At least 15 Turkish and US-backed Syrian rebels have been killed in fighting as the opposition edges closer towards Dabiq, an ISIA village in northern Syria of great importance to the terror group’s ideology. “If matters proceed as planned, within 48 hours we will be in Dabiq,” Ahmed Osman, commander of the Sultan Murad Free Syrian Army (FSA) group, told Reuters on Monday. U.S. special presidential envoy to the coalition against ISIS Brett McGurk also said on Twitter that rebels had advanced to “within a few kilometers of [ISIS] weakening stronghold Dabiq.”
Dabiq, first captured by ISIS in August 2014, occupies a central place in ISIS’ version of Muslim theology. The militants say that a battle there between Islamic and infidel Christian forces will herald the beginning of the apocalypse. While the village is not militarily important to the so-called caliphate, ISIS’ online propaganda magazine takes its name from the town, and losing control of it would be a significant ideological blow.
ISIA has sent an additional 800 fighters to defend it from advancing FSA rebels in recent months, and heavily mined the surrounding countryside, Osman said. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported it was a combination of mortar fire and landmines that killed the FSA rebels. Monday’s official death toll among Turkish-backed rebels fighting in northern Syria is the highest since the FSA groups began pushing into ISIS territory on August 24th.
Several villages near Dabiq have been recaptured in recent days, and the Turkish military said its warplanes have hit several ISIS targets in and around Dabiq on Monday, including a command post and an ammunition depot. ISIS has faced several military defeats in recent months across its territory in Syria and Iraq. It is currently facing an imminent attack on the Iraqi city of Mosul by US-backed Iraqi troops. A successful Dabiq offensive by Turkish-backed rebels raises the prospect of advances on its Syrian capital, Raqqa.