Turkey-backed forces take control of outer districts of Syria’s al-Bab: Turkish PM

Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces have taken control of the outer districts of the Daesh-held city of al-Bab in northern Syria, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Wednesday.

“Currently the town is besieged from every side. The outer districts of the town have been brought under control,” Yıldırım told a news conference in Ankara broadcast live.

The Turkish military has been surrounding the Daesh-controlled town of al-Bab for weeks as part of the ongoing operation.

“As a result of operations launched last night in order to capture al-Bab, the Turkish Armed Forces and the FSA have taken control of hills with strategic significance,” the Turkish military reported.

A total of 58 Daesh terrorists were neutralized in air strikes, artillery fire and clashes in the past 24 hours as part of the ongoing Operation Euphrates Shield.

Turkish jets destroyed 254 Daesh targets, and coalition forces conducted seven airstrikes and destroyed 13 targets, in the al-Bab region.

The Turkish military has been surrounding the Daesh-controlled town of al-Bab for weeks as part of the ongoing operation.

Since the operation’s launch, 3,719 handmade explosives and 57 mines have been neutralized under controlled conditions.

The Turkish-led operation, aided by the FSA, was launched in late August to improve security, support coalition forces and eliminate the threat of terror along the Turkish-Syrian border.

Operation Euphrates Shield has cleared a total of 227 residential areas and 1,875 square kilometers of land along northern Syria’s Azaz-Jarabulus corridor, which runs parallel the Turkish border.

Next target Raqqa: Turkish FM

The Euphrates Shield Operation has made important progress in capturing al-Bab and the next target will be the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said, speaking at a joint news conference with his Saudi counterpart, Adil al-Jubeyr.

He noted that there were three key remaining cities – al-Bab, Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq – in the fight against ISIL, adding that Ankara and Washington would “cooperate on these cities and in general” against ISIL.

“For this reason, the al-Bab operation should be completed as soon as possible. In recent days, our special forces, our troops and the soldiers of the Free Syrian Army have made serious progress. The air support from the coalition and Russia’s operations against Deash have also contributed to this. We want to complete this operation as soon as possible,” Çavuşoğlu said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.

He reiterated Ankara’s position that members of the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition could send special operations teams to seize Raqqa from ISIL without relying on the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Washington’s main local ally against ISIL but a group detested by Ankara for its ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkey presents plan for Raqqa

Turkey has presented a detailed plan to drive ISIL out of its Raqqa stronghold in northern Syria and discussions on the issue are underway, Kalın told broadcaster NTV. The plan envisages military incursions by the Turkey-backed FSA to take control of Raqqa, which is the subject of an offensive by the PYD-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at present.

Kalın said a possible Turkish move on Raqqa was discussed with former U.S. administration officials, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford in his recent trip to Ankara.

Kalın said there had been better coordination with the U.S.-led coalition on air strikes in the last 10 days and that Ankara’s priority was to establish a safe zone between the Syrian towns of Azaz and Jarablus.

Necessary precautions have also been taken as a result of coordination with Russia to avoid confrontation with government forces around al-Bab, he said, as the Syrian army is conducting military operation in the southern part of the city.