- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 25, 2016

A number of Turkish tanks and heavy artillery are heading to the country’s volatile border with the war-torn country of Syria Sunday, ordered by Ankara to reinforce the country’s ongoing campaign against the Islamic State.

The Turkish troops and weaponry began making their way toward the border region on Sunday as Turkish and Syria fighters continue to tighten the noose around the al Bab, the northern Syrian enclave controlled by Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, Agence France-Presse reported.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday said “Al-Bab is nearly finished” almost a month after the offensive began to retake the city, which lies 100 miles west of Islamic State’s so-called capital of Raqqa, Syria, AFP reported.

The Turkish president also reiterated his plans to move on the Syrian city of Manbij, a forrmer ISIS stronghold now under control of the American-backed coalition in the country, once the al-Bab operations were complete.

Turkey’s push into al-Bab had been seen as a thinly-veiled effort by Ankara to take Raqqa without American or coalition support.

The Turkish offensive began roughly the same time as the U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, began their long-awaited assault on the city.

Mr. Erdogan has refused to acknowledge the Raqqa operation, led by the Kurdish-Arab SDF force.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. officer in Iraq and Syria, said earlier this month he planned to “circle back” with his Turkish counterpart, to explore possible joint scenarios in which Washington and Ankara’s forces could participate in the pending attack on Raqqa.

Last week, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook acknowledged that U.S. and Turkish commanders maintain “close coordination” in the run-up to the Raqqa offensive but refused to comment on possible joint operations between the two NATO members in Syria.

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