Turkish tanks on Saturday streamed across the border from the southeastern town of Kilis into northern Syria, in the second phase of its operation to sweep Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) elements from territory bordering Turkey.
With this, the Turkish military and its rebel allies opened a new line of attack to sweep ISIL terrorists from the border.
According to reports in the Turkish media, the tanks crossed the border near Çobanbey, sitting opposite the Syrian town of al-Rai, which has alternated between ISIL and rebel control in recent months.
Some 20 tanks, five armored personnel carriers and other vehicles entered al-Rai while Turkish howitzers fired on ISIL targets.
Al-Rai lies approximately 55 kilometers southwest of Jarabulus, the target of last week’s Operation Euphrates Shield, Turkey’s first operation into Syria since the five-year-long civil war erupted in the neighboring country. The area is the also part of 90-kilometer corridor near the Turkish border that Ankara is trying to clear of ISIL elements.
Rebels and Turkish forces are now advancing in two directions, to the east from al-Rai and to the west from Jarabulus, to seal the border. The rebels advancing from Jarabulus say they captured three more villages from the extremists on Saturday, The Associated Press reported.
“The operations are to work from al-Rai towards the villages that were liberated to the west of Jarabulus,” Col. Ahmed Osman of the Sultan Murad rebel group told Reuters, adding that the offensive was backed by Turkey.
The Turkish Air Forces hit ISIL targets in the Vukuf area south of Çobanbey. “On the 11th day of Operation Euphrates Shield, with the support of coalition forces, the Free Syrian Army has taken control of Arap İzzah, Al Fursan and İdalat in the al-Rai area, and Talyah Garbiyah and Kubba Turkuman Airport,” said a statement from the Turkish military on Saturday.
Meanwhile, three rockets fired by ISIL in Syria hit Kilis in the afternoon. The Turkish military responded to the attack with artillery fire on ISIL positions. Three people sustained injuries during ISIL rocket attacks on Kilis on Monday, while 21 have been killed in ISIL rocket attacks in Kilis in 2016.
The United States said it hit ISIL targets in the region overnight, although it did not say where.
“US forces struck ISIL targets near Turkey’s border in Syria last night via newly deployed HIMARS system,” Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the coalition fighting ISIL, said on his Twitter account, Reuters reported.
HIMARS stands for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.