The door to Raqqa is al-Bab

The door to Raqqa is al-Bab

I started the day with a question from a colleague about the situation in al-Bab. I have also been looking for an answer for days during talks with generals, ambassadors and representatives of the groups in the field. 

The Euphrates Shield Operation has been going for more than 170 days. In the first 70 days, the 900 square kilometers of land between Jarablus and Marea was taken from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the next 100 days have been spent around al-Bab. 

There are those who say that the capture of al-Bab was in the plans when the Euphrates Shield was launched; there are others who say, “When the People’s Protection Units (YPG) wanted to join the Afrin-Manbij corridor, then the al-Bab operation became inevitable.”

We don’t know which one is right, but it is certain that the toughness of the operation was known from the start.  

Turkish military commanders planning the operation wish to complete the operation with minimum casualties. For this reason, they do not foresee an urban war where special forces or the Free Syrian Army will fight street by street in al-Bab. 

Instead of this, they determine ISIL targets, together with the Air Force and hit them with artillery units. The FSA then besieges and seizes these targets. Those places seized are reinforced and are made into military quarters. 

Meanwhile, most of the casualties that have occurred up to now have happened as a result of suicide attacks at the temporary quarters the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have set up at the places seized. 

As of this moment, a highway approaching al-Bab from the north, two main roads and stabilized roads, as well as the towns of Qabasin and Bza’a on the way, have been seized by the FSA. The highway between al-Bab and Aleppo is also under FSA control. The TSK and the FSA are holding all the northern junctions and western entrances, as well as the al-Bab hospital and Jabal Akil, gaining a strategic position.

On the other hand, the south of the al-Bab-Aleppo highway and the town of Tadef on the road that connects al-Bab to Raqqa are in the hands of the forces that support the regime. 

In other words, ISIL terrorists have been squeezed into al-Bab except for a few secret supply lines. 

“Bab” means door in Arabic. The town al-Bab can be counted as the door to Raqqa for the TSK and FSA. After al-Bab is taken, Ankara has in its bag a 10,000-men army made up of Arab components that will be selected from the FSA and which will be separate from the Syrian Democratic Forces in which the Democratic Union Party (PYD)/ People’s Protection Units (YPG) dominate; this force will take Raqqa from ISIL – of course with the support of the United States and Turkey’s special operations. 

This plan was conveyed to Ankara’s very important visitor on Feb. 9, new CIA Director Mike Pompeo.   
Pompeo’s star rose with the Tea Party. He served six years in Congress after he was elected in 2011 from Kansas. He is known for his tough opposition to ex-President Barack Obama and his work in the commission on the 2012 lynching of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi, Chris Stevens. 

While he was in politics, he was remembered for his sensitivity to “radical Islam” and with declarations that angered Muslims. His statements after the Boston Marathon terror attack also drew many reactions. 

If he had stayed in politics, because of his “sensitivities,” he may not have been open to the FSA Turkey is supporting in Syria. He could have recommended that his boss, Donald Trump, continue with the plan of capturing Raqqa with the PYD/YPG. However, he is now on the “administration” side of the table and if he is convinced that the FSA can win a victory against ISIL with Turkey’s support, then the situation could change. 

As long as the groups within the FSA can end their retreats that annoy the Turkish commanders from time to time.