Turkish tanks cross Syrian border in military op to retake city of Jarablus from ISIS

Turkey has launched a ground incursion into Syria targeting Islamic State and Kurdish fighters near the town of Jarablus. Ankara says it wants to take the town to stop cross-border attacks, while the Kurds warn that Turkish troops will get into a quagmire.

“At 4:00 this morning, operations started in the north of Syria against terror groups which constantly threaten our country, like Daesh [Arabic name for Islamic State] and the PYD [he Democratic Union Party of Syria],” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.

The Turkish operation is focused on the Kurdish border town of Jarablus, which has been held by the Islamic State terrorist group since July of 2013.

The Kurdish Firat news agency (ANFNews) reported that 29 civilians have been killed by the advancing Turkish and allied troops so far. Some 3,000 ethnic Kurds have reportedly fled Jarablus and its neighboring areas since the Turkish operation became imminent. The Kurds object to the operation, believing it to be a ploy to prevent Kurdish militias from retaking the town.

Turkish-backed rebels are assisting the Turkish troops. Hours into the operation, Free Syrian Army fighters captured the village of Keklice located some three kilometers from Jarablus, Anadolu reported, citing military sources.

The operation, called Euphrates Shield, is being supported by Turkish air forces, as well as warplanes from the US-led coalition.

Turkish artillery began shelling targets across the Syrian border earlier on Wednesday, Reuters reported, citing its own journalist on the scene. The agency said Turkish tanks can now be seen inside Syria and an intensive bombardment can be heard.

The launch of the ground offensive was confirmed by Turkish state news agency Anadolu, citing military sources.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the incursion had been prompted by cross-border attacks originating from Jarablus, stressing they “must stop,” according to Turkish state news agency Anadolu.

Commenting on Operation Euphrates Shield, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Kurdish fighters must remain east of the Euphrates River or Turkey will “do what is necessary.”

Turkish media reported earlier that IS had launched retaliation attacks into the Turkish border town of Karkamis after the violence around Jarablus escalated. Elsewhere in Istanbul, law enforcement reportedly conducted raids targeting suspected IS sympathizers, according to the Dogan news agency.

The Syrian Kurdish militia YPG attempted to retake Jarablus last year, but were reportedly prevented from doing so when Ankara threatened to intervene.
Damascus has condemned the Turkish incursion, with the Syrian Foreign Ministry calling it a breach of Syria’s national sovereignty, Reuters reported citing Syrian state television.

Turkey does not cooperate with the Syrian government and believes that it should be toppled.

“Damascus condemns the incursion of Turkish tanks into Syria under the cover of the US-led coalition,” the ministry source said, as cited by Syria’s Sana state news agency, adding that “fighting terrorism does not mean ousting terrorists form the Islamic State group and replacing them with other extremist groups supported by Turkey.”

Saleh Muslim, head of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), warned that the Turkish forces would get bogged down in a quagmire and ultimately be defeated.

Speaking to ANFNews, Muslim said that Turkey had gone from targeting Syrian Kurds through proxies to directly fighting Kurdish fighters in Syria on the ground, adding that while Turkey had made the decision to enter Syria, withdrawing would not be as simple.

Spokesman for the YPG, Redur Xelil, called Turkey’s move “blatant aggression in Syrian internal affairs.” Aldar Xelil, another influential Kurdish politician, accused Turkey of initiating an occupation of Syria, saying the operation amounted to “a declaration of war” on the autonomous administration set up by Kurdish groups in northern Syria in 2011.

The PYD believes that Turkey has launched its operation to prevent the Kurds from retaking it from IS, Salam Ali, PYD’s representative in Moscow, told RIA Novosti.

“Jarablus is located in the north of Kobani area and our forces advanced close to it. After the Kurdish troops took the city of Manbij we had plans to go in that direction. Apparently Turkey invaded from the North not to let the Kurds have this city,” he said.

Source: rt.com

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