Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces on Friday, successfully took back the town of al-Bab, which has been a critical Daesh stronghold in northern Syria. Since the beginning of Operation Euphrates Shield last year, Turkey-backed groups have gradually extended the zone cleansed of Daesh militants. And in the meantime they demonstrated their capability to hold these territories against all terrorist groups in the region, which again proved their success against terrorist groups.
The first target of the operation was Jarablus and following its capture by FSA forces, normalization in the town began with a reverse in migration by the former residents of the town and a huge humanitarian relief campaign started in Turkey to help the town’s residents.
With the liberation of al-Bab from Daesh terrorists, Turkey has proven once again that Operation Euphrates Shield is the most successful weapon on the ground against the deadly terrorist group in Syria
With the help of the Turkish military in the aftermath of the battle, the FSA seized the town of Dabiq, which is considered one of the most significant landmarks for Daesh, largely because of the symbolic value the town held for the group. The al-Bab operation took place following the cleansing of this territory of Daesh. It was an extremely dangerous enterprise for the FSA and Turkish military due to the presence of a high number of anti-tank missiles and explosives in Daesh’s possession. Eventually, the town was taken from Daesh with the city center captured by FSA forces on Friday.
With the continuation of Daesh attacks on its cities and towns, Turkey had to support this operation. Despite the increasing intensity of these attacks, the Turkish government did not back down from its goal of cleansing this territory of all terrorist groups. It was obvious that violent terrorist attacks organized by Daesh were attempts to discourage Turkey from continuing its operations, this includes the attack on the Reina night club on New Year’s Eve.
After authorities successfully captured the Reina perpetrator, the New Year’s Eve attacker stated that his orders came from the Daesh headquarters in Raqqa. The attacker had also added that the location of the attack was changed at the last minute by his superiors. Simultaneously, while Turkey was still fighting against Daesh in al-Bab, the FSA and Turkish security forces achieved three concurrent successes that caused Daesh to lose the town, delivering a great blow to the terrorist group’s morale.
The strengthening of border security and the additional steps taken to stop foreign fighters from entering Syria were probably the biggest bombshells to hit Daesh. After, Turkey organized major operations to capture the Daesh members within its borders. Of course, these major operations led to an intensification of Daesh attacks against the country.
The attacks, including those in Taksim, Sultanahmet and Gaziantep, were Daesh’s attempts to stop Turkey from succeeding, but with the beginning of Operation Euphrates Shield, Turkey’s fight against Daesh reached another level. The country is now the only NATO member whose troops are actively fighting against Daesh on the ground. In multiple instances, from its official publications and websites, Daesh has continued to threaten Turkey and its government.
Since the beginning of these operations the main goal of the Turkish government was to eliminate all of the terrorist groups in the region, including the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Despite multiple warnings from the Turkish government in regards to the YPG’s presence on the western part of the Euphrates River, and despite warnings from former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during his visit to Ankara, the YPG has not pulled out its forces from Manbij.
Instead, during the early phases of the al-Bab operation, the group attempted to sabotage the Turkish security forces’ operation. If Turkey’s goal in Operation Euphrates Shield is to eradicate all of the terrorist groups in the region, there will be also steps in the coming days to stop the YPG from attaining more power and influence in the region. Since the beginning of the Kobani crisis, Turkish policy makers have warned their American counterparts of the dangers of supporting a terrorist group to try and defeat another one.
However, despite Turkey’s national security concerns that stem from the direct link between the PKK terrorist organization and the YPG, and despite reports of human rights organizations in regards to serious human rights violations in the region by the YPG, the U.S. has continued to support this group and considers it as the only way to defeat Daesh.
Now, on the one hand, it is more obvious that the expansion of the YPG will further upset the demographical balance in the region. On the other hand however, the capture of Jarablus, Dabiq and al-Bab by FSA forces has shown that when the necessary support is provided, different groups can also play an active and important role in the fight against Daesh.
In the coming few weeks, this will be critical in the fight against terror in the region. While the Trump administration is trying to plan its Syria operations, it has to take into account the concerns of its allies and the potential risks of working with the YPG against the will of Turkey.