‘Turkey losing battle in al-Bab’ claims prominent PKK figure

Leading PKK executive Murat Karayilan, thought to be based in the Qandil region in Iraqi Kurdistan

The Turkish army is losing the battle against Islamic State in Northern Syria’s al-Bab according to leading Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) figure Murat Karayilan.

Speaking to Denge Kurdistan (Voice of Kurdistan) radio on Saturday, Karayilan said Ankara was hiding the Turkish army’s defeat in al-Bab, a strategically important district on the Turkey-Syria border.

“They are hiding the truth from the people of Turkey. The media is hiding the number of casualties and only writing about the valour of Turkish soldiers. No one is asking them [the government and media] why they haven’t managed to take even a single building in al-Bab in 158 days. According to the government’s exorbitant figures [of killed IS members], there shouldn’t be any Daesh [IS] left in al-Bab. Now the media is claiming Daesh will withdraw from the city. This doesn’t matter because the Turkish army has already been defeated.”

Karayilan also claimed that if the Syrian Democratic Forces had been allowed to take al-Bab after the group’s victory in neighbouring Manbij in August last year, “it would have been over in a few weeks.”

The prominent figure, who also leads the PKK’s armed wing, added that Turkey was dependent on Russia in al-Bab. “In the beginning [Turkish President] Erdogan was confident; he was saying, ‘we will finish with al-Bab shortly and then proceed towards Manbij and Raqqa.’ Now he is saying, ‘God willing if al-Bab is finalised we will not progress.’ Erdogan has done another u-turn. He has become a master of u-turns. He cannot progress and is making excuses. Now they are hiding behind Russia because they believe only Russia can save them from this swamp.”

Karayilan asserted that the only objective of Ankara’s foreign policy was to prevent what he called “Kurdish gains in the region.”

“Their only grievance is with Kurds; they don’t want the Afrin and Kobani cantons [in Northern Syria] to unite,” Karayilan said, going on to add, “They don’t want Kurds to have a status in Rojava and are expending all of Turkey’s resources to prevent this.”

Meanwhile Turkey’s official state-run news agency AA, which is the only Turkish source reporting on al-Bab, has reported imminent victory, saying 391 IS militants have been killed with more than 2,700 targets hit in land and airstrikes. More than 2,000 jihadists have been killed since the beginning of the Euphrates Shield operation, according to AA.

Turkey launched the Euphrates Shield operation alongside several factions from the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) in August last year. The aim of the operation was to seize areas held by the IS and contain the expansion of Kurdish forces, according to Turkish military officials.

Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as affiliates of the PKK, which is proscribed in Turkey, the EU and US. However both the YPG and SDF are supported by the US-led global anti-IS coalition and are currently leading the battle to take Raqqa, the jihadist group’s de-facto capital in Syria.