Despite advancing to the very near edge of the Islamic State stronghold of Al-Bab, Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions shifted their attention on Monday and began attacking Kurdish-held villages in the northeastern part of Aleppo province.
Preceded by a massive primarily Turkish artillery bombardment and at least 26 airstrikes by the Turkish Air Force, the FSA stormed Sheikh Nassir village in the early morning hours.
Skirmishes continued until noon when the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) withdrew from the village. As the FSA swarmed through Sheikh Nassir, rebel forces captured three Kurdish fighters who were unable to escape the battle in time.
Then, on Monday afternoon, Kurdish forces went on the counter-offensive, retaking Sheikh Nassir just hours after it was lost. During the battle, 21 FSA fighters were killed and 3 Turkish soldiers injured; the latter due to the destruction of a Turkish armored vehicle.
On Sunday, rebel forces had otherwise launched two consecutive assaults on nearby Qabasin, a highly embattled town under ISIS control. Both attacks were repelled although an Islamic State VBIED was destroyed during the clashes.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) November 20, 2016
Turkey has legitimized its attacks on the SDF under the guise that the Kurdish YPG – the primary contingent of the SDF – had failed to withdraw to the east of the Euphrates River despite promising to do so last week.
The YPG – a sister party of the outlawed PKK – is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara.
Meanwhile, a SDF spokesperson said the group would seriously consider abandoning the campaign to liberate Raqqa if the U.S. did not pressure Turkey to halt its attacks on the SDF.