Turkey-backed forces recaptured center of Syria's al-Bab

Turkey-backed forces recaptured center of Syria's al-BabTurkey-backed rebels seized the center of the town of al-Bab from Islamic State, Reuters cited Turkish state media and rebels officials on Thursday.

The move is marking a likely breakthrough in Ankara's drive to wipe out the militant group in northern Syria.

Turkey launched its Syrian operation, dubbed "Operation Euphrates Shield", in August, in effort to push Islamic State from its border and stop the advance of a Syrian Kurdish militia.

Backed by Turkish warplanes, tanks and special forces, the Free Syrian Army fighters first cleared Islamic State from Turkey's border before launching an assault on al-Bab in December.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency said the rebels had seized control of the center of al-Bab and were now clearing mines and explosive devices laid by the jihadists. A total of 1,900 square kilometers in northern Syria has now been cleared of militant groups, it said.

A Turkey-based rebel official from a group previously involved in fighting in Aleppo province said the insurgents had taken control of the city, but that there were pockets of IS militants still fighting.

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said that more than half of al-Bab was still under IS control and that battles continued.

While Euphrates Shield has been largely focused so far on combating Islamic State, Ankara is also determined to prevent the Kurdish YPG militia, which it considers a terrorist group, from linking the cantons it controls along the Turkish border.

Turkey fears that advances by the YPG risk inflaming a Kurdish insurgency at home.
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