"Turkey’s policy aimed at preventing Syrian Kurds from gaining a swath of territory along the Turkish-Syrian border has totally trumped its desire to see the end of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Developments show that Turkey at this point is even enabling Assad’s drive to regain control of Syria. The Turkish drive to capture the Islamic State (IS) stronghold of al-Bab, only 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Turkish border, also aims at curbing Kurdish aspirations. Gaining control of this town has become a matter of prestige for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been arguing for weeks that it is on the verge of being taken.
The problem for Turkey, however, is that it is not just Kurds attached to the People's Protection Units (YPG) — which Ankara views as a terrorist group linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — who are racing to take al-Bab.
The Syrian regime also wants the town to consolidate its imminent victory in Aleppo. Al-Bab is a gateway to Aleppo, which also leaves Moscow concerned that it could provide a supply line for anti-regime fighters.
Reports have appeared in the Turkish media claiming that the Syrian army and the YPG are collaborating to enter the town before the Turkish-supported Free Syrian Army (FSA). But following assurances by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim regarding Turkey's intention in Syria, given during his visit to Moscow last week, there are indications that Ankara has obtained a conditional green light from Russia to move on al-Bab."
It does appear that Russia is copacetic with Turkish forces and their FSA allies taking al-Bab… at least for now. The Russians and the SAA clearly have other fish to fry. At least the Turks are occupying the attention of a sizable number of IS jihadis. The Turks have moved three hundred or so “commandos” to al-Bab along with a number of their Leopard 2 tanks. Within the last 48 hours, Turkish authorities report four F-16s have hit 28 IS targets in the area with another 157 targets hit by artillery.
The IS is not just rolling over in this fight. The Hurriyet Daily News said IS has fortified the city with nearly a thousand ditches including two meter wide anti-tank ditches supported by minefields and anti-tank weapons. Three Leopard 2s have been reported to be destroyed by IS TOW-2s and Konkurs missiles as of yesterday. The Turkish/FSA offensive is stalled on the outskirts of al-Bab. The U.S. is providing no air or ground support to this Turkish offensive.
The Turks will probably take al-Bab before too long, but what’s next? Erdogan has answered that question himself. Anadalou Agency quoted Erdogan as saying, "At this moment, we are focused on al-Bab, we have surrounded al-Bab on the west, and we will go from here to Manbij.” Well that should get interesting.
AIN ISSA, Syrian Kurdistan (Kurdistan24) – The US-backed Syrian Kurdish-Arab alliance announced on Wednesday they liberated dozens of villages and approached a strategic town held by the Islamic State (IS) group west of the city of Raqqa. Kurdistan24 correspondent embedded with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) reported that about twenty villages were liberated from IS in the western countryside of Raqqa.
On the third day of the second phase of the offensive launched last month to liberate the Syrian de facto capital of IS, the SDF advanced about 15 km/9 miles towards the IS-held area of Tabqa, some 60 km (40 miles), to the west of Raqqa.
Several SDF fighters on the frontlines told Kurdistan24 that most of IS insurgents were leaving their positioning without any resistance. "[IS] insurgents don't fight, they just flee in front of our forces," said Hoger, a Syrian Kurdish SDF fighter. Additionally, the fighters said they were fighting IS and helping civilians return to their villages immediately. "After we liberate a village, we clean it and remove the mines, and then we help people return to their homes safely," said Hasan, a Syrian Arab SDF fighter.
SDF officers who talked to Kurdistan24 on conditions of anonymity said the target of SDF and their allies is controlling the Thawra Dam, near the town of Thawra, some 150 km (90 miles) southeast of Aleppo. By controlling the Tabqa dam, the SDF can control the western areas of Raqqa, and then separate those areas from the city, so that IS will be besieged from three sides.
Not long ago, the YPG was threatening to pull out of the Wrath of Euphrates offensive to take Raqqa to aid their brethren in the Manbij Military Council against the Turkish/FSA invasion. Now they are participating in phase two of the operation to take Raqqa. Perhaps the original threat and the YPG columns moving West were maskirovka to move forces into position to strike from the Tishreen Dam towards Tabqa. Looks like the plan worked. U.S. Special Forces and special operations forces are participating in this fight. I’ve also seen videos of Ospreys brings arms and ammunition to the SDF/YPG forces in Ayn Issa. Now we’ll see if IS reinforces this front in any meaningful way.
Both these moves against IS will serve to take pressure off other fronts including Palmyra. Seems the R+6 and the U.S. are okay with all this at the moment. I seriously doubt it will stay that way once Turkey moves agains Manbij in a meaningful way. At some point, this will look like Tolkien's battle of five armies.