15:52 GMT12 August 2020
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    The struggle to liberate Aleppo is the centerpiece of the Russo-Syrian counter-terrorism operation in Syria, Husnu Mahalli, a Turkish expert on Middle Eastern affairs, told Sputnik. After having liberated Aleppo, the Syrian Arab Army is likely to advance on Idlib and al-Bab, the expert asserts.

    After having liberated Aleppo, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) may advance on the Syrian city of al-Bab, Husnu Mahalli, a Turkish expert on Middle Eastern affairs, suggested in his Friday interview with Sputnik Turkiye.

    The expert underscored that the SAA, backed by Russia, has made considerable progress in eastern Aleppo.

    According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the SAA now controls 93 percent of the territory of the city.

    "As a result of a successful advance, 52 districts in eastern Aleppo have been freed from militants. Over the past four days, territory controlled by militants has shrunk by one third. The Syrian army controls 93% of the city's territory," Sergei Rudskoy, the chief of the Russian General Staff Main Operational Directorate, told reporters Friday.

    Mahalli emphasized that the operation to liberate Aleppo from extremists is an important part of the Russo-Syrian counter-terrorism campaign. It became possible because of efforts taken by Damascus and Russia to agree to a truce with opposition forces in other regions of the country. That allowed the Syrian government to amass a considerable military force in Aleppo.

    "While brokering a truce in Homs, Damascus and other regions, the Syrian government informed the terrorists that those who wanted to leave voluntarily could do so. As a result, many of the militants fled to Idlib," Mahalli explained, adding that the situation in Aleppo is likely to unfold in a similar way.

    "The next goal of the Syrian [Arab] Army will be to liberate al-Bab [from Daesh]. The road to the city is controlled by the government forces; al-Bab is just 15 kilometers from [the SAA positions]," the Turkish expert stressed.

    Meanwhile, Kurdish militants and Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) insurgents continue their race for al-Bab.

    While the People's Protection Units (YPG) seek to maintain control over northern Syria, Ankara is taking every effort to throw a wrench in the YPG's works and prevent the Kurds from establishing an independent entity on Turkey's southern border. 

    "Ankara's primary objective in launching its offensive into Syria, known as Operation Euphrates Shield, was to block the path of Kurdish forces trying to form this link between their holdings. The Turkish government is concerned about the calls for autonomy coming from its own Kurdish minority and is set on preventing further YPG expansion," intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Stratfor), dubbed "the shadow CIA," reported in mid-November.

    "Turkey, through its rebel proxies, aims to seize al-Bab and block the Kurds once and for all," Starfor highlighted.

    It was reported Thursday that Ankara had sent 300 Turkish commandos to northern Syria to bolster the Euphrates Shield operation.

    According to information obtained by a Sputnik correspondent from a source in the FSA, Free Syrian Army troops entered the Syrian city of al-Bab with the support of the Turkish army on Friday, and are facing fierce resistance from Daesh.

    Mahalli suggested that if Daesh militants decide to leave al-Bab they are likely to retreat to Raqqa. The Turkish expert added that Idlib is currently controlled by the formerly al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front.

    "When the Syrian [Arab] Army enters Idlib, those terrorists who refuse to surrender will be eliminated. But where will those who decide to capitulate go? That is the question. They will probably go to Turkey," Mahalli speculated, stressing that most of the foreign jihadists entered the war zone by crossing the Turkish-Syrian border.   


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