Turkish officials are reporting that a weekend offensive westward from Jarabulus has expelled ISIS from its entire territory along the Syria-Turkey border, a region spanning 91 km, and cut off their primary supply route into Syria.
Some 20 villages were captured by Turkey-backed rebels in the offensive, which was backed by both Turkish tanks and warplanes. The last of the villages, Mizab and Qadi Jarabulus, both fell Sunday afternoon, effectively removing ISIS from the border.
At least for now. The territory seized from ISIS is important, but appears to be razor-thin, with only the villages directly along the border being taken, and ISIS retaining some territory further south. The Turkey-backed rebels, primarily Ahrar al-Sham and a faction of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), have said they had only 1,000 – 1,200 troops in Jarabulus.
The offensive has linked those troops back up with what they still have in and around Azaz, which before the Turkish push was effectively their only territory. This leaves them a wide ribbon of territory they’ll be expected to defend, with the only towns of note on the easternmost and westernmost edges.
That’s no small task, with ISIS and plenty of other factions always angling for territory, particularly border areas. While Jarabulus is a big gain for this rebel bloc, the expectation from Turkey that they’ll hold this frontier could be more of a burden than they’re ready for.
Prime Minister Yildirim insists that the gains mean that the entire 91 km border zone Turkey wants in the offensive is now “completely secured,” and while they were never exactly clear about where that span of territory starts and finishes, it appears that their definition of “completely secure” is questionable, with the question of how defensible this territory is remaining to be seen.