The Islamic State has been battling Turkey and allied groups north of Al Bab, Syria since Nov. 2016. The US was reluctant, at first, to support Turkey’s ground operations near the town. But that changed after Turkey turned to Russia for aerial support. The Syrian regime and its allies also launched an offensive south of Al Bab earlier this month.
In a statement released last week, Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, an influential jihadi ideologue aligned with al Qaeda, criticized Turkey’s cooperation with Russia against the Islamic State. Maqdisi warned jihadists and Islamists in Syria to rethink their decision to work with Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield, which has captured significant territory from the so-called caliphate in northern Syria.
As each side converges on the Islamic State-held city of al-Bab, a military confrontation between Turkish-led rebels and pro-regime forces appear inescapable. In the meantime, tensions between Ankara and Moscow are rising yet again, risking pulling the United States and NATO further into the Syrian theater.
The Syrian town of Dabiq, which has long been central to the Islamic State’s apocalyptic messaging, was captured by Turkish-backed rebel forces on Oct. 16. Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield says that more than 1,300 square kilometers of territory along Syria’s border with Turkey has been seized from the Islamic State since August.