Coalition not backing Turkish move on al-Bab, says US

Coalition not backing Turkish move on al-Bab, says US

Coalition not backing Turkish move on al-Bab, says US

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The U.S.-led international coalition battling to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is not backing a drive by Turkish forces and Ankara-backed Syrian rebels to retake the jihadist stronghold of al-Bab in northern Syrian, the Pentagon said on Nov. 16.

Their offensive on the city of Al-Bab is not being supported by coalition air strikes because it was “independently” launched by Turkey, said U.S. Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition fighting the jihadist group in Syria and Iraq.

“That’s a national decision that they have made,” Dorrian said, speaking from Baghdad in a videoconference with reporters, AFP reported.

The U.S. military spokesman said the United States had withdrawn some special forces soldiers who had been deployed to support the Turkish forces and their allies.

“They are not a part of the advance in al-Bab,” he said.

The lack of coalition support for the al-Bab operation illustrates the strained ties as Turkey and its allies adopt differing strategies for defeating ISIL in areas the jihadists still control in northern Syria.

Turkey and U.S. are also at odds over the designation of Peoples’ Protection Unit (YPG), the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), operating in northern Syria. 

Turkey regards them as a terrorist organization, while the U.S. sees them as an effective partner in the fight against ISIL. 

“What we would like to do is to continue to work with them [the Turks} to develop a plan where everyone remains focused” on defeating ISIL, Dorrian said.

He warned against the partners “converging on a way that can be unhelpful.” 

Al-Bab, a city of 100,000 about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the Turkish border, has been a key target for Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies since its campaign called Euphrates Shield Operation began on Aug. 24.

Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels said they took the town of Qabasin from ISIL on Nov. 15, removing the last major hurdle in their drive to capture the northern city of al-Bab from the jihadists.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Nov. 16 that the FSA forces had approached al-Bab in preparation for a siege.

“The FSA is 2 kilometers [from al-Bab] right now. And with the support of our special forces, the siege is beginning as planned and the al-Bab process will be completed at point blank. Now there is a resistance there. But I don’t anticipate it to be long,” he said.

Meanwhile, two FSA fighters have been martyred and eight others injured in fighting in northern Syria, the Turkish military said on Nov. 17.      

The Turkish Armed Forces issued a statement that said the fighters were martyred on Nov. 16 but did not specify where the fighting took place. 

The military added that 60 ISIL and three PYD targets were hit in airstrikes, including shelters, defensive positions, command centers, guns and vehicles. Again, it did not give a location.