Turkey digs in to 'cleanse' Isil from border with Syria

More Turkish tanks rolled into Syria as Ankara said that its offensive to destroy Isil and contain Kurdish expansion could continue indefinitely.

Published: 26th August 2016 08:27 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th August 2016 08:27 AM   |  A+A-

ISTANBUL: More Turkish tanks rolled into Syria yesterday (Thursday) as Ankara said that its offensive to destroy Isil and contain Kurdish expansion could continue indefinitely.

The reinforcements crossed the border as Joe Biden, the US vice president, suggested that the Turkish army could remain in Syria "as long as it takes" to destroy Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and told US-backed Kurdish groups to withdraw from the area of the operation.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels retook Jarablus, the last town on the Turkish border controlled by the jihadist terror group, in a lightning strike after Turkey sent tanks and fighter-bombers across the border on Wednesday.

Ankara committed more tanks to the offensive yesterday morning in an indication that its Syrian incursion, known as operation Euphrates Shield, is far from over.

Mr Biden, who visited the Turkish capital on Wednesday, said the operation might not end until Isil had been completely defeated. "I think there has been a gradual mind shift in Turkey with the realisation that Isil is an existential threat to Turkey," he said.

A Turkish official said Ankara would "continue operations until we are convinced that imminent threats against the country's national security have been neutralised".

Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, promised to "cleanse" Isil from the border with Syria after a suicide bomber killed 54 wedding guests in the southern city of Gaziantep on Saturday.

Isil is not the only target of the operation, however. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, made clear on Wednesday that the offensive also aims to drive the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia backed by the US-led coalition and Russia, to withdraw to the eastern bank of the Euphrates river.

YPG units crossed the Euphrates in a US-supported offensive to liberate the Isil stronghold of Manbij earlier this month, and had made moves toward liberating Jarablus before the Turkish intervention.

The move was viewed with alarm in Turkey, which considers the YPG a wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a group that has been fighting an insurgency against the Turkish state for three decades. Preventing the Kurds from gaining more territory and establishing an autonomous region is one of Ankara's chief objectives in Syria.

Turkey's aversion to the YPG has long been a source of tension with the US and other Nato members, who consider Syria's Kurds their most reliable ally in the fight against Isil. However, Mr Biden firmly backed Turkey's position yesterday, explicitly saying Kurdish forces risked losing US support if they failed to withdraw from Manbij.


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