Turkey’s last stop in Syria ‘will probably be al-Bab’ says deputy PM

Raqqa, Syria, Turkey, Bashar al-Assad, Euphrates Shield Operation, Numan Kurtulmus
Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Friday that the Euphrates Shield operation launched by Ankara and Turkey-backed FSA groups in August “will probably come to an end with al-Bab,” hinting at a change of plan following the death of three Turkish soldiers in a Russian airstrike.

Ankara had earlier said Turkish troops would proceed towards Manbij, a town held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and IS stronghold Raqqa. Turkish troops were reportedly shelling villages around Manbij yesterday evening.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday said, “Our first goal is to complete the operation in al-Bab. Forces of the Free Syrian Army, supported by our armed forces, made significant progress. Russian and coalition aircraft also made their contribution. The second goal is the operation in Raqqa. We can send special forces there.”

Kurtulmus seemed to contradict this statement saying, “Raqqa does not threaten the borders of Turkey but if you allow PYD and YPG there, it will turn into a matter of national security for Turkey.”

The deputy prime minister also said it was obvious the Trump administration would prefer to work with Turkey rather than with Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) – considered to be terrorist organisations by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda.

Three Turkish soldiers were killed and 11 injured on Thursday in a Russian airstrike in northern Syria’s IS-held town al-Bab, 30 km south of the Turkish border. The incident sparked speculation even though Russian President Vladimir Putin quickly telephoned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to offer his condolences over the incident.

“According to initial information we received, it is a total accident but how it happened and how the coordination was miscalculated will be clarified. It seems that much closer coordination measures are needed in the fight there, ” Numan Kurtulmus said.

The Euphrates Shield cross-border operation was launched in August 2016 byTurkish military and allied FSA groups opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. While Turkish-FSA forces have moved to take northern al-Bab, Syrian forces and their allies have laid siege to southern al-Bab, a situation that has created tension between the two camps who are trying to uphold a ceasefire engineered by Russia and Iran.