The Turkish military-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) has breached the strategically significant town of al-Bab north of Aleppo and has been reinforcing in the area to start an offensive for the town's liberation.
Meanwhile, the PKK-affiiliated People's Protection Units (YPG)-majority Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has also been marching toward al-Bab, attacking FSA-held villages and towns on its way.
"Our broad offensive to liberate al-Bab will begin in the next few days," an FSA commander, seeking anonymity, told Daily Sabah.
As the FSA prepares for an extensive operation in al-Bab, the YPG-dominated SDF has been approaching the town from the east, fighting the FSA to take villages along the way. The SDF is just around 10 kilometers away from al-Bab.
Recently, the U.S. announced that YPG forces would leave Manbij and local Arabs would remain there. The YPG-dominated SDF, however, has accelerated its efforts west of Manbij and is closing in on al-Bab.
"The SDF exploited our fight against Daesh, striking us where we were relatively weaker," the commander said, and hoped they would defeat the SDF as well. He contended that the SDF will continue to strike the FSA to reach Afrin to connect its cantons from the west and the east.
Having liberated Dabiq, which was a vital town for Daesh militants, FSA fighters have set their sights on al-Bab.
As Ankara wants to establish a 5,000-square-kilometer safe zone in Syria, to fulfill this goal, the FSA would need to liberate al-Bab, which is geo-strategically significant.
The liberation of al-Bab will dash the PKK's Syrian offshoot YPG's hopes as well and their plans to establish a corridor between its areas in Afrin and Kobani. The YPG will have connected its cantons from the west and the east if it defeats the FSA and Daesh in al-Bab.
"The SDF is daydreaming. They will not be able to get close to al-Bab and take it. God willing, we will crush them," the FSA commander said.
The already complex situation in and around al-Bab is likely to get even more complicated with the Assad regime in the present mix, as it recently announced that it will also start an offensive to take al-Bab. The presence of the Turkey-backed FSA poses a threat to the regime.
If al-Bab was seized by the FSA, it would allow the opposition fighters to transport humanitarian aid as well as military equipment to their fellow fighters in and around Aleppo.
Al-Bab is likely to become a battleground for different parties in the near future. The Turkey-backed FSA, the PKK-affiliated SDF, Daesh and the Assad regime looks posed to wage a multiple-sided war to take control of the town.
In the meantime, Ankara's ambitions after al-Bab is liberated remain unknown. It is speculated that the Turkey-backed FSA fighters might march toward Afrin and Manbij areas which are under the PKK-affiliated SDF at the moment.
FIVE MORE VILLAGES TAKEN, 5 TERRORISTS KILLED
One Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighter was killed and 18 others were injured during overnight clashes in northern Syria, the Turkish military said in a statement on Friday.
At the same time, four PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) and a Daesh terrorists were killed during the operation that began late on Thursday night and lasted until the early hours of Friday morning.
Turkey-backed FSA special taskforce soldiers gained control of five more villages in the Karadağ area of al-Rai district, Friday's statement claimed.
The military said although it had taken control of the area, it was yet to completely clear the district of mines and explosives.
Turkey also hit 80 Daesh targets along with one PKK/PYD target in northern Syria including shelters, command-and-control centers and vehicles early on Friday, the military added.
Elsewhere, three Turkish soldiers were slightly injured in two separate attacks in Al-Kufayr region, west of Al-Bab. Friday's strikes were part of Turkey's Operation Euphrates Shield launched in late August to clear the northern Syrian border area of terrorists. The operation is now in its 87th day.
Around 1,760 square kilometers (680 square miles) of area in northern Syria has been cleared of Daesh terrorists as part of Operation Euphrates Shield so far. The army statement on Friday also said a total of 39 mines and 1,587 improvised explosives have been defused since the start of the operation on Aug. 24.