ALEPPO, SYRIA – The Islamic State’s largest remaining stronghold in the province of Aleppo is in trouble as the Turkish-backed Euphrates Shield factions have exhausted the long-lasting buffer zone north of the city which became the terror group’s administrative capital following the fall of Manbij to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) early in the summer.
The Turkish-backed rebels have managed to capture the villages of Qubbat Al-Sheikh, Al-Hadath, Suwaysan, Hajji Kusa, Halisa Al-Kabira, Aq Tash, Hazwan, Wiqah, Dana, Qudayran, and Buzlijah Al-Gharbiyah in the past 24 hours leaving them less than 2 km away from the city that crests the strategic M4 Highway that links Lattakia to Hasakah.
In a matter of a day or two, the rebels managed to clear 10 km of territory in the direction of Al-Bab. This mass retreat by ISIS is most likely due to the launch of the Euphrates Wrath Operation by the predominantly Kurdish SDF. ISIS finds itself in deep trouble as the battle-hardened YPG successfully broke its first lines of defense south of Ain Issa capturing the Hisha fertile bastion north of Raqqa. The Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital no longer enjoys the comfort of isolation as the US-backed forces lie no more than 30 km away from the city.
In total, the Euphrates Shield Op has managed to secure approximately 1,560 km squared since its inception. The Turkish Air Force has reportedly reactivated as rebel forces loom closer to the feared urban battlefield setting of Al-Bab. Amaq, ISIS’s official news agency, reports three US airstrikes on the outskirts of Al-Bab.
After the loss of Manbij, north Aleppo lost its strategic significance for ISIS as a border transit and economic center for oil smuggling. The terror group has no shortage of important battles to fight and is suffering from a severe shortage in manpower. It will likely prioritize defending Raqqa and the Maskanah Plains over retaining control of Al-Bab.