Erdogan wants Syria's al-Bab at all costs now. Ironically this is good news for Russia
As predicted after ISIS burned alive two captured Turkish soldiers Turkey's resolve to capture northern Syrian city of al-Bab from ISIS has only grown.
Since August when it crossed over into Syria the Turkish military with Syrian rebels in tow has been advancing with few complications, but since reaching the outskirts of al-Bab it has been stuck in its tracks. On December 21st alone it lost 16 soldiers killed in a surprise ISIS counter-attack.
A major Turkish complaint has been that the 1,500 or so Syrian rebels accompanying its march are not enthusiastic fighters and largely fled the field when ISIS struck back. So then if Turkey wants al-Bab it will have to do much of the heavy lifting itself.
That is something the Turks have by now resigned themselves to. Turkish media reports that an additional 500 Turkish commandos will be thrown into the al-Bab battle.
According to same reports they will be further boosted by 2,000 Syrian rebel fighters Turkey will transport to its expanding occupation zone from the main rebel-held area of Syria in Idlib and Aleppo province.
So not only is Turkey getting more invested in the fight against ISIS but it is weakening the main rebel-held enclave to do so.
When the rebel pocket of eastern Aleppo fell to a Russian-backed Syrian offensive earlier this month a few of the anti-government fighters switched sides and joined the Kurdish-dominated SDF. Others laid down their arms and accepted amnesty and reintegration into civilian life under government rule. About 4,000 of them however, were bused out to the main rebel enclave around Idlib and stretching into Aleppo province.
In other words between the influx of 4,000 fighters earlier this month and the Turkish-sponsored exodus of 2,000 fighters to al-Bab the rebels holding Idlib have hardly been reinforced.
It is certainly more advantageous for Russia and Syria to have these fighters following the Turkish military as it takes on ISIS, rather than standing in the way of renewed Syrian-Russian offensive from Aleppo into Idlib.
Also it is better for Russia that more rebels are in northern Syria where they are dependent on Erdogan with whom Moscow is able to talk and negotiate (they are meeting for a new round of Syria talks next month in Kazakhstan). Rather than in the rebels' Idlib territory where they are under the control of al-Qaeda with whom talks are politically impossible.
Russians seem to be drawing the exact same conclusion. The pro-Syrian Al-Masdar reports that Russian aircraft have struck ISIS targets in al-Bab directly benefiting the Turkish military parked on its outskirts.