Rebel fighters, part of the Turkish-backed Operation Euphrates Shield, advance towards Al-Bab. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The Turkish backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Turkish troops have liberated the Syrian city of al-Bab from ISIS militants Thursday evening, the FSA and the UK-based Syrian observatory both confirmed, although the advancing rebel forces and Turkish troops have yet to sweep some 30 percent of the remaining districts south and southeastern of the city.
"We are announcing al-Bab completely liberated, and we are now clearing mines from the residential neighbourhoods," AFP reported rebel commander Ahmad Othman said.
"After hours of fighting, we chased out the last remaining IS rank and file that were collapsing after the fierce shelling of their positions," he added.
The Turkish Defense minister has also said the city is almost under the control of their forces and the FSA.
"Al-Bab is almost totally taken under control and (the forces) have entered the center," Isik told reporters. "We will be able to say that al-Bab is fully cleared of Daesh once the sweeping activity is concluded."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring reported that the ISIS militants have withdrawn from the city via a route left open for them by the Euphrates Shield, the codename for the Turkish Operation in northern Syria, and the Syrian regime whose forces are also within kilometers of al-Bab.
Turkish and FSA forces have so far swept 70 percent of the city, the observatory added, the remaining districts though remain unchecked for explosives or ISIS militants.
“No member of the [rebel] forces, or the Turkish troops has been seen in the remaining parts of the city, which includes the eastern and southeastern districts constituting about 30 percent of the city,” the observatory said in an update based on information received from its network of people on the ground, “[this is] despite the withdrawal of members of the Islamic State from the city towards the surrounding areas to southwest of the city, from the muddy roads that was left [open] to the Islamic State by the Syrian regime, and its allied forces, and the Euphrates Shield forces and the Turkish troops southeast of al-Bab , so that it can withdraw [its forces].”
The Observatory earlier in the day said that the ISIS militants were still seen in some parts of the city.
The Syrian regime forces also pushed to capture areas from the ISIS militants on the road between al-Bab and the ISIS-held Tabqa, controlling 4 villages from ISIS in the last 60 hours, the observatory reported on Thursday.
Turkey backed by the FSA launched an offensive to capture al-Bab, located some 25 kilometers south of the Turkish border in December 2016 as part of its ongoing Euphrates Shield operation that began in August.