Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Turkish Military Begins Major Offensive Into Syria in Fight Against ISIS
New York Times
AUG. 24, 2016

ISTANBUL — Turkey mounted on Wednesday its largest military effort yet in the Syrian conflict, sending tanks, warplanes and special operations forces over the border in a United States-backed drive to capture an Islamic State stronghold in Syria.

The offensive on the city of Jarabulus began hours before Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was set to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara to discuss tensions raised by the failed coup in Turkey last month. The joint operation in Syria seemed intended to send a message that the countries are still cooperating in the fight against the militant group.

Turkish officials said the operation started at 4 a.m. with Turkish and United States warplanes pounding Islamic State positions in Jarabulus. The special operations troops entered Syria to clear a passage for a ground operation by Turkish-backed rebel groups, the state broadcaster TRT reported.

The assault comes days after Turkey vowed to “cleanse” its borders of the Islamic State following a deadly suicide attack at a Kurdish wedding, which killed at least 54 people. The militants were blamed for the attack.

Jarabulus is a vital supply line for the Islamic State and one of its last remaining strongholds on the border.

Before Wednesday’s operation, the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, pledged to give “every kind” of support for operations against the Islamic State across the border. Turkey’s NATO allies have long sought its greater involvement in Syria.

“Daesh should be completely cleansed from our borders, and we are ready to do what it takes for that,” Mr. Cavusoglu said on Tuesday at a news conference in Ankara, the Turkish capital, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

Turkish officials are also concerned about the growing influence of United States-backed Syrian Kurds across the Syrian frontier because of their links to Kurdish insurgents that Turkey considers a national security threat. The Kurdish militias have captured large portions of land across the border, and analysts say that a Kurdish advance toward Jarabulus could lead to a confrontation with Turkey.

“Turkey is determined for Syria to retain its territorial integrity and will take matters into its own hands if required to protect that territorial unity,” Mr. Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara on Wednesday. “We have only ever sought to help the people of Syria and have no other intentions.”

Turkey increased security measures on its border with Syria, establishing a “special security zone” and urging residents to evacuate their homes, after at least nine mortar shells from Jarabulus landed in the Turkish border town of Karkamis.

About 500 Syrian rebels have amassed on the Turkish side of the border in preparation for a land offensive, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said in a statement.

The Turkish counterterrorism police carried out dawn raids targeting those suspected of being Islamic State militants in Istanbul on Wednesday, the local news media reported. The militant group has been blamed for a string of major assaults on Turkish soil over the past year, including a suicide attack at Istanbul’s main airport in June that killed over 40 people.

Follow Ceylan Yeginsu on Twitter @CeylanWrites.

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