ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Anticipating an eventual victory in what has been a three-month siege of al-Bab, Turkey’s President Tayyip Recep Erdogan indicated Syrian rebels, backed by Turkish troops, will turn eastward to Raqqa as part of Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield at a press conference
“After removing Deash, the YPG [Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units] and the PYD [Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party] from the region and getting Daesh [ISIS] out of Raqqa, it will be too much of a luxury for us to stay there. But it is currently too early to talk about such issues,” Hurriyet Daily News stated Erdogan said during a press conference on Sunday prior to departing for this week’s visits to Gulf states Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
“There will be no stop after al-Bab. There might be a problem of communication there. The capital of Daesh is not al-Bab, but Raqqa. The ultimate goal is to cleanse a 5,000-square-km area,” he added.
Turkish-backed rebels from the north and Syrian government loyalists converged last week on al-Bab and skirmished with each another, forcing the Russians to intervene.
“Our forces entered the centre,” AFP reported Erdogan said, adding it is “only a matter of time” before the town falls and “Daesh [ISIS] forces have begun leaving al-Bab completely.”
Erdogan’s remarks came on the same day as the Associated Press reported it was told by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that nine-tenths of al-Bab remains under IS control. The Britain-based Observatory receives its information from a network of contacts inside the war-torn country.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have controlled east of the Euphrates and imposed a crescent-shaped siege on ISIS-held Raqqa. The SDF is primarily made up of Kurdish forces including the YPG, which Turkey considers to be a terrorist group, and the 23,000-strong Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC).
The Arabic Al-Hayat newspaper reported on Sunday the commander of the Elite Forces within the SAC said only Arab forces within the SDF will enter Raqqa in the case of its liberation.
The cities of al-Bab and Raqqa are about 25 and 80 kilometers south of the Turkish border, respectively, and lie about140 kilometers apart on opposite sides of the Euphrates river.
Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield in August 2016 to maintain border security citing ISIS terrorism and a desire to deny the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) a safe haven in Kurdish areas of northern Syria.