Syrian rebels have captured key border town from ISIS, Turkish media say
Turkish President says operation also aimed at Syrian Kurdish fighters
Turkish tanks entered northern Syria on Wednesday to help Syrian rebels clear ISIS from a border town, Turkish state media reported – a move that follows recent attacks that the republic blames on terror groups.
By Wednesday evening, the Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army had captured the town, Jarablus, which is less than a kilometer from Turkey and the last major community ISIS had held on the Syrian-Turkish border, Turkey’s semiofficial Anadolu agency reported.
Turkey’s incursion into Syrian territory is part of a larger effort to battle not only ISIS, but also Kurdish fighters in northern Syria that Ankara opposes, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
“(Wednesday’s operation) started in the north of Syria against terror groups which constantly threaten our country, like (ISIS) and the PYD,” Erdogan said, referring to a Syrian Kurdish opposition political party.
Pictures distributed by Agence France-Presse showed tanks rolling near the border Wednesday west of Jarablus. Turkish special forces units also were operating along the border, CNN Turk reported.
Turkish artillery units and warplanes belonging to the US-led coalition also pounded Jarablus.
A US defense official told CNN the anti-ISIS coalition has conducted eight airstrikes in support of the Jarablus operation.
The strikes were conducted using unmanned and manned aircraft, including A-10s and F-16s. The fight includes US-trained fighters known as the Vetted Syrian Opposition and Turkish forces.
Strikes were conducted against ISIS fighters and mortar positions, the official said.
The United States believes the ISIS fighters in Jarablus number in the hundreds.
There are no US boots on the ground in Jarablus, said the US official, adding, “We’ve been in communication with the Turks about the operation.”
The official said the campaign is “very significant.”
“This is a critical location because of the foreign fighter flow” from Europe and elsewhere, as well as helping stem the flow of fighters leaving Syria and Iraq.
Another senior US official told CNN’s Barbara Starr the US assessment is that Turkey’s cross-border action is largely about trying to stop Kurdish action. “The Turks never cared about Jarablus until the Kurds wanted to get there,” the official said.
The operation – dubbed Euphrates Shield, according to Anadolu – came two days after Turkish artillery units started shelling ISIS positions in Jarablus. That followed a recent mortar attack on residential areas in Karkamis, a town on the Turkish side of the border.
The move also came after a bombing Saturday night in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the Syrian border, that killed 54 people at a wedding celebration. That attack, which Turkey blames on ISIS, was the deadliest in a string of blasts across the nation this year.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country will “fully support” operations against ISIS positions in Jarablus.
Troops will create a safe zone of 90 by 40 kilometers (55 by 25 miles) for refugees between the towns of Marea and Jarablus, Turkish media said.