Image Free Syrian Army fighter Al bab Syria

UPDATE Syria: Turks Lay Siege to Al Bab, Prepare to March on Manbij

Turkish backed forces have laid siege to the ISIS held city of al Bab, Syria, with forces preparing to march on the nearby city of Manbij, held by a US backed ally.

Northern Syria – As previously reported by Lima Charlie News, three regional factions, including Turkey, the Kurds and ISIS have converged at Al Bab, Syria, a city of just over 100,000. A stronghold and hub for IS fighters before they engage the frontlines of Mosul and al Raqqa, the city just 20 miles from the Turkish border has become a point of contention between Turkey and its NATO allies. Just last week the Pentagon confirmed that it would not back a Turkish offensive on al Bab, calling it “unhelpful,” and deriding it for having been launched independently without coalition support.

That was last week.

In a speech today, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkish-backed forces have laid siege to the city of al Bab, preventing ISIS elements, as well as “YPG terrorists,” from using it as a staging ground for operations. According to Erdogan, the goal now is to also march on the nearby city of Manbij, currently held by the US-backed Kurdish umbrella militia organization, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). An ultimatum was delivered during the same speech, that all of the US-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) forces must leave Manbij immediately.

Image Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan

Erdogan was quick to point out that Turkish forces are also eyeing Sinjar, a PKK/YPG stronghold, and that they will not allow the area of Sinjar to become a “terror centre.” Turkey currently views the YPG and the PKK as terrorist organizations and enemies of the Turkish state.

Manbij has traditionally been the home of a diverse ethnic and cultural mix of primarily Arab, Kurdish and Circassian Sunni Muslims, many of which followed the Naqshbandi Sufi order, having strong local tribal ties. In January 2014 the city fell to ISIS, and was used as a hub for the Islamic State’s trading in looted artifacts and archaeological digging equipment. It was not until June 2016 that the fortunes of war enabled the SDF to launch a massive US backed offensive consisting primarily of YPG fighters. Within a month, the city was secured and under complete SDF control.

Image FSA map Syria

The victory, however, was not without tragic losses. In July 2016, US Air Force planes attacked ground targets in the village of Tokhar, outside of Manbij. Airstrikes devastated structures that were housing displaced civilians seeking refuge from the fighting in Manbij. Upwards of 200 civilians were killed in what would become known as the Tokhar massacre. US authorities state that credible intelligence had confirmed the village was being used as a staging area for IS fighters heading towards Manbij. A formal investigation inside the US Air Force is still being conducted.

Under SDF control, the city has been able to regain normalcy. Schools, education, and a basic level of self-administration have been maintained, with security provided by the SDF.

With the greater al Bab area under siege by Turkish backed militia, the Turkish Air Force has continued to strike inside and outside of the town. Targets destroyed so far include four buildings reportedly used as ISIS headquarters. Turkish airstrikes have also reportedly destroyed 17 ISIS targets northeast of Al-Bab in the villages of Bzaghah, Qabasin and Suflaniyah.

Image tweet

Turkish backed militia, alongside Turkish Forces, have deployed further artillery directed at al Bab. Reports indicate that barrages have so far resulted in a total of 90 ISIS targets destroyed, with five targets belonging to the YPG militia hit.

After an ISIS IED attack left one Turkish soldier dead and two wounded on November 20, the intensity of airstrikes against al Bab and the surrounding region increased. Turkish forces also attacked the SDF headquarters east of Manbij, injuring a reported five YPG fighters. The Turkish Air Force also attacked SDF positions in Yilanli, Qurt Weran, and Sheikh Nasr on November 21st.

Follow Lima Charlie News for the latest developments in al Bab, Manbij and the ongoing ISIS offensives.

John Sjoholm, Middle East Bureau Chief, Lima Charlie News

John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief, and the founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Jordan. Follow John on Twitter: @JohnSjoholmLC

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