Turkish Forces Storm into Syria, Targeting Islamic State Militants, Kurds
By VOA News August 24, 2016
Turkish tanks and special forces stormed into Syria on Wednesday, a sweeping military offensive aimed at clearing Islamic State militants and Syrian Kurds from the border region.
About 1,500 Syrian opposition fighters also joined the cross-border operation, Ankara's most significant involvement so far in the five-year Syrian conflict.
Hours after heavy pre-dawn artillery attacks and a Turkish and U.S. aerial bombardment of Islamic State targets around Jarablus, Turkey's state-run news agency reported that rebels had captured the nearby IS-held village of Kaklijeh. One senior U.S. official said the American military is providing Turkish forces with air cover, intelligence and advisers to assist in the operation.
"We want to help the Turks get ISIL off the border," the official said, using another name for Islamic State.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the offensive is in response to a series of attacks in Turkey, including the suicide bombing of a Kurdish wedding party near the border last weekend that killed 54 people. He said the goal was to end threats from "terror" groups, Islamic State jihadists and U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia linked to Turkey's outlawed Kurdish rebels.
But Turkey's targeting of the Syrian Kurds could put it on track for a confrontation with U.S. military operations in Syria. Washington considers the Kurdish rebels in Syria to be the most effective fighters against Islamic State jihadists, even as Ankara has waged a three-decade fight against Kurds who are seeking an autonomous state in southeastern Turkey.
Vice President Joe Biden, who is meeting with top officials in Ankara, told a news conference Wednesday that the U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels must remain east of the Euphrates river in Syria, keeping the forces far from Turkey's border.
"They cannot, will not and under no circumstances get American support if they do not keep that commitment. Period," said Biden.
Wednesday's operation included artillery fire and Turkish jets conducting airstrikes backed by other warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition that has been targeting Islamic State for about two years.
A number of Turkish tanks were also seen taking part in the fighting on the Syrian side of the border as they tried to push the militants out of Jarablus.
Syria's Foreign Ministry condemned Turkey's actions as a violation of its sovereignty.
The operation comes a day after Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey would give "every kind" of support to fighting Islamic State in the area around Jarablus. On Monday, the government vowed to "cleanse" Islamic State following a suicide bombing in nearby Gaziantep.
Islamic State controlled a long stretch of the Turkey-Syria border in early 2015, but Kurdish fighters have regained a large portion of the territory, particularly to the east of Jarablus.
Denying the militants access to the border cuts off a potential route for supplies and bringing in fighters, but Turkey has been wary of those gains being accompanied by the Kurds expanding their control in northern Syria.
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