Casualties mount as Russia, US support Turkish Syria operations

Casualties mount as Russia, US support Turkish Syria operations
Five Turkish soldiers were killed in an IS car-bomb attack near al-Bab on Friday in a week in which both Moscow and Washington conducted airstrikes on IS in the area
3 min read
21 January, 2017
Turkey began operations against IS in Syria in August 2016 [Getty]
Five Turkish soldiers were killed and a further nine wounded on Friday in a car bomb attack perpetrated by Islamic State-group militants near the town of al-Bab, in Syria’s northern Aleppo province. 

A statement by the Turkish military said that the attack took place in Suflaniyah during ongoing operations termed the “Euphrates Shield” by Ankara involving both Ankara-backed rebels, and units of Turkey’s own army against the extremist group. 

A video of the attack was distributed on the IS affiliated media channel Amaq shortly afterwards, with the perpetrator of the suicide car-bombing identified by a nom de guerre, Abo Mus’ab al-Idlibi.

Turkey has said that after defeating IS militants in al-Bab, Euphrates Shield forces could continue onwards to confront Kurdish YPG units in Manbij and Afrin, viewed as offshoots of the PKK. 

The PKK has lead a guerrilla war against Ankara since the 1980s and stands accused by the Erdogan government of perpetrating a number of recent terror attacks, including a double-bombing in Istanbul in December.

The deadly attack took place in Suflaniyah close to al-Bab 

However, the Turkish army is facing a mounting death-toll in al-Bab. 

Although statistics for the precise number of casualties are unclear, in December the Turkish army announced in a previous communique that 14 Turkish personnel had been killed as fighting around al-Bab intensified. 

On Wednesday Turkey’s assaults on al-Bab took on a new dynamic when Moscow joined Ankara in conducting airstrikes against IS in the vicinity of the town.

Military coordination between Moscow and Ankara has been matched by recent diplomacy paving the way for talks between the Syrian regime and rebel groups set to begin in the Kazakh capital Astana on Monday. 

Turkey began its military intervention in Syria in August 2016 and in addition to targeting IS has also clashed with Kurdish forces such as the YPG, and the Washington backed Syrian Democratic Forces currently advancing on IS de facto capital Raqqa.

Despite ongoing tensions between Washington and Ankara that have lead Turkish figures to threaten to suspend the US-lead coalition’s use of the Incirlik base, on Tuesday a spokesman for the US-led coalition based in Baghdad said that Washington had carried out four airstrikes in the vicinity of al-Bab only a day before Moscow embarked on air campaigns in the area.

The presence of Russia, Turkey, and US airforces conducting airstrikes against IS targets in al-Bab in the past week marks a new development in Syria’s prolonged, nearly six-year conflict.

It come at a time when US President Donald Trump has freshly been inaugurated in the White House and has expressed a desire for closer ties with Russia, and the Syrian regime and rebel groups prepare for crunch-talks in Astana.