Turkish troops sweeping ISIL in al-Bab: Ankara
AA photoTurkish troops and Turkey-backed Syrian rebels are conducting a cleaning up operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in al-Bab, which Turkey has been trying to liberate since December 2016 as part of its ongoing Euphrates Shield Operation, officials have said.
“Al-Bab is totally encircled at the moment. There is a serious sweep being conducted inside. There is busy activity to clear [al-Bab] from Daesh,” Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Işık told reporters on Feb. 16 in Brussels, on the sidelines of the NATO Defense Ministers’ meeting.
“After this clearing, we expect life to return to normal in al-Bab,” he added.
Turkey launched its Euphrates Shield operation on Aug. 24, 2016, in order to clear its border of terrorist organizations, which include ISIL but also the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG).
Turkey regards both the PYD and YPG as terror organizations due to their links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), with which it has been engaged in armed clashes since the mid-1980s.
While the first phases of the operation were easier with regards to liberating towns and land in northern Syria from ISIL, Turkey and the FSA have faced strong resistance in al-Bab.
The Turkish troops and FSA members have been fighting near al-Bab since December 2016 and both forces have experienced many casualties during this time.
Işık’s remarks came hours after Turkish daily Sabah reported that Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar had said the al-Bab operation was over.
“Good news! The al-Bab operation is over,” a report in Sabah released on Feb. 16 quoted Akar as telling a small group of reporters in Doha, where he went as part of a wider visit to the region together with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Talking about the details of the al-Bab operation as part of Turkey’s ongoing Euphrates Shield operation, Akar said two big traps, which included bombs, were destroyed and that cleansing efforts were underway in the region, according to the report.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Feb. 14 that al-Bab was now “largely” under the control of the Syrian rebels after months of clashes with jihadists.
At least 15 ISIL terrorists were “neutralized” in northern Syria in the last 24 hours as part of the ongoing Euphrates Shield operation, according to a Turkish General Staff statement released early on Feb. 16.
Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the militants in question to be either killed or captured.
Also, 258 ISIL targets, including ISIL’s shelters, possible defense positions and tunnel mouths have been hit by FSA fighters with Turkish Land Forces support, the statement said.
In addition, Turkish fighter jets destroyed 20 buildings including 15 hideouts, two headquarters, two arms depots and an armed vehicle belonging to ISIL.