SOHR: Turkish forces ‘fail to break into’ Syria’s al-Bab

Rebel fighters carry their weapons as they walk on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, Syria February 1, 2017, (c) REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi)

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Turkish forces have failed to enter the town of al-Bab for the second time after an initial attempt was pushed back last December.

The fight in al-Bab has turned out to be a completely different kind of affair to the one in Jarablus. While that town was taken from the Islamic State (IS) group by the Turkish army with barely a shot fired, the army’s second attempt to enter al-Bab in northern Syria was faced with fierce resistance by IS, forcing the army to retreat.

According to SOHR, the Turkish forces were given a “green light from Russia” for the operation. The town, which has been under the control of the Islamic State group since November 2013, has turned into something of a quagmire for the Turkish army.

Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation was launched, alongside several Islamist factions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), on 25 August 2015. The operation, which has entered its sixth month, was launched to counter the IS threat on the border and prevent a ‘Kurdish corridor’ in the region according to Turkish officials. Both pro-government analysts and those critical of Ankara’s policy have questioned the high number of Turkish soldiers killed since the start of the operation along with its economic costs.

Reports from various media outlets last week claimed that Turkey had agreed to withdraw from the town leaving it to the Syrian army, who are approaching al-Bab from the south. However, the Turkish government rejected these reports and said that they would continue their operations.

Meanwhile a Syrian military official speaking to Reuters has said they will fight the Turkish army and FSA groups it is backing, “if necessary”. The Syrian General Staff has stated its army will continue progressing towards al-Bab.

In its statement the SOHR also claims that the Turkish army is hoping to cut-off the Syrian army’s approach to al-Bab. While the two armies are manoeuvring in close proximity, concerns are lingering about possible hostilities if and when the two forces come face-to-face.