Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik says his country’s armed forces and allied militants are almost in full control of the Syrian city of al-Bab taking the city from the Daesh Takfiri terrorists.
"It's been a long time since we came to al-Bab but today we can say that near complete control has been taken of al-Bab and the city center has been entered," Anadolu news agency quoted Isik as saying Thursday.
Militants, he said, had already entered the al-Bab city center and launched an operation to clear explosives laid by Daesh elements.
Turkish authorities first announced the capture of al-Bab last month. They have made similar claims at least twice since then.
"When the search and combing operations are over, we will be able to say that al-Bab has been completely cleared of Daesh elements,” Isik said, adding, “This does not need too much more time.”
Isik further repeated Ankara’s readiness to join any operation by the US in a declared bid to retake the Syrian city of Raqqah, the de facto capital of Daesh in Syria.
The campaign should include the Free Syrian Army militants, who are fighting to topple the Syrian government, but exclude Kurdish forces whom Turkey views as terrorists, he added.
Earlier on Thursday, a member of the Sultan Murad Brigade operating in al-Bab told Reuters that the Turkish-backed militants had reached the al-Bab city center, but repeated attacks forced them to “withdraw a little bit.”
“I can say that 85-90 percent of the city is under control," the unnamed militant official said, adding that Daesh terrorists had dug tunnels all under al-Bab and mined the whole city.
Meanwhile, Zakaria Malahifji, a Turkey-based militant official, told Reuters there were street battles going on in al-Bab.
Turkey launched its incursion into Syria in August 2016, sending tanks and warplanes across the border in what was condemned by Damascus as an act of aggression.
Ankara claimed its military campaign was aimed at pushing Daesh from Turkey's border with Syria and stopping the advance of Kurdish forces.
Turkey is one of the key countries in the Syria conflict, which has raged on since March 2011, allowing militants from around the world to freely enter the Arab nation and wreak havoc there.