Northern al-Bab offensive (September 2016)
The northern al-Bab offensive (September 2016) was a military offensive and part of the third phase of Operation Euphrates Shield launched by the Turkish Armed Forces and factions from the Free Syrian Army and allied groups, with the goal of capturing the city of al-Bab located north of Aleppo from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
In early September 2016, rebel and Turkish forces reached within 20 kilometers of al-Bab after capturing a large area of territory from al-Rai to Jarabulus from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The rebels then announced their goal of capturing al-Bab.
Two days later, ISIL evacuated its headquarters in al-Bab and dozens of vehicles carrying militants and weapons drove to the town of Khafsa to the east.
On 16 September, the Turkish Armed Forces and FSA factions officially announced the beginning of the third phase of Operation Euphrates Shield. The FSA vowed to continue until they reach the government-held Kuweires Military Airbase. Dozens of US special forces would also support the operation. On 17 September, a pro-Syrian opposition media had claimed the Turkish-backed rebels had captured the Tal Homs hilltop near al-Rai. On the same day, fighters of ISIL started evacuating their families from al-Bab.
On 18 September, Turkish-backed rebels captured six villages. Meanwhile, the ISIL-affiliated Amaq News Agency claimed that around 60 rebels were killed in Jakkah and Talghar, mostly due to mines when they rushed through these areas. Amaq also claimed that ISIL had destroyed a Turkish tank near Jakkah using a guided missile. By 19 September, the number of villages captured by the rebels had risen to nine.
On 20 September, ISIL reportedly seized six villages in a counter-attack near al-Rai, reaching the village of al-Hadabat, east of the town. In turn, the rebels took control of two other villages near al-Rai. Between 21 and 22 September, the rebels recaptured three villages from ISIL, before losing them again hours later.
As of 22 September, the rebel offensive towards al-Bab had stalled due to the ISIL counter-attack. Meanwhile, ISIL fired two rockets on Kilis in Turkey, leaving eight civilians injured. The Turkish military later stated that it had carried out airstrikes as well as shelling against the positions from where the rockets were fired, resulting in the deaths of 40 militants.
By 23 September, ISIL had captured more than 20 villages from the rebels. Due to the rebel losses, the offensive was halted and the third phase of the Turkish operation was put on hold. During the ISIL advance east of al-Rai, a pro-rebel source claimed the FSA captured a village west of the town.
Between 24 and 27 September, pro-rebel sources claimed the rebels had seized 11 villages from ISIL, including 10 of those previously lost, as well as the electrical grid of Weqfan. A pro-government source also confirmed the rebels took control of three other villages, two of which they also previously lost.
On 27 September, three Turkish soldiers were injured in an attack conducted by ISIL using a bomb-laden drone while the Turkish military shelled 30 ISIL targets.
In late September, the Al-Monitor assessed, taking into account the ISIL recapture of a number of Turkmen villages south of Jarablus from the FSA, that the Euphrates Shield operation could not be sustained without Turkish ground troops, pointing to existing doubts since the very start. It stated the rebel forces were inadequate and the biggest weakness of the operation, which could possibly lead to larger numbers of Turkish troops coming into Syria and into a "quagmire".
In the immediate aftermath of the aborted offensive towards al-Bab, the rebels and Turkey launched a new offensive towards the ISIL-held town of Dabiq.
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