Ankara: Turkey’s ground incursion into Syria is meant to protect the country from Islamic State and Kurds, the Turkish president said as tanks began rolling across the border. “At 4:00 this morning, operations started in the north of Syria against terror groups which constantly threaten our country, like Daesh [Arabic name for Islamic State] and the PYD [he Democratic Union Party of Syria],” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.
The Turkish operation is focused on the Kurdish border town of Jarablus, which has been held by the Islamic State terrorist group since July of 2013.
The operation, called Euphrates Shield, is being supported by Turkish air forces, as well as warplanes from the US-led coalition. Turkish artillery began shelling targets across the Syrian border earlier on Wednesday, Reuters reported, citing its own journalist on the scene. The agency said Turkish tanks can now be seen inside Syria and an intensive bombardment can be heard.
The launch of the ground offensive was confirmed by Turkish state news agency Anadolu, citing military sources. Turkish President Recep Erdogan said that the incursion had been prompted by cross-border attacks originating from Jarablus, stressing they “must stop,” according to Turkish state news agency Anadolu.
Turkish media reported earlier that IS had launched retaliation attacks into the Turkish border town of Karkamis after the violence around Jarablus escalated. Elsewhere in Istanbul, law enforcement reportedly conducted raids targeting suspected IS sympathizers, according to the Dogan news agency.
The Syrian Kurdish militia YPG attempted to retake Jarablus last year, but was reportedly prevented from doing so when Ankara threatened to intervene. As Turkey launched today’s offensive in Syria, Saleh Muslim, head of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), warned that the Turkish forces would get bogged down in a quagmire and ultimately be defeated.
Speaking to Kurdish news agency ANFNews, Muslim said that Turkey had gone from targeting Syrian Kurds through proxies to directly fighting Kurdish fighters in Syria on the ground, adding that while Turkey had made the decision to enter Syria, withdrawing would not be as simple.