The battle to liberate the Isis-held northern Syrian town of al-Bab is over. The jihadists have admitted defeat in a statement issued to their news channel, Amaq news agency, on 23 February, after fighting against Turkish forces and the Turkey-backed rebel forces of the Free Syrian Army.
While admitting defeat, Isis claims to have killed 400 Turkish soldiers and rebels, numbers that could not be presently verified.
The Turkish Defence minister said in a news conference on Thursday (23 February) morning that the army was close to having full control of the city. "Almost all of al-Bab is under control now, and a sweep operation is ongoing," he said, quoted in the state news agency Anadolu.
A commander of the FSA forces told the news agency they were clearing the town of landmines and booby traps planted in the area by the jihadists. "The centre of al-Bab is now under opposition control," FSA Commander Ahmed al-Shahabi said, adding: "We are advancing cautiously due to the many mines and explosives left behind."
The Turkey-led anti-Isis operation in northern Syria was launched on 24 August 2016 and the town of al-Bab was reached on 11 February. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has recorded hundreds of civilians casualties at the hands of Turkish forces as they advanced and entered the city.
In a post published on 16 February, the observatory claims at least 419 civilians have been killed by Turkish troops in the final stage of the offensive that begun on 7 February – 51 of which were women and 88 were children. The numbers could not be independently verified, although they match reporting in the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.
Turkey's "Euphrates Shield" military operation in Syria does not only target the Islamic State, as Ankara has also ordered airstrikes against the Kurdish-led forces of the autonomous region of Rojava in northern Syria. Turkey lists groups such as the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) as terrorists affiliated to the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK).
The Kurdish forces are however a key ally of the US-led coalition fighting Isis in their biggest stronghold in Syria, the city of Raqqa. Turkey has been increasingly vocal about their desire to lead the fight against Isis in Raqqa and for the US to stop supporting the Kurds. Military officials of the US-led coalition have however said the Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Forces, who continue to advance towards the city, are the best hope to drive Isis out of Raqqa.
"The force that looks most likely capable to conduct the liberation of Raqqa remains the SDF," Major General Rupert Jones, deputy commander, of the Combined Joint Task Force said on 15 February, as quoted by journalist Wladimir van Wilgenburg.