Jihadists Kill 16 Troops in Turkey’s Deadliest Day in Syria

  • Turkish soldiers hit by three suicide bombings in north
  • Erdogan says Turkish troops, rebels fully besiege Al-Bab town

Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels besieged the Islamic State stronghold of Al-Bab in northern Syria after three separate suicide bombings left Turkey reeling from its bloodiest day on the Syrian front.

At least 16 Turkish soldiers were killed and more than 30 wounded Wednesday in the suicide attacks, Defense Minister Fikri Isik told parliament, bringing the overall death toll to 35 since Turkey launched a ground offensive in Syria against Islamic State and hostile Kurdish groups in August. Nearly 200 Islamic State militants were also killed on Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. The figure couldn’t be independently verified.

“Our region is going through the biggest upheaval since World War I,” Isik said. Islamic State, he added, was resisting in Al-Bab with suicide bombings, snipers, improvised bombs and traps to keep Turkish-backed rebel forces away from Raqqa, the jihadists’ de facto capital.

Erdogan on Wednesday said Al-Bab, which lies about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the Turkish border, has been fully surrounded by the Free Syrian Army and Turkish soldiers. Most of the Turkish dead were killed during an attack against Islamic State’s local headquarters on a hill overlooking the town, Isik said.

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Turkish forces stepped up their offensive on Al-Bab following the fall this month of the city of Aleppo to Russian-backed Syrian government forces.

While Russia and Turkey have been on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict, the two nations have increasingly found common ground. After Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was shot dead Monday in Ankara by an off-duty policeman who invoked the brutal battle of Aleppo, Russian and Turkish officials said their improving relationship won’t be derailed by the assassination.

People picked up during the investigation for alleged links to the gunman were all supporters of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, the alleged mastermind of a failed coup attempt in July, Erdogan said on Wednesday without providing evidence. Gulen has denied involvement in the botched takeover.

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