After liberating over a dozen villages from ISIS in the past 48 hours, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has now officially severed the last strip of territory in eastern Aleppo that connected Turkish-led forces with the Islamic State.
A small pocket of two villages are still technically still under ISIS control although jihadist militants are believed to have evacuated from the area prior to its encirclement, leaving only mines in their wake.
Effectively, the Euphrates Shield forces must either attack the SAA or Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) if they are to advance deeper into Syria. Any such further aggression would put Ankara at odds with either the US or Russia.
Nevertheless, the Turkish Armed Forces have heavily shelled regional villages controlled by the US-backed SDF over the past week while fierce clashes erupted with the Russian-backed SAA at Tadef yesterday, a government-held town neighbouring Al-Bab.
The Euphrates Shield offensive began last August with the swift capture of Jarabulus, a border town adjacent to the Euphrates River.
The Euphrates Shield forces are composed of the Turkish Army, Ahrar al-Sham, Failaq al-Sham and mostly Turkmen contingents of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Notably, the SAA and SDF have met up south of Manbij. These factions are not hostile to each other and share some checkpoints at Sheikh Maqsoud in the provincial capital of Aleppo and a rural area north of the city.
Last year, it was revealed that ISIS smuggled oil across the Turkish border. Although Turkey and ISIS are considered enemies of one another, rumours have persisted that black market trade (weapons for oil) continued in the region. This is no longer possible due to the SAA’s Toffensive.
Now, the SAA’s Tiger Forces are expected to turn their attention towards Deir Hafer, the last city controlled by ISIS in the Aleppo governorate.