Turkey-backed rebels are nearing the symbolically and religiously significant IS-held town of Dabiq. One Turkish solider has been killed in clashes with “Islamic State” militants in northern Syria.
Turkish-backed rebels in northern Syria closed in on the IS-held town of Dabiq on Wednesday, setting the stage for a key battle over a town that holds symbolic and religious significance for the extremist group.
One Turkish solider and two Ankara-backed rebels were killed in clashes near the key border town of Al-Rai, the Turkish military said. Eighteen IS fighters were also “neutralized,” it said.
The Turkish military said rebels it backs had taken control of the villages of Turkmen Bari, Kuaybah, Boztepe and Hardanah.
The offensive is backed by US-led coalition airstrikes.
The advance means the Turkish military and the rebels it backs have advanced to within three kilometers (two miles) of Dabiq, a town where according to IS ideology an apocalyptic-like battle will take place.
It is also the name of the terror group’s English-language propaganda magazine.
Turkey launched “Operation Euphrates Shield” on August 24 to clear IS from a section of the border and block the US-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia from advancing further west.
The intervention involves tanks, soldiers and artillery backed by US-led coalition airstrikes and ground forces from Turkey-backed rebels.
Turkey has in effect created a limited buffer zone along the border, but critics of the operation have questioned Ankara’s goals and exit strategy.
Eleven Turkish soldiers have been killed since the operation began.
So far most of the Turkish soldiers have been killed by IS but at least one was killed in clashes with the YPG, which Ankara also considers a terrorist organization due to the group’s ties to Kurdish rebels in Turkey.
The United States considers the YPG to be one of the best ground forces fighting against IS. Conflicting views between the two NATO allies over the Syrian Kurds have led to tensions.
cw/kl (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)