Turkish tanks help FSA secure Jarabulus

Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army fighters make gains south of Jarabulus after liberating it from DAESH. Reports emerge of clashes between the FSA and YPG, which has marched north from Manbij to block the FSA advance.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A Turkish army tank drives towards the border in Karkamis on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern Gaziantep province, Turkey, August 25, 2016.

At least nine more Turkish tanks reportedly entered northern Syria on Thursday, bringing the total number of Turkish tanks that crossed the border to 20, as part of an operation aimed at driving out the DAESH terrorist group.

Operation Euphrates Shield was launched yesterday to liberate the border town of Jarabulus, with the Turkish Army hitting DAESH positions with airstrikes and artillery fire while Syrian opposition ground forces advanced on the ground.

Within a matter of hours, DAESH retreated from the town as the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) declared victory.

But Turkey is continuing to push deeper into Syrian territory as part of an effort to secure its southern border from the presence of hostile groups, including the PKK’s Syrian branch, the YPG.

"We need construction machinery to open up roads ... and we may need more in the days ahead,” a Turkish official told Reuters. “We also have armoured personnel carriers that could be used on the Syrian side. We may put them into service as needed.”

According to Syrian opposition sources, the Turkish-backed forces had advanced around 10 km south of Jarabulus on their way to the YPG-held town of Manbij.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that has been monitoring the war in Syria since it started in 2011, meanwhile reported that the YPG had advanced 8 km northwards in an apparent bid to prevent the FSA from gaining more ground.

There are already reports that clashes between the YPG and the FSA have taken place in the village of al Amarna, south of Jarabulus, where the Observatory said light arms had been used.

The YPG, which comprises the largest part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition, captured the town of Manbij from DAESH earlier this month.

But Turkey, another US ally in the fight against DAESH, has ordered the YPG to retreat back to the east side of the Euphrates River so that Manbij can be handed over to the FSA.

While Ankara deems the YPG to be part of the PKK - which is listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU - Washington considers the YPG to be a separate entity and an ally against DAESH.

However, there are hints that the YPG may retreat. Turkish Foreign Ministry sources told Reuters that US Secretary of State John Kerry told his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in an early morning phone call that the YPG will pull out of Manbij.

Speaking in an interview on broadcaster NTV on Thursday, Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik said he expected the YPG to withdraw their fighters from the area within a week.

Questions on Washington’s position on the YPG were raised on Wednesday during US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Ankara. Speaking in a press conference after a meeting, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said the US should reconsider its support for the YPG, while Biden added that Washington specifically told the group not to go west of the Euphrates River.

Asked whether the US was abandoning the YPG, US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters in a press conference on Wednesday that Washington’s view on the YPG had not changed.


TRTWorld and agencies