Turkey launches anti-ISIL operation in Syria
KARKAMIS, TURKEY // Turkey’s army backed by international coalition air strikes launched an operation on Wednesday to drive ISIL extremists out of a key Syrian border town.
The air and ground operation, the most ambitious launched by Turkey in the Syria conflict, is aimed at clearing ISIL from the town of Jarabulus, which lies directly opposite the Turkish town of Karkamis, the prime minister’s office said.
The operation, named “Euphrates Shield”, began around 4am local time (5am UAE) with Turkish artillery pounding dozens of ISIL targets around Jarabulus.
Turkish F-16 fighter jets and coalition war planes also hit targets inside Syria while about a dozen Turkish tanks were seen crossing into Syria to support the operation.
Tensions had flared across the Syria-Turkey border the previous day following rocket fire from Jarabulus which landed inside Turkey, with the Turkish army firing howitzer rounds in response.
The operation also appeared aimed at pre-empting any assault on Jarabulus by pro-Kurdish militias, who also oppose ISIL but are accused by Turkey of seeking to carve out a Kurdish region in northern Syria.
“God willing, we will get a result in a short time” to kick ISIL out of Jarabulus, Efkan Ala, the interior minister, told the state-run Anadolu news agency, saying Turkey was working with coalition partners and moderate Syrian opposition.
Turkish authorities had late on Tuesday ordered the evacuation of Karkamis for safety reasons, raising expectations that an offensive was imminent.
The AFP photographer in Karkamis saw 11 Turkish tanks crossing the frontier and then firing on Jarabulus.
They were followed by several smaller military vehicles believed to be carrying pro-Ankara Syrian rebels who had also crossed over.
Syrian activists have said hundreds of pro-Ankara rebel forces are waiting on the Turkish side of the border to take part in a ground operation to seize Jarabulus from ISIL.
Air strikes by Turkish jets also echoed through the skies. The effects of one air raid on the northern outskirts Jarabulus were easily visible, sending up a cloud of black smoke and sand.
The launch of the operation comes as US vice president Joe Biden arrived in Ankara to meet Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with agreeing a unified strategy on Syria set to be a crucial issue.
Mr Biden is likely to face expressions of alarm from Turkey about the activities inside Syria of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Washington sees as an ally but Ankara regards as a terror group.
Saleh Moslem, the head of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the YPG’s political wing, tweeted that Turkey was now in the “Syrian quagmire” and would be “defeated” like ISIL.
The air strikes by Turkish F-16s were the first such assaults since the November crisis with Russia when the Turkish air force downed one of Moscow’s jets.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: August 24, 2016 04:00 AM