BEIRUT – An official in a rebel faction participating in the Turkish-supported cross-border incursion into Syria has revealed that the operation aims to seize Al-Bab, an ISIS-stronghold near both Syrian regime and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) frontlines.
Mohammad Abu Ibrahim—a military commander in the Levant Front—told a pro-opposition outlet that the next step of the Euphrates Operation following the capture of Jarablus and surrounding villages, which was achieved Wednesday evening, will be the “commencement of the battle to liberate the strategic town of Al-Bab,” which lies 60 kilometers southwest of Jarablus.
In mid-January, Syrian regime forces reached within 10 kilometers of the ISIS-held town, however the offensive grounded to a halt following a counterattack by the jihadist group. The SDF, for its part, advanced on Al-Bab, the largest remaining population center controlled by ISIS in the northeastern Aleppo countryside, during its offensive on Manbij earlier in August.
The rebel official also told Zaman al-Wasl that Turkey’s participation in the campaign was “limited” to logistical support, aerial cover, reconnaissance and “heavy weapons,” a reference to the battle tanks the Turkish army has been deploying across the border into Syrian territory.
Meanwhile, another opposition figure participating in the Euphrates Shield offensive spoke to Enab Baladi about the dramatic campaign and its next steps.
According to Mustafa Sejari, the head of the Mutassim Brigade’s political office, rebel fighters in Jarablus would initially focus on reinforcing defensive positions around the border town.
He explained that the Turkish-supported factions would then fight westward, but instead of naming Al-Bab as their ultimate goal, Sejari said the Euphrates Shield operation would aim to break ISIS lines around the northern Aleppo town of Marea.
“We will not stop until we connect Jarablus to Marea,” he vowed.
Turkish media outlets on Wednesday reported Euphrates Shield aims to secure a strip of territory along the Syrian border stretching from Marea to the east bank of the Euphrates River, but did not specifically name Al-Bab as being one of the targets of the operation.
Top officials in Ankara, for their part, have been more vague in their public declarations of the specific military goals of the campaign, saying only that it aims to “secure” the border, not only from ISIS, but also the expansion of Kurdish forces west of the Euphrates.
NOW's English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Amin Nasr translated Arabic-language material.