Turkish backed rebels fighting as part of the Free Syrian Army claim to have taken control of a key road leading into the city of al-Bab. It’s part of a multi-pronged attack to oust ISIL militants from the area.
The Turkish-backed opposition forces advancing from the north are racing to seize al-Bab before Syrian government forces reach the town from the south.
The advance comes as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the final goal of his country’s incursion into Syria was to cleanse the border region of jihadists.
“After this operation to take al-Bab, the next targets in the east are Manbij and Raqqa.The ultimate goal is to establish a safe zone by cleansing a 4,000- to 5,000-square-km area of terrorists.”
The Turkish-backed forces are still a long way from Raqqa, which is largely surrounded by US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces.
In recent days Turkish forces claimed to have entered parts of al-Bab city centre, but the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, says Turkish troops have yet to enter the town’s centre, with the fighting still concentrated on its outskirts.
Ankara believes recent attacks in Turkey, including a New Year’s Day shooting at an Istanbul nightclub that killed 39 people, have been organised from al-Bab and Raqqa.
Last week CIA Director, Mike Pompeo arrived in Turkey in a bid to strengthen relations between the two countries.