Syrian rebels backed by the Turkish military have captured the outskirts of the Islamic State-held city of al-Bab in northern Syria, the Turkish government and rebel sources said on Wednesday.
The advance threatens an important Islamic State stronghold, whose fall would deepen Turkish influence in an area of northern Syria where it has created a de facto buffer zone.
Syrian government forces have also advanced on al-Bab from the south, bringing them close to their Turkish and rebel enemies in one of the most complex battlefields of the six-year-old conflict.
But Turkey said international coordination was under way to prevent clashes with the Syrian forces.
“The al-Bab operation must be completed immediately in the period ahead … In recent days our special forces and the Free Syrian Army (rebels) have made serious progress,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference.
In a sign of Turkish momentum and confidence, the government said its next target would be the Syrian city of Raqqa, de facto capital of the embattled Islamic State group which has also been partly dislodged from its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul.
The U.S. military, which is leading an international coalition against Islamic State, said it expected Raqqa to be “completely isolated” in the next few weeks.
COORDINATION WITH RUSSIA
Al-Bab has been a major target of a Turkish offensive launched in northern Syria last August to drive Islamic State away from the border and prevent further gains by U.S.-backed Kurdish militia that are also fighting the jihadist group. The city is just 30 km (20 miles) from the Turkish bord