Turkish-backed rebels capture main town before ISIL-held al Bab
ISTANBULTurkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels said they took the town of Qabasin from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Nov. 15, removing the last major hurdle in their drive to capture the northern city of al-Bab from the jihadists, rebels said, according to Reuters.
They said they took Qabasin, which lies several kilometers northeast of al-Bab, to set the stage for an onslaught on the last urban stronghold of ISIL in the northern Aleppo countryside.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that the FSA forces, which Turkey supports, 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,” Erdoğan said on Nov. 16 in Ankara before departing for Pakistan.
“We encountered little resistance and most of the ISIL fighters had gone when we entered the town,” Abu Bilal, a field commander from Ahrar al Sham rebel group in the vicinity of the area, said via Internet messaging, according to Reuters.
“This was their main line of defense [of al-Bab] and now we are set to storm the city from several fronts. It’s a battle that has already begun,” he added.
The capture of al-Bab would be a significant victory for Turkey, which launched a major offensive last August to secure its border region against both the ISIL and Kurdish advances.
Al-Bab is located 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Syria’s border with Turkey and the same distance from Aleppo, meaning its capture could also help rebels advance against pro-government forces besieging their comrades inside the city.