Turkey's military head says al-Bab operation "over"

Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar told the Daily Sabah newspaper that troops were searching the town for mines and booby traps planted by retreating Daesh members.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

The Turkish military says an operation is underway to fully secure the town.

Turkey has ended its al-Bab operation in northern Syria and its troops are scouring the town for booby traps and unexploded devices, government-aligned Turkish Sabah newspaper said on Thursday.

"Congratulations to all of us, the al-Bab operation is over," the paper quoted Turkey's Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar as saying.

Akar was speaking to reporters in Qatar where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is on the last leg of a three-day Gulf tour.

"Two big booby traps were eliminated and the efforts to clear the area are still underway," Akar said.


Hulusi Akar (C-left) in Qatar where he told reporters the al-Bab operation was over.

End of a long operation

Turkish troops allied with fighters of the Free Syria Army (FSA) – the main rebel group fighting Daesh and the regime of Bashar al Assad in Syria – targeted Daesh-held al-Bab months ago as part of Operation Euphrates Shield, launched by Turkey in August, 2016, to secure its border with Syria and clear the border region of terrorists.

The Turkish military on Thursday said it "neutralised" (killed, wounded or captured) at least 15 Daesh militants during the previous 24 hours in the final phase of the assault on al-Bab.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Thursday said that in the previous 24 hours, Turkish bombardment of al-Bab killed 24 civilians, including 11 children. Turkey's military disputed the report, saying it had only killed "terrorists."

Next rounds of Syria peace talks

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura on Thursday called for greater efforts in the push for peace in Syria, as he visited Moscow ahead of a fresh round of talks in Geneva.

De Mistura was in Russia for meetings with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu as the UN gears up to hold negotiations in Switzerland on February 23.

"Now is the right time to step up efforts to normalise the political process in Syria," de Mistura told Lavrov on Thursday, Russia's TASS news agency reported.

Talks on continued implementation of the ceasefire in Syria, which Turkey and Russia brokered in December 2016, are scheduled for Thursday in Kazakhstan's capital Astana.

The Astana process was launched by Turkey, Russia and Iran, and complements the broader Geneva process which aims at peace and a political solution to the Syrian crisis.

Safe zones in Syria

Turkey has again called for "safe zones" in war-ravaged Syria and pressed the need for them to be properly funded.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that only through making the zones habitable would tens of thousands of Syrians be encouraged to return home.

Speaking in Qatar on Wednesday, Cavusoglu said, "We need to build houses, schools and facilities, therefore we need to raise funds together to develop the safe zone area so the people can live in proper conditions."

Since it began in 2011, the Syrian conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people, made more than half the country's population homeless, and created the world's worst refugee crisis since World War II.

US boots on the ground?

The US Department of Defense is considering whether to deploy US combat troops to Syria to fight Daesh, CNN reported on Wednesday.

The plan is one of several the Pentagon is developing after President Donald Trump gave defence officials until the end of February to come up with proposals to speed up the war against Daesh.

The US already has a small number of special operation troops in Syria.

Meanwhile, Turkey's defence minister Fikri Isik on Thursday said that the US is not insisting that the YPG take part in the operation being planned to drive Daesh from its de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria.

Isik said the operation should be carried out with Arab forces and not the YPG, which Turkey considers a Syrian extension of the PKK, listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and EU.

Isik also said that the US chief of staff General Joseph Dunford would visit Turkey on Friday.

TRT World's Ediz Tiyansan has more details from Gaziantep. 

Source: 
TRTWorld and agencies