Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that as soon as the Turkey-led battle for al-Bab city is completed, the Turkish military operations in northern Syria will be over.
“It is necessary to finish the job in al-Bab and not go deeper down. The work done is in this direction,” Erdogan said.
In the meantime, the Turkish army said in a statement that Islamic State’s (ISIS) militants started to withdraw from al-Bab city, as the Euphrates Shield Operation –carried out by Turkey and allied rebels– entered its 157th day.
This while in the past Turkish officials suggested that after capturing al-Bab city, the Turkish army forces and Turkey-backed rebels would attack the city of Manbij –that was liberated from ISIS by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) on 13 August.
Shortly afterwards, Turkey launched on 24 August the so-called Euphrates Shield Operation, fearing that the Kurds could connect their local canton administrations of Efrin and Kobani, and started to attack YPG, ISIS, and the SDF Northern Aleppo to create a security region.
The Kurds have denounced the Turkish operation as an occupation of Syria, and vowed to resist it with the help of local forces.
According to analysts, the al-Bab operation will most likely continue.
Aaron Stein, a senior resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, told ARA News that until now it’s unclear if ISIS has withdrawn from al-Bab.
“All available evidence suggests that Islamic State will continue to fight advancing Turkish forces. However, the group has also built up defenses around Tedef, just south of al-Bab,” he said.
“So, in theory, they could withdraw to refortify their position. Al-Bab will eventually fall, there is no doubt about that, but the options for Turkey after that are limited, unless they are willing to sustain more casualties and an open-ended military confront ration with various different insurgent actors,” Stein told ARA News.
Meanwhile, a former Turkish diplomat, who spoke to ARA News on condition of anonymity, said that he never expected the Turkish army to enter al-Bab. “And definitely not for a second that it would turn to Manbij or even further to Raqqa.”
“Now with the Russians playing ball with PYD [Kurdish Democratic Union Party in Syria], it gets even further down the road and the Trump administration seems to prove to become a sour disappointment for Erdogan,” the ex-diplomat said.
“Turkey is finding out the hard way that fighting ISIS is not any easy task,” said Amberin Zaman, Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
“The Turkish Army is a conventional force. They don’t do suicide bombings or VBIEDS [car bombs]. ISIS does,” she told ARA News. “Turkish soldiers dying in Syria is not easy to explain before the critical referendum on the presidency. Turkey will continue however to put pressure on the YPG [Kurdish People’s Protection Units] and the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] in Manbij and Afrin [Efrin].”
“Turkey’s future moves will also be determined by those of the Trump administration and whether or not they decide to continue working with the YPG and the SDF. All signs indicate that they will,” she concluded.
On Saturday, the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım vowed that Turkey would continue to attack the Kurds in Syria.
“YPG and PYD are same as the PKK. They can have different names, but we will clean these terrorist groups from the region,” he said during a joint press conference with the British Prime Minister Theresa May in Ankara.
On Sunday, Syrian regime forces approached six kilometers from al-Bab, while Turkish soldiers and Turkey-backed rebels continued to advance slowly from the north.
Turkish media reported on Sunday that the Turkish Ayhan Elmaci (29) was killed in al-Bab by an ISIS attack.
Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News
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