Turkey leads anti-IS operation into Syria, eyes on Kurds
Turkey's military backed by international coalition air raids early on Wednesday launched an offensive to drive Islamic State group [IS] militants out of a key town on the Syrian border town of Jarabulus.
The operation began at 4am local time with Turkish artillery launching intense cross-border fire on the IS-held town, followed by Turkish and coalition warplanes bombing IS targets in the town.
A convoy of Turkish tanks accompanied by of Syrian rebel ground troops, who had gathered in Turkey, crossed the border into Syria on Wednesday morning to take part in the operation, which is the most ambitious launched by Turkey in the five-year Syrian conflict.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised address on Wednesday that the Turkish military will target both IS and Kurdish forces, which Ankara believes is growing in power.
"Our patience has ended, we will eliminate all threats in north Syria," Erdogan said.
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.
|Jarabulus was a transit point for fighters, money and weapons [DHA]|
The assault followed Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlet Cavusolgu's pledge on Tuesday of "every kind" of support for operations against IS along a 100-kilometre stretch of Syrian frontier, which is still under IS control.
Hundreds of Syrian rebels were massed on the Turkish side of the border in preparation for an assault, including local fighters from Jarabulus.
A commander in the Free Syrian Army's Division 13 told the The New Arab that other rebels have begun to advance westwards onto Jarabulus from the border city of al-Rai, which was captured by rebels last Wednesday from IS.
The operation, dubbed by Turkey Euphrates' Shield, is also aimed at pre-empting any assault by Jarabulus by pro-Kurdish militias who also oppose IS but Turkey accuses of seeking to carve out a Kurdish region in northern Syria.
In Syria, Turkey is concerned about the growing power of US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces, who it says are linked to Kurdish groups waging an insurgency in southeastern Turkey.