Ankara-backed FSA on hold for al-Bab offensive

YUNUS PAKSOY @yunuspaksoy

The Turkish military-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been on hold on the outskirts of the significant town of al-Bab and been making observations in the area, an FSA commander told Daily Sabah.

An FSA commander, who wanted his name to remain anonymous, said FSA fighters are less than a kilometer away from al-Bab, waiting for orders to start an offensive. The FSA has been on the outskirts of the town for some two weeks.

While the FSA has been surrounding al-Bab and staying put around it, the PKK's Syrian wing Democratic Union Party's (PYD) armed wing Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) have been closing in on al-Bab from the west and the east.

The YPG started an offensive from Afrin and Manbij, marching toward al-Bab. "The SDF exploited our fight against Daesh, striking us where we were relatively weak," another FSA commander told Daily Sabah recently.

"We drive to the al-Bab frontline every day back and forth. We have been told not to start the offensive to capture the center of the town. We are on hold," the commander said.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 of 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.

What Ankara will do after al-Bab is liberated remains unknown. It is speculated that the Turkey-backed FSA fighters might march toward the Afrin and Manbij areas, which are under the control of the PKK-affiliated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at the moment.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently asserted that the FSA could head to the aforementioned two targets. An offensive on Afrin and Manbij would mean that the Turkish military could fight the PKK on three fronts given its counterterrorism efforts in the country's southeastern districts.

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