Skip to main content

Turkey urges air support for assault on IS-held Syria town

Turkey has accused IS of killing 30 civilians as they tried to flee al-Bab, a key Syria town Turkish forces have been seeking to take since late August
Syrian opposition fighters fire towards IS-held position in al-Bab northeast of Aleppo on 13 December (AFP)

Turkey on Monday said it wanted international air support for its army's assault on the militant-held Syrian town of al-Bab where the military is facing tough resistance from Islamic State (IS) fighters.

Turkish forces have for weeks joined pro-Ankara Syrian rebels in fierce fighting for al-Bab, taking increasing casualties as they approach closer to the centre.

Turkey is part of the US-led coalition against IS militants in Syria and lets Western war planes use its Incirlik air base as a hub for air raids.  

"As for our operations in al-Bab, the international coalition should assume its responsibilities, especially where air support is concerned," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in televised comments in Ankara.

"The weather conditions can sometimes entail delays," Kalin acknowledged. "But the absence of air support when there is no valid reason is unacceptable," he added.

The US and its allies have been conducting their own air strikes against IS targets in Syria but there have been no reports of them specifically aiding the Turkish operation.

Turkey at the weekend deployed more tanks and artillery to the border and also has sent 500 elite commandos to al-Bab in readiness for a final fight for the town, reports said.

A Britain-based monitoring group has accused Turkey of killing 88 civilians in air strikes on al-Bab. However the army has unequivocally denied such claims.

Thirty-six Turkish soldiers have died so far in the operation inside Syria - dubbed Euphrates Shield - since it was launched on 24 August.

IS militants last week circulated a video purportedly showing two Turkish soldiers captured by the extremists in Syria being burned alive.

The authenticity of the video cannot be confirmed and Turkey's leadership has made no mention of the images.

Turkey's Defence Minister Fikri Isik has said three Turkish soldiers are being held by IS, without giving further detail. The issue was evoked at Kalin's televised news conference but the spokesman did not give any comment.

Users in Turkey had reported severe problems with social media after the video emerged. However by Monday access to Twitter was fully restored after three days of disruption.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the weekend the battle for al-Bab is nearly finished, reiterating Turkish forces would then head to Manbij, a former bastion of IS that is now under the control of US-backed, Kurdish-led militia.

Turkey accuses IS of killing 30 civilians in Syria

Meanwhile, the Turkish army accused IS militants of killing at least 30 civilians seeking to flee the flashpoint Syrian town of al-Bab.

The army said that the civilians were killed with mines and homemade bombs as they tried to make their way out of al-Bab, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported, without giving further details.

Sixteen Turkish soldiers were killed by IS in the battle for the town on Wednesday - Ankara's biggest loss so far since it launched its incursion.

The Turkish military announced earlier this month that Syrian rebels backed by Turkey gained full control of the highway linking al-Bab to Aleppo, amid intense ground and air fire support. 

Four Turkish soldiers were killed and 11 wounded in clashes with IS during the advance on to al-Bab.