TEL AVIV – Backed up by U.S. drones and American military advisers, Turkey on Wednesday launched a major military incursion across the border into neighboring Syria, deploying special operations ground forces and tanks while simultaneously launching airstrikes targeting Islamic State strongholds.
Turkey’s stepped up anti-IS efforts, its largest direct involvement yet into the Syrian conflict, follows a series of terrorist attacks inside Turkey, including the suicide bombing of a wedding in the Turkish city of Gaziantep this past weekend, killing 51 civilians.
The operation once again brings the U.S. military into the sensitive Syria arena in which Turkey, Russia, and Iran are each vying for influence.
The Wall Street Journal reported on today’s actions:
Turkish special forces, aided by American military advisers, U.S. drones and Turkish artillery units, moved into northern Syria before dawn as part of the coordinated campaign to push Islamic State out of a strategic town on the Euphrates River, officials said.
Turkish jets bombed Islamic State forces inside Syria, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, in what are believed to be the first airstrikes by Turkey inside Syria since November, when Turkish pilots shot down a Russian warplane that briefly strayed into Turkish airspace. Turkish tanks also moved into Syria as the offensive gathered momentum early Wednesday, the news agency said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Turkish-backed Syrian rebels were massed at the border, poised to retake Jarabulus, one of Islamic State’s last remaining gateways used by the group to ferry reinforcements and supplies from Turkey into its de facto capital in Raqqa.
The Journal cited U.S. officials saying U.S. drones from the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey were aiding in the offensive by providing surveillance over Jarabulus, while the Turkish military was being advised by American special operations forces.
The newspaper added:
If needed, said one senior U.S. administration official, American warplanes are prepared to provide air support for Syrian rebels as they move on Jarabulus.
“We are syncing up with the Turks,” said one senior U.S. official. “We have full visibility on what they are doing.”
Reuters stated one of its reporters at the Turkey-Syria border spotted six Turkish tanks inside Syrian territory and witnessed what the news agency described as “intense bombardments.”
Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said the operation was targeting “terror groups which constantly threaten our country, like Daesh (Islamic State) and the PYD.”
Hours after the operation began, Vice President Joe Biden landed in Turkey on a pre-planned visit.
A senior administration official traveling with Biden said the United States wanted to help Turkey to get Islamic State away from the border, and was providing air cover and “syncing up” with the Turks on their plans for Jarablus. He said the shelling was hitting Islamic State, not Kurdish forces.
Assad’s government, for its part, condemned the U.S.-backed Turkey operation as a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty, with the Syrian foreign ministry demanding “the end of this aggression.”
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.