Ankara – Ankara warned People’s Protection Units (YPG) from approaching al-Bab city, ISIS’s stronghold northeast Aleppo, as Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army forces are so close to take it over.
Turkish Defense Minister, Fikri Isik, warned the Democratic Union Party (PYD) from advancing to al-Bab city.
Isik said in Ankara that Turkey cannot accept any presence for PYD near al-Bab in the north of Syria, adding that if PYD does not abandon its dream of connecting the cantons of al-Hasakah, Kobani, and Afrin, it will pay a heavy price.
The rebels said on Tuesday they had taken Qabasin, several km northeast of al-Bab, setting the stage for an assault on the last urban stronghold of ISIS in the northern Aleppo countryside.
“Turkey-backed rebels are just two kilometers from the northern Syrian city of al-Bab and are expected to take it from ISIS quickly despite some resistance,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told a press conference on Wednesday.
Al-Bab is of particular strategic importance to Turkey because Kurdish-dominated militias have also been pursuing a drive to seize it.
Ankara is determined to prevent Kurdish forces from joining up cantons they control along the Turkish border, for fear it will stoke Kurdish separatism at home.
Erdogan also said he was confident that the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia would withdraw east of the Euphrates River from the city of Manbij on Wednesday or Thursday, fulfilling a long-standing Turkish demand.
However, Manbij was recently liberated from ISIS by Kurdish-led forces backed by the United States.
Ankara regards the YPG as a hostile force with deep ties to Kurdish militants who have fought a three-decade insurgency in Turkey.
The YPG said it was pulling out of Manbij and withdrawing east of the Euphrates, but was doing so in order to participate in the campaign to liberate ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, which is likely to further antagonize Ankara.
Turkey has repeatedly said that YPG fighters should not be involved in the planned Raqqa operation, arguing that the city is predominantly Arabs.
Notably, Turkey sent warplanes, tanks and artillery into Syria in August in support of mostly Arab and Turkmen rebels, an operation dubbed “Euphrates Shield” and meant to drive both ISIS and Kurdish militia forces away from its border.