Turkey on Saturday sent more tanks into the northern Syrian village of al-Rai, opening a new front after its intervention last month which is said to be against Takfiri ISIL group, state media reported.
Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency reported that the tanks crossed into the village from Elbeyli in the Turkish province of Kilis to provide military support to pro-Ankara militants after ridding northern villages of Takfiris in its “Euphrates Shield” operation launched on August 24.
At least 20 tanks, five armored personnel carriers, trucks and other armored vehicles crossed the border after noon, Dogan news agency said.
Turkish Firtina howitzers fired on ISIL targets as the fresh armored contingent advanced, Dogan said.
In the last few months, al-Rai has repeatedly changed hands between pro-Ankara militants and ISIL.
This is Ankara’s most ambitious operation during the five-and-a-half-year Syria conflict, backed by the tanks as well as war planes and special forces providing support to militants.
Ahmed Othman, a commander in pro-Turkey militant group Sultan Murad, told AFP in Beirut that his group was now “working on two fronts in al-Rai, south and east, in order to advance towards the villages recently liberated from IS west of Jarablus”.
Othman said it was the first phase of their plans. “We want to clear the border area between al-Rai and Jarablus from ISIL, before advancing south towards al-Bab (the last IS bastion in Aleppo) and Manbij (controlled by pro Kurdish forces).”
After the Kurds’ success in Manbij, they said they wanted to advance and link their other two ‘cantons’ in northern Syria, Kobane and Afrin.
But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey would not allow the group to create a “terror corridor”.
Ankara sees the YPG as a terror organization linked to Kurdish separatist rebels in southeast Turkey but the United States has provided training and equipment to the group.
The intervention last month caused another complication in what was already a tangled five-year civil war, with Ankara and Washington supporting different proxy groups seeking to retake territory from ISIL.