Turkey has sent tanks and special forces into Syria to help clear a border town of Islamic State (IS) militants.
Hundreds of Syrian opposition fighters were also part of the cross-border incursion to oust the militants from Jarablus, which was reported by both Turkish state media and Syrian opposition activists.
Hours after the start of the operation, Turkey’s state-run news agency and a Syrian opposition media activist said the rebels captured Kaklijeh — an IS-held village near Jarablus — with the support of Turkish armoured units.
The village is some 3km from the Turkish border, the Anadolu Agency said.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the military operation aims to prevent threats from “terror” groups, including IS and a US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia that is affiliated with Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish rebels.
Mr Erdogan said the operation was in response to a string of attacks in Turkey, including a suicide bombing at a wedding party near the border that killed 54 people.
Yesterday’s dual-purpose operation puts Turkey on track for a confrontation with the US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria, the most effective fighting force against IS in the area.
Turkey is concerned about the growing influence of the group, which it says is linked to Kurdish groups waging an insurgency in south-eastern Turkey.
A senior official with Syria’s largest Kurdish group suggested Turkey will pay the price.
Saleh Muslim, the co-president of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), tweeted that “Turkey is in Syrian Quagmire. Will be defeated as Daesh.” Daesh is the Arabic language acronym for IS.
The latest developments have thrust Jarablus into the spotlight.
The town, which lies on the western bank of the Euphrates River where it crosses from Turkey into Syria, is one of the last important IS-held towns between Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria.
It is located 30km from the town of Manbij, liberated from IS by Kurdish-led forces earlier this month.
Taking Jarablus and the IS-held town of al-Bab to the south would be a significant step toward linking up border areas under Kurdish control on both sides of the Euphrates.
Turkey’s private NTV television, which said that up to 20 Turkish tanks crossed the border, earlier reported that a small number of Turkish special forces had crossed into Syria as part of the operation.
NTV called it an “intruder mission” meant for “pinpoint operations” against IS in Jarablus.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved