al-Bab would be taken from ISIL.
“Al-Bab has been completely besieged by the Free Syrian Army and our soldiers,” he said.
He also expressed hope that the town “would fall entirely sooner or later” and that the residents of al-Bab could find a chance to settle on their own territory.