Middle East News

Turkey launches military operation in Syria

Turkish forces backed by U.S. aircraft launched an offensive in Syria to drive IS from its border and prevent further gains by Kurdish militias

Turkish special forces backed by aircraft from the U.S.-led counter-Islamic State coalition launched an offensive in Syria Wednesday in an attempt to drive IS from the border and prevent further territorial gains by Kurdish militias.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the operation was planned from its inception with U.S. help.

Syrian rebel fighters who had massed in the Turkish town of Karkamış are the main fighting force in Operation Euphrates Shield. According to Reuters, Turkish tanks were seen in Syria firing “intense bombardments.”

The offensive came after days of artillery bombardment on the strategically important Syrian town of Jarablus and the surrounding region. Jarablus was a stronghold for IS and the main crossing point on the Syria-Turkey border for IS foreign fighters.

The operation began at around 4 a.m. with Turkish army artillery bombardment of Jarablus and U.S. warplanes striking IS targets. Doğan News Agency live broadcast showed Turkish tanks approaching the Syrian border at around 8:30 a.m.

The Turkey-led force met little resistance and took control of the largely deserted Jarablus by 7:50 p.m. One Syrian rebel fighter was reported killed.

The operation is continuing, with Turkey-led forces taking control of a number of towns on its push west to create a Turkish zone of control between Jarablus and Marea.The Syrian Democratic Forces took control of a number of villages in the area during the day and there were reports of clashes between Turkey-backed FSA forces and the US-backed SDF in Amarinah.

Political fallout

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that the operation was targeting the Islamic State and the Syrian Kurdish PYD party. Turkey views the PYD as the Syrian branch of the Turkish Kurdish PKK which has waged a three-decade long war against the Turkish state.

According to Erdogan, Turkey is determined for Syria to retain its territorial integrity with matters being taken in its own hands if necessary, a reference to the declaration of intent by Kurds and their allies in northern Syria to create a federal region within the Syrian state.

US Vice President Joe Biden who was on a state visit to Turkey said that Kurdish forces must retreat east of the Euphrates or lose US support.

However, PYD co-leader Saleh Moslem tweeted that Turkey was entering a “quagmire” in Syria and faced defeat.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that Kurdish fighters should return east of the Euphrates or risk Turkey doing “what is necessary.”

Syria’s foreign ministry condemned the operation as a violation of sovereignty. It accused Turkey of trying to replace the Islamic State with “other terrorist groups.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow was “deeply worried over the latest events in the area of the Syrian-Turkish border,” TASS reported, adding that inter-ethnic tensions between Kurds and Arabs was cause for alarm.

The operation came four days after a suicide bomber with suspected links to the terror group killed 59 Kurdish people at a wedding in Gaziantep, Turkey.

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