Turkish soldiers and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have completely surrounded the Daesh-held town of Al-Bab, Ankara's defense minister said Thursday.
Speaking in Brussels, Fikri Isik said Turkey would help civilians living in Al-Bab and also fix the city's infrastructure after the terror group is driven out.
"Now Al-Bab is completely surrounded. A serious cleaning operation is being done inside [the city].
"There is a very intense operation to clear Al-Bab's city center of Daesh elements. The Free Syrian Army [FSA] and the Turkish Armed Forces have been conducting [operations] together," Isik told reporters at a news conference.
Turkey has been carrying out a military operation in northern Syria since last August. Led by FSA fighters, Operation Euphrates Shield aims to improve security, support coalition forces, and eliminate the terror threat along the Turkish border.
The operation has focused on Al-Bab since early December.
Referring to Turkey's "top two priorities" after liberating Al-Bab, Isik said Syria's Manbij and Raqqa would also be cleared of Daesh.
One of the goals of the operation now is to liberate Raqqa, Daesh's "capital," as well as Manbij, a strategically important city located on the western banks of the Euphrates River, which is currently controlled by terrorist forces.
On the PYD/YPG presence in Manbij, Isik said that it poses a grave threat to the stability of both Turkey and the region.
"We have been striving to do this [rid the region of the PKK/PYD] in the fastest and easiest way. We are determined to advance this goal without causing any tension. This operation will also continue after Al-Bab," he said.
Isik added that the U.S. also places importance on the upcoming Raqqa operation, which it is backed by Britain and France as well.
"Turkey sees danger in exploiting one terrorist organization against another, which will certainly cause a catastrophe for the region," he added.
Turkish forces are ready to contribute to the U.S.' upcoming Raqqa operation, Isik said.
Turkey wants to act together on the Daesh-held Syrian cities of Al-Bab and Raqqa, the latter the terrorist group's self-proclaimed capital. Wednesday marks day 177 of the Turkish-led Operation Euphrates Shield to repel Daesh terrorists in northern Syria.
"If you want the Raqqa operation to become a lasting peace, if you want permanent stability in the region, you need to conduct the Raqqa operation with Arabs who are resident of the region, not with PKK/ PYD elements."
Since it resumed its armed campaign in July 2015, the PKK -- the PYD/YPG's parent group, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S., and EU -- has been responsible for the deaths of approximately 1,100 security personnel and civilians, including women and children.
While the Obama administration had called the PYD a "reliable partner" in fighting Daesh in the region, Turkey has long warned against any cooperation with the group, stressing that is part and parcel with the terrorist PKK. The views of the U.S.' new Trump administration are as yet unknown. -