Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rebels, with Turkish support, take back the Syrian city of al-Bab from ISIS.

Rebel fighters near al-Bab hold a captured ISIS flag. AFP.

Turkish backed rebels have liberated the crucial Syrian city of al-Bab from ISIS. AFP. The rebels and Turkey claimed that the city is under their control with only pockets of ISIS fighters left. Al-Bab was a crucial city for ISIS. Not only did they use it as a base to attack both other parts of Syria and Europe itself, it was stationed on the critical road between Aleppo and the Turkish border. ISIS was able to collect taxes from those fleeing the war. Turkey, who lost several soldiers in the battle, wanted to secure al-Bab, not only to hurt ISIS, but to prevent the Kurds from taking the city. If the Kurds had they would have joined their western and eastern enclaves, which will now remain separated. It is unclear if Turkey will continue their offensive, but if they do the next likely targets are the Kurdish controlled city of Manbij or ISIS's capital of Raqqa. 

My Comment:
This is another huge defeat for ISIS. Losing al-Bab is critical. The city was hugely important strategically and lies on a critical highway. Not only was it a major staging area for ISIS attacks throughout the region it was a tax base for them as well. Since ISIS is already suffering economically, it can ill afford to lose the income that al-Bab generated. 

It's important to not understate how important the tax base from al-Bab was. Not only was ISIS taxing the population of al-Bab itself they were also taxing every single vehicle and person that passed through the city. Since al-Bab was and is the main route out of Syria from Aleppo. Though the battle there is over, it still remains a critical route for refugees and general travel. Losing that income will hurt ISIS greatly. 

The defeat is just the latest for ISIS. They have had a string of them lately with al-Bab being one of the largest. They lost the northern half of Mosul in Iraq and have lost several cities in Syria as well. Indeed, the only success ISIS has had lately at all was in south central Syria where they retook the city of Palmyra and several villages and towns near it. 

The media is calling this a rebel victory but I think it really has more to do with the Turks. These rebels are loyal to them and the Turks backed them up with armor and air support. I don't think they would have captured the city without the Turks giving them backup. 

It's clear to me that the Turks primary objective in taking al-Bab wasn't defeating ISIS. Though Turkey obviously has that as a second objective, after all ISIS has been launching attacks in Turkey, they obviously want to destroy any chances of an independent Kurdistan. Turkey hates the Kurds and they do not want them to join up their western and eastern cantons. If they were to do so, the Kurds would have a de facto state. Turkey would not allow that to happen. 

Turkey has really stepped up their game in Syria. By doing so they have greatly damaged ISIS's ambitions in Syria and have changed the face of the war. Their entry into the war was an x-factor that I wasn't expecting. With them joining the war and taking back the border area and now expanding south, they are putting extreme pressure on ISIS. 

The question now is where Turkey goes next. Manbaji could be next but that would be an awkward situation for all involved.The Kurds that control the city are currently fighting ISIS and have been de facto US allies for most of the war. Letting the Turks destroy them would be a major stab in the back for them, even though, as far left radicals, they probably deserve it. I'm not a huge fan of the Turks or the Kurds and if it wasn't for the ISIS situation I wouldn't mind seeing them fight, but it seems to be a huge distraction from the main objective which should be, for all sides in the Syrian war, the utter destruction of ISIS. 

Raqqa is another possibility, but a remote one. Taking over Raqqa would mean the general defeat of ISIS, but it would probably cause problems down the line. Raqqa is far from the border with Turkey and it would be more of an invasion then the border attacks that they have done so far. Part of me wants to say to hell with the consequences and just defeat ISIS already, but I worry about what the consequences will be...  

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