Turkish special forces units and jets supported by warplanes from the US-led coalition launched an operation in northern Syria to wipe out Islamic State militants along the Turkey-Syria border, Turkish officials said. The Turkish army began firing artillery rounds into the Syrian border town of Jarablus at around 0100 GMT and Turkish and US warplanes pounded Islamic State targets with airstrikes as part of the operation, Turkish military sources said.
Syrian opposition fighters were also part of the cross-border incursion, which was reported by both Turkish state media and Syrian opposition activists.
Turkey said its intention was to clear the town of Jarablus, located right across the border from Turkey, from IS militants. But Turkey is also concerned about the growing power of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces, who it says are linked to Kurdish groups waging an insurgency in southeastern Turkey.
White and grey plumes of smoke rose from atop hills in northern Syria, Turkey’s CNN Turk television showed, in footage broadcast live from the Turkish town of Karkamis across the border from Jarablus. The boom of artillery fire was audible. Turkish military sources said a ground incursion has yet to start, but a group of Turkish special forces had entered Syria while Turkish and US led coalition jets hit four Islamic State targets and Turkish artillery struck more than 60 targets.
“The aim of the operation is to ensure border security and Syria’s territorial integrity while supporting the US led coalition against Islamic State,” one military source said, adding work to open a passage for ground forces was underway. Turkey had vowed on Monday to ‘completely cleanse’ Islamic State militants from its border region after a suicide bomber suspected of links to the group killed 54 people at a Kurdish wedding in southeastern city of Gaziantep.