The Turkish army has shelled Kurdish as well as Islamic State (IS) group positions in northern Syria, according to Turkish media reports Tuesday, in a bid to open up a corridor for a major rebel assault.
In a double-pronged approach, Turkish artillery shells on Tuesday hit positions held by the Kurdish YPG militants in the northern Syrian town of Manbij while continuing to target areas held by the IS group in Jarabus, according to local media reports.
Kurdish media reported heavy artillery shelling in the Manbij area, which was seized by the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) — a pro-Kurdish militia — from IS group control earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Turkey also launched artillery shells from the southeastern Turkish town of Karkamis, which faces Jarablus across the Turkey-Syria border. The shelling came hours after mortar shells from Syria hit Karkamis, according to Turkish broadcaster NTV.
The enemy of Turkey’s enemy is not a friend
Turkey’s fight against Kurdish groups linked to the banned PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), as well as the IS group has added another layer of complexity to the Syrian conflict and has met with severe criticism from opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
While Turkey regards the Turkish PKK and its Syrian allies as terrorist entities, the US and other Western nations views the Kurds as the most effective fighters in the war against the IS group.
Turkey is keen to stop the Syrian Kurds who have carved out territory east of the Euphrates River from gaining any more ground, according to experts. Ankara has been preparing for a major assault by Turkish-backed rebel groups into northern Syria, with around 1,500 rebels believed to be in the Turkish border city of Gaziantep, waiting for the assault, the BBC reported Tuesday.
“Regarding the Jarablus offensive, there’s simply no doubt, they [the Turks] do not want Kurdish forces to take over that city. They know that the Syrian Kurds have been carving out what is a blueprint for a state in northern Syria and for Ankara, that is unacceptable. They want their own rebels in Syria to get in there first and make sure they do that at all costs — and if they can do that while taking a shot at IS as well, they’ll be happy. But the main strategic goal really is to stop the advance of the Kurdish forces,” explained Tom Stevenson, reporting from Istanbul for FRANCE 24.
The latest Turkish shelling in northern Syria followed Sunday’s suicide bombing of a Kurdish wedding in the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep, which killed more than 50 people. Turkey says the IS group was responsible for the attack although Turkish officials have since backtracked on earlier claims that the suicide bomber was a child.
Turkish leaders have vowed to “completely cleanse” the country’s border areas of any IS group presence, with Erdogan accusing the Syria-based jihadist group of trying to exploit ethnic tensions in Turkey.
Gaziantep, a bustling southeastern Turkish city near the Syrian border, is known to have several IS group sleeper cells.