24 August 2016
Turkish Special Forces and jets supported by warplanes from U.S.-led coalition launched an operation in northern Syria on Wednesday to flush out Islamic State militants along the border with Turkey, officials said.
“The Turkish army began firing artillery rounds into the Syrian border town of Jarablus at around 0100 GMT.
“Turkish and U.S. warplanes pounded Islamic State targets with airstrikes as part of the operation,’’ Turkish military sources said.
It was the first time warplanes from NATO member Turkey, have struck in Syria since November, 2015 when Turkey downed a Russian jet near the border.
It was also the first significant incursion by Turkish Special Forces since a brief operation to relocate the tomb of Suleyman Shah, a revered Ottoman figure, in February, 2015.
Turkey and the U.S. hope that by sweeping Islamic State from the border, they can deprive it of a smuggling route which long saw its ranks swollen with foreign fighters and its coffers boosted by illicit trade.
White and grey plumes of smoke rose from atop the hills of Jarablus, visible from the Turkish town of Karkamis across the border.
The boom of artillery fire was audible as tanks opened fire from inside Turkish territory.
Turkish military sources said a ground incursion had yet to start, but a group of Turkish Special Forces had entered Syria while Turkish and U.S.-led coalition jets hit four Islamic State targets.
The sources also said that Turkish artillery struck more than 60 targets.
“Tanks were being positioned to secure the border,’’ the sources said.
One military source added that the “aim of the operation is to ensure border security and Syria’s territorial integrity while supporting the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State”.
He said that work to open a passage for ground forces was underway.
Turkey had vowed 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 at Gaziantep.
Military sources said the airstrikes hit 12 Islamic State targets, while artillery fire hit 70 targets. Counter-terrorism police launched dawn raids targeting Islamic State members across Istanbul on Wednesday.
Turkey is also concerned about the growing influence of Syrian Kurdish militant groups along its border, where they have captured large areas of territory since the start of the Syrian war in 2011.
Ankara sees them as tied to the Kurdish militants fighting an insurgency in Turkey.