Turkey says ‘100 Daesh fighters’ left in Syria’s Al-Bab



ISTANBUL: Turkey said Wednesday fewer than 100 Daesh militants were still holed up in a flashpoint Syrian town which has seen the bloodiest clashes of Ankara’s half-year campaign inside the conflict-torn country.

Speaking to NTV television, Defence Minister Fikri Isik said half of the town of Al-Bab was in the hands of Turkish troops and allied pro-Ankara Syrian rebels, after the government repeatedly said it was “largely under control”.

Since launching its unprecedented incursion into Syria in August, Turkey has been focusing on Al-Bab as the last bastion of Daesh extremists in Aleppo province.

But the battle for the town has been fierce, with most of the 69 Turkish soldiers killed in the Syria campaign dying there.

“We estimate there are less than 100” Daesh fighters left in Al-Bab, Isik told NTV. “But they are very dangerous people. Some are snipers, some are potential suicide bombers.”

“More than half of the town is now in our hands,” he said, indicating that the operation to surround Al-Bab was “over” with troops now moving from district-to-district to “clean up” the town.

“Until this clean-up inside is completed, it’s impossible to say that our work is over,” he added.

Rebel commanders on the ground told AFP troops were facing fierce resistance, with Daesh using snipers and laying roadside bombs.

But Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP in Beirut that Turkish troops and allied rebels controlled only 25 percent of Al-Bab, with some 700 militants still fighting there.

Civilians ‘in grave jeopardy’

The Britain-based Observatory has also accused Turkish forces of killing more than 124 civilians in two weeks of air strikes and shelling.

But Ankara has vigorously denied claims that innocent lives have been lost, insisting it does its best to avoid civilian casualties.

The resident and regional UN humanitarian coordinators for Syria said in a joint statement that the United Nations was “deeply concerned” over the fate of some 5,000 civilians trapped in and around Al-Bab as the fighting continues.

“The conflict in Al-Bab has put civilians, many of whom are women and children, in grave jeopardy,” said Kevin Kennedy, regional coordinator for the Syria crisis.

The statement expressed concern over the possibility of street fighting inside Al-Bab as the battle reaches an endgame “which could place civilians in the area at heightened risk of death and injury.”