Russian air strikes coincidentally killed three Turkish soldiers during an operation against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, the Turkish military said, highlighting the risk of involuntary clashes between the many outside powers in a war complex.
“In an operation carried out by a Russian Federation warplane against targets of the Islamic State in the area of Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria, a bomb accidentally hit a building used by the units of the Islamic State Turkish army, “said the Turkish army. Eleven others wounded. The Kremlin also said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and expressed his condolences, accusing the incident of poor coordination between Moscow and Ankara.
In addition to Russia and Turkey, foreign forces involved in the increasingly complicated six-year war in Syria include members of a coalition led by the United States and Lebanese Hezbollah as well as other militias supported by The Iranians. Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al–Assad, while Turkey supports rebels who oppose it. In 2015, Turkey shot down a plane of the Russian air force which, according to him, had crossed Turkish airspace, although Moscow refused any incursion.
The two countries have since repaired relations, and the Kremlin’s statement said on Thursday that the two leaders had agreed to intensify military coordination against the Islamic state. US Vice President Mike Pence also expressed his condolences to the Turkish victims in an appeal with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, in which they discussed cooperation in the fight against terrorism, Yildirim said.
CLOSING ON AL-BAB
Syrian rebels supported by the Turks led a major offensive against the Syrian city of al-Bab, 30 km south of the border with Turkey. The advance risks putting them directly in conflict with the Syrian government forces that are approaching the city of the south. A rebel commander said that Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters, working with Turkish commanders, were advancing territory near the western gates of al-Bab, which they assaulted on Wednesday.
“The fighting started recently to accomplish what had been achieved yesterday,” said a commander of a leading FSA group that fights in al-Bab, who has requested anonymity.
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The capture of the city would reinforce the influence of Turkey in a region of northern Syria where it created a de facto buffer zone. In August, it launched its Operation Shield of the Euphrates, supporting Syrian rebels with special forces, tanks and planes to sweep the Islamic state of its border area and stop the advance of a Kurdish militia.
Al-Bab is an important economic center for activists and is located on a key crossroads for the region north of Aleppo. The Syrian army has secured Thursday a series of villages on the southern edge of the city, according to media reports. The Turkish army said it killed 44 militants in air strikes and artillery and clashes in northern Syria. Five Turkish soldiers were killed in the clashes, the private Turkish news agency Dogan said.
Turkish-backed rebels said clashes had occurred for the first time with the Syrian army in the village of Abu Zandayn, south-west of al Bab, where they were advancing. The army, assisted by militias supported by Iran, has made rapid progress in the last days of the south of the city seizing more than thirty villages of militants, bringing them closer to their Turkish and rebel enemies.
The army also secured Thursday a new chain of villages on the southern edge of the city and army units have now cleared hundreds of mines and explosives planted by militants in these villages, state media announced . The rebels said the city’s assault on Wednesday was to pre-empt any attempt by the army to enter before them. Turkey said coordination with Russia prevents clashes with Syrian forces.