Battle of al-Bab

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Battle of al-Bab
Part of the Turkish military intervention in Syria and the Syrian Civil War
Western al-Bab offensive (2016) (within Northern Syria).svg
Map of the wider Turkish-led operations and the wider campaigns in northern Aleppo
Date 6 November 2016 – present
(2 months, 1 week and 3 days)
Location Al-Bab District, Aleppo Governorate, Syria
Status

Ongoing

  • FSA capture 36 villages from ISIL and 4 villages from the SDF[6][7][8]
  • SDF capture 17 villages, including Arima from ISIL[9][10][11][12]
  • Pro-government forces capture 5 villages from ISIL[13][14]
  • FSA entered al-Bab and captured al-Bab grain silos, and 2 neighborhoods south of al-Bab[15]
Belligerents

 Turkey
Syrian opposition Free Syrian Army factions and other rebels

Support:
Russia (against ISIL only; since 29 Dec.)[1]
 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Syrian Democratic Forces

Syrian Arab Republic[3]

Syrian National Resistance[3][4][5]
Commanders and leaders
Turkey Lt. Gen. Zekai Aksakallı[16]
(Operations chief commander)
Turkey Lt. Gen. İsmail Metin Temel[17][18]
(Second Army commander)
Syrian opposition Col. Ahmed Othman[19]
(Sultan Murad Division commander)
Syrian opposition Fehim İsa (Sultan Murad Division commander)[20]
Mahmoud Abu Hamza[21] (Descendants of Saladin Brigade commander)
Syrian opposition Capt. Yussuf Shibli[22] (Qabasin Military Council commander)
Capt. Abdel Salam Abdel Razaq[21] (Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement commander)
Capt. Mohammed Abu Mustafa[23]
(Sham Legion commander)
Abu Jafer[24] (Brigade of Conquest commander)

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Abu Husen Tunisi [25]
(ISIL emir)

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Abu Ansari [26]
(ISIL emir)

Adnan Abu Amjad[27] (Manbij Military Council & Northern Sun Battalion commander)

Anwar Khabat[28] (Euphrates Liberation Brigade commander)
Units involved

Turkey Turkish Armed Forces

Syrian opposition Hawar Kilis Operations Room


Other Syrian rebels
Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement[39]
Ahrar al-Sham[39][40]

Muntasir Billah Brigade[41]
Unknown

Syrian Democratic Forces


Syrian National Resistance[3]


Syrian Armed Forces

Strength
Syrian opposition 2,000 rebel fighters[46]
Turkey 3,000–8,000 soldiers,[47][48][49]
40 tanks originally, 10 reinforcements[50]
15+ APCs[51]
3,000 militants[46] Unknown
Syria 10,000 soldiers[5]
Casualties and losses

Syrian opposition 104 killed[52]

Turkey 32–34 killed[53]
466–566 killed (Turkish claim)[54] 79+ killed[55]
249 civilians killed[56]

The Battle of al-Bab includes a military offensive launched by Syrian rebel groups (including groups affiliated with the Free Syrian Army) and the Turkish Armed Forces north of al-Bab in the Aleppo Governorate, and a separate Syrian Democratic Forces offensive east of the city. The northern operation intends to capture al-Bab from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as part of the Turkish military intervention in Syria.

Background

After the western al-Bab offensive the previous month, the rebels moved their focus from the western countryside of al-Bab so to avoid confrontation with the Syrian Democratic Forces, and launched an assault against the Islamic State north of al-Bab.[57]

The offensive

Northern rebel attack repelled

Map of the battle up to December 1

Between 6 and 14 November 2016, the rebels captured 36 villages,[6][7] putting them within two kilometers of al-Bab.[58] Meanwhile, the Syrian Democratic Forces captured seven villages east of al-Bab in an attempt to besiege the village of Arima.[7][9][10]

On 14 November, rebel forces managed to enter the northern outskirts of al-Bab, but were facing stiff resistance, with fighting raging at a livestock market two kilometers north of the town.[59] By this point, al-Bab was surrounded from the north and northwest, with the only retreat route remaining for ISIL to the southeast towards Raqqa, through the ISIL-held town of Dayr Hafir.[58] In the evening, the rebels established fire control over the Jafirah Roundabout and seized several adjacent buildings in the northern part of al-Bab, leaving them in control of less than 5 percent of the city.[10] However, the next day, the rebels were forced to withdraw one kilometer to the north of al-Bab. Meanwhile, the rebels took control of the town of Qabasin, northeast of al-Bab.[8]

The Turkish military stated on 18 November that the FSA had captured five villages in the Karadağ area of al-Rai district.[60]

On 19 November, ISIL recaptured Qabasin, as well as one nearby village. This marked the fourth time the town had changed hands in the previous four days.[61] On 20 November, the rebels launched two counter-attacks against Qabasin, with both being repelled. The next day, the rebels redirected their assault from al-Bab to the Kurdish-held village of Sheikh Nassir, managing to seize the village in the early morning hours, but losing it in an SDF counter-attack in the afternoon.[62] Between 22 and 23 November, Qabasin changed hands two more times, ultimately remaining under ISIL control.[63][64][65]

Western and eastern encirclement of al-Bab

On 23 November, the SDF captured Arima. In response, Turkish artillery shelled the SDF-held villages in the area.[12][65][66]

On 24 November, according to the Turkish military, the Syrian Arab Air Force conducted an airstrike against Turkish Special Forces and aligned Turkish-backed rebels north of al-Bab, killing three Turkish soldiers and injuring ten.[67][68] Turkish officials initially stated the casualties were due to an ISIL attack, before blaming the Syrian Air Force. However, the pro-opposition activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) disputed it was an air-strike and stated it was in fact an ISIL suicide attack. Additionally, ISIL confirmed it conducted a suicide attack in the area.[69][70] Later, the Turkish Prime Minister's office issued a gag order on reporting about the airstrike,[68][71] while the main Turkish opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called on the Turkish government to "act with common sense."[71] In the evening, the Syrian Air Force officially denied it or the Russian Air Force had conducted an air-strike against Turkish forces.[72] Concurrently during the day, the SDF, with support from government forces, captured three villages from ISIL west of al-Bab, coming within 10 kilometers of the city.[73][74] The rebels also took two villages east of al-Bab, reaching the main road between al-Bab and Manbij for the first time.[75] A total of six Turkish soldiers were killed between 24 and 26 November.[76]

Between 25 and 27 November, the SDF captured two villages from ISIL west of al-Bab, while the rebels took three to the east. Additionally, the rebels launched an attack on two SDF-held villages east of the city, with unclear results. At the same time, pro-government forces also advanced, taking control of four villages from the Islamic State west of al-Bab.[13]

On 28 November, the Syrian Army captured a village from the Turkish-backed rebels west of al-Bab, coming within 5 kilometers of the city.[14][77] On 29 November, ISIL claimed it had captured two Turkish soldiers and their Turkmen translator near al-Dana village, west of al-Bab. The Turkish military confirmed it had lost contact with two soldiers, but didn't confirm that ISIL had captured them.[78][79]

Offensive slows

Map of the battle up to January 1

On 2 December, the rebels were ordered not to advance on the center of the city for the time being.[80] The wider offensive had also slowed down, with no progress being achieved by the rebels during the following two days.[81]

The rebels captured two villages west of al-Bab in a fresh assault on 9 December, in addition to part of the highway between al-Bab and Manbij. Meanwhile, 300 Turkish commandos were sent as reinforcement.[51] On 10 December, the rebels captured several areas including some in the Aqil Mountains to the west of al-Bab.[82] The next day, the rebels entered the city from the northwest after heavy clashes.[83]

The Turkish military dropped leaflets on al-Bab on 12 December, urging civilians to seek shelter as the rebels advanced.[84] Still, the rebel advance soon slowed down due to ditches, mines and explosives left by ISIL.[85] Despite this, Numan Kurtulmuş, the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, stated that preparations for a final operation on al-Bab were underway.[86]

On 17 December, the rebels captured a village in addition to some points in the area of al-Bab.[87]

Between 7 and 18 December, the Turkish military claimed to had hit at least 467 ISIL targets in air-strikes, killing an estimated 108 militants.[88][51][89][84][90][91][92][93][94]

Turkish-led attack from the west repelled

On 21 December, the rebels gained control of a part of the highway between Al-Bab and Aleppo.[95] Still, the day soon became the most deadliest for Turkish forces in Syria.[96] According to Turkey, 16 Turkish soldiers were killed in suicide bomb attacks and clashes, while 33 were wounded. Turkey also claimed 138 ISIL fighters were killed in Turkish airstrikes on 67 ISIL targets. ISIL meanwhile claimed to have killed more than 70 Turkish soldiers, while capturing two Leopard 2 tanks.[97][98][99] The fighting started when rebels and Turkish forces captured the hospital area of the town, as well as the Aqil Mountains. However, an ISIL counterattack recaptured both the hospital and the mountain top,[100] repelling the Turkish-led attack.[101] Another attack was launched by the rebels on 22 December.[102] SOHR reported that 72 civilians were killed in Turkish airstrikes during the day, with another 23 killed on the next day.[103][104]

Despite the losses, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated on 23 December, that the operation to capture al-Bab was almost complete and that the FSA would capture the city soon.[105] The same day, the Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Işık stated that the Aqil Mountains had been cleared of ISIL.[106] The Turkish-backed rebels also later captured the Al-Farouq hospital. However, an ISIL counterattack in the early hours of 25 December, once again recaptured the hospital and Aqil Mountains.[107] Meanwhile, 30 civilians trying to flee the city were reportedly killed by explosives planted by ISIL.[108]

Russian air support to Turkey

On 26 December, pro-Syrian government sources reported that the Russian Air Force directly backed the Turkish Army for the first time since the start of the Russian intervention in Syria. However, despite Su-24 and Su-34 bombers carrying out airstrikes against ISIL fighters, Turkish-backed rebel forces were unable to maintain control over newly-captured areas.[109] Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Kurtmuluş denied the reports that Russian Air Force was assisting it in the battle,[110] while an additional 1,000 Turkish commandos and 2,000 rebel reinforcements arrived on 27 December.[48]

A Turkish official stated on 29 December, that the Russian Air Force had hit ISIL in al-Bab for the first time, carrying out airstrikes against it in the southern part of the city. He also added that Turkish forces were assaulting the northern and western parts of the city.[111] Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu confirmed the airstrikes but stated that there was no joint operation between Russia and Turkey.[1] On 31 December, the Turkish-backed rebels managed to capture another village to the west of al-Bab, while Syrian Democratic Forces entered the villages of Mura'naz and Kuljabreen, clashing with the Turkish-backed rebels there.[112][113]

Between 2 and 3 January, both Turkish and Russian airstrikes hit ISIL targets in the al-Bab area.[114][115] United States Department of Defense spokesman Peter Cook meanwhile stated that it had assisted Turkish forces by providing it with air cover a week earlier, but did not carry out any airstrikes.[116] On 4 January, ISIL was meanwhile reported to have withdrawn its senior fighters to defend Raqqa and Mosul, leaving less experienced members to defend al-Bab.[117] Turkish President Erdoğan as well as the rebels stated that the offensive to capture the town would be finished soon.[118][117] However, two days later, Turkish Defence Minister Işık stated that the Turkish-backed rebels were fighting street battle against ISIL in al-Bab but had slowed down their advance in order to avoid civilian casualties.[119]

Between 26 December and 7 January, the Turkish military claimed to had hit another 733 ISIL targets in air-strikes and shelling, killing some 263 militants.[108][120][121][122][123][114][115][124][125][126][127]

Rebel assault from the east

On 8 January, Turkish-backed rebels captured Um Adasa and Makri Hill near Bizaah.[128] The next day, the rebels once again advanced near Bizaah, capturing Zammar and Asfar Tepe.[129] With these advances, the rebels were attempting to flank al-Bab from the east.[130] Still, in the period between 1 and 14 January, the rebels made eight attempts to capture the nearby village of Al-Suflaniyah, with all of them being repelled.[131][132] At one point, on 13 January, the rebels managed to capture Suflaniyah temporarily,[133] but had to retreat from it after an ISIL counter-attack.[134]

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  52. ^ 1 killed (6 Nov.),[2] 4 killed (7 Nov.),[3] 2 killed (9 Nov.),[4] 4 killed (10 Nov.),[5] 8 killed (11 Nov.),[6] 5 killed (12 Nov.),[7] 66 killed (13 Nov.–5 Jan.),[8] 2 killed (12 Jan.),[9] 12 killed (15 Jan.),[10] total of 104 reported killed
  53. ^ 1 killed (19 Nov.),[11] 6 killed (24–26 Nov.),[12] 1 killed (17 Dec.),[13] 1 killed (18 Dec.),[14] 16 killed (21 Dec.),[15] 2 killed (22 Dec.),[16] 1 killed (26 Dec.),[17] 1 killed (27 Dec.),[18] 1 killed (29 Dec.),[19] 2 killed (4 Jan.),[20] 2 killed (6–7 Jan.),[21] total of 32–34 reported killed
  54. ^ 25 killed (14 Nov.),[22] 4 killed (28 Nov.),[23] 11 killed (29 Nov.),[24] 9 killed (8 Dec.),[25] 4 killed (10 Dec.),[26] 12 killed (11 Dec.),[27] 20 killed (15 Dec.),[28] 25 killed (17 Dec.),[29] 11 killed (18 Dec.),[30] 60–160 killed (21 Dec.),[31][32] 24 killed (22 Dec.),[33] 18 killed (23 Dec.),[34] 68 killed (24 Dec.),[35] 12 killed (25 Dec.),[36] 13 killed (27 Dec.),[37] 44 killed (28 Dec.),[38] 19 killed (10 Dec.),[39] 32 killed (8 Dec.),[40] 14 killed (4 Dec.),[41] 41 killed (13 Jan),[42] 9 killed (15 Jan.), [43] total of 466–566 reported killed
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Coordinates: 36°22′21″N 37°31′04″E / 36.3725°N 37.5178°E / 36.3725; 37.5178

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