Syrian rebels backed by Turkish special forces, tanks and warplanes entered one of Islamic State‘s last strongholds on the Turkish-Syrian border on Wednesday, in Turkey’s first major U.S.-backed incursion into its southern neighbor.

A column of at least nine Turkish tanks crossed into Syria with the group of largely Arab and Turkmen rebels to drive Daesh out of Jarablus and surrounding villages. A Reuters reporter at the border witnessed intense bombardments, with palls of black smoke rising around the town.

President Tayyip Erdogan said the operation was targeting both Daesh and the Kurdish YPG militia, whose gains in northern Syria have alarmed Turkey. Ankara views the YPG as an extension of Kurdish militants fighting an insurgency on its own soil, putting it at odds with Washington, which sees the group as an ally in the fight against Daesh.

“Whether it’s Daesh (Islamic State) or the YPG, they are all terrorist organizations,” Erdogan told a joint briefing in Ankara after meeting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

LITTLE RESISTANCE

The offensive, dubbed “Euphrates Shield”, is Turkey’s first major military operation since a failed July 15 coup shook confidence in its ability to step up the fight against Daesh. It came four days after a suicide bomber suspected of links to the group killed 54 people at a wedding in the southeastern city of Gaziantep.

 

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