In its weekly press briefing on Saturday, the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) said 3,049 Islamic State (IS) militants and PKK/PYD members had been ‘neutralised’ in the Euphrates Shield operation launched in August 2016.
“A total of 2,705 Daesh [IS] terrorists, 2,288 dead, and 344 PKK/PYD terrorists, 322 dead, have been neutralised in 172 days of the Euphrates Shield operation” the state-run news agency AA reported.
The figure has raised eyebrows amongst commentators who have questioned whether there could have been so many IS militants in the region. Others have emphasised that Turkish and FSA forces had not met with substantial IS resistance until the launch of the al-Bab phase of the operation on 9 December 2016. The figures given by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey says is affiliated with the PKK, also do not corroborate the Turkish army’s figures.
Meanwhile Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a news conference before his trip to Bahrain on Sunday said Turkey’s operation in al-Bab was almost complete and that its end goal in Syria was IS-held Raqqa.
“The ultimate goal is to cleanse a 5,000-square-km area,” Erdogan said, adding that Turkish forces had no intention of staying in Syria after cleansing the area of the IS group and Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Erdogan’s statements threw up many questions regarding Turkey’s future role in Syria as Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA) continues its operation in the south of al-Bab and the Kurdish-Arab-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) close in on Raqqa.