Turkish warplanes destroyed 10 Daesh targets in northern Syria while rebels backed by Turkey seized control of a highway between the key regional towns of Al-Bab and Manbij, the Turkish army said today.
The military moves are part of Turkey’s almost four-month-old “Euphrates Shield” operation to support the Syrian opposition to secure areas of the Turkish-Syrian border that are deemed to be a national security imperative for Ankara.
The Turkish operation seeks to push back both Daesh militants and Kurdish separatists from the PYD, both accused of being connected to terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of Turkish citizens over the past two years.
Today’s statement from the Turkish military said Turkish jets had destroyed seven buildings and three control points used by Daesh in four different parts of the region.
The onslaught followed a Turkish state media report yesterday that Ankara had sent 300 commandos to northern Syria to reinforce the operation.
The Turkish-backed forces are now besieging Al-Bab, the last urban stronghold of Daesh in the northern Aleppo countryside. Their advance will potentially pit Turkish forces against both Kurdish fighters and Syrian government forces.
However, Turkey is likely to avoid any direct clashes with the Assad regime, as it is keen not to upset Russia that it has only just mended ties with after shooting down one of Moscow’s jets last year.
Signs that Turkey will avoid fighting with the Assad regime increased last month, when Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told MEMO last month that the operation to take Al-Bab will not extend to relieving east Aleppo, which is currently on the verge of falling.
This despite the fact that Aleppo is only a few kilometres from Al-Bab, and a number of Turkish allies are about to face a crushing defeat there.
The army statement said Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters had to a large extent achieved control over the highway between Al-Bab and Manbij, a town which was wrested from Daesh in August by Kurdish-led forces backed by the United States.
Ankara regards the Kurdish YPG, a key component of those forces, as a hostile group with deep ties to Kurdish militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who have fought a three-decade insurgency in Turkey claiming tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians.
The PKK is classified as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Manbij is a target for the “Euphrates Shield” operation after it seizes Al-Bab, definitively closing the door on any hope that the operation might move to relieve beleaguered Aleppo before it falls to the Russia and Iran-backed Assad regime.