|Turkish Backed Rebel in Al bab|
The Syrian town of Al Bab was for three years a key extremist stronghold in northern Syria, whose capture Ankara hopes will give Turkey greater influence over the postwar shape of the country.
The town, whose name means “The Gate”, had an estimated prewar population of some 100,000 but was the target of an over three-month assault by Turkey and allied rebel forces which met with fierce resistance.
On Thursday, pro-Ankara rebels said they had fully captured the city while Turkey said near complete control had been imposed, with lingering extremists still needing to be flushed out.
Why was Al Bab key for the extremists?
According to Fabrice Balanche, visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, it became a stronghold of Daesh, home to many foreign extremists and their families and on a crucial position on the road east to the extremists’ de-facto capital of Raqqa.What does Al Bab mean for Turkey?
“It was a base for Daesh to launch offensives against the Syrian army and rebels in Raqqa province,” he told AFP.
I read numbers for Turkish soldiers nearing 70 dead. Unsure of the numbers for rebels- Can anyone assist?
Dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed supporting Syrian rebels in the fight for Al Bab as the extremists put up fierce resistance, including the use of suicide bombers.
Turkey’s offensive inside Syria began in lightning fashion with the capture of Jarabulus from Daesh on the first day of the operation on August 24 but stalled considerably in the fight for Al Bab.
Yet Ankara persisted, insisting that Al Bab operation would be pressed to the end.
Turkey has a huge interest in eliminating Daesh which killed dozens inside the country in terror attacks in 2016.
But crucially, it also wants to prevent Syrian Kurdish forces — who Ankara sees as a terror group — linking up their “cantons” of Jazira and Kobani to the east with Afrin to the West.
The area north of Al Bab controlled by pro-Turkish forces creates a crucial buffer between the cantons controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) that could give Ankara critical postwar access into northern Syria.
“The objective of the Turkish intervention in northern Syria is to prevent the joining of the Kurdish cantons of Afrin and Kobani,” said Balanche.
Stein said Turkey had succeeded in the original stated aims of its “Euphrates Shield” campaign inside Syria.
“Turkish forces have forced ISIS [Daesh] from the border and cut the overland route between the two Kurdish cantons.”
What next for Turkey?
Yet there had been no indication from Erdogan that the Turkish forces inside Syria want to rest on their laurels with the taking of Al Bab.
The president has indicated they want to move east to Manbij, where Kurdish-dominated forces ousted Daesh last year, and made very clear to Washington that Ankara does not expect to find Kurdish militia in the town.
“The US does not want Turkey to march on Manbij,” said Stein.
“I’m not sure Turkey really wants to march on Manbij but they want everyone to think they will, so they can extract concessions,” he added.
Then Turkey has said it has Raqqa in its sights, with Defence Minister Fikri Isik saying Ankara is prepared to join an international coalition to take the Daesh fiefdom but only if the Kurdish militia are not involved.
“The battle of Al Bab should prove the efficiency of the Turkish army and its allies to the United States, so that they do not use the Kurds of the PYD as their main ally in the Raqqa offensive,” said Balanche.