Turkey has sent more tanks into the northern Syrian village of al-Rai to fight Islamic State extremists, opening a new front after its intervention last month against the group, state media reported on Saturday.
The tanks crossed into the village from the Turkish province of Kilis to provide military support to Syrian opposition fighters as part of Turkey’s “Euphrates Shield”, state-run Anadolu news agency said.
At least 20 tanks, five armoured personnel carriers, trucks and other armoured vehicles crossed the border after noon, Dogan news agency said
Turkish Firtina howitzers fired on Islamic State targets as the contingent advanced, Dogan said.
Euphrates Shield 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 rebels.
The goal is to remove the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) from its border and to halt the westward advance of the Kurdish People’s Protection Militia (YPG).
US President Barack Obama’s anti-Islamic State envoy Brett McGurk said on Twitter US forces hit jihadist targets overnight on Friday with a “newly deployed” mobile rocket system close to the Turkish border with Syria.
The US embassy in Ankara said on the social media website it was the “latest step in US-Turkey cooperation in the fight against Isil”.
Meanwhile, Turkish war planes destroyed two Isil targets in Wuguf in southern al-Rai between 10:00 GMT and 10:24 GMT, the Chief of Staff said, quoted by NTV television.
The statement also said two villages were captured by rebels on Saturday in the al-Rai region. In the last few months, al-Rai has repeatedly changed hands between rebels and Isil.
Ahmed Othman, a commander in pro-Turkey rebel 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 Isil west of Jarabulus”.
Othman said it was the first phase of their plans. “We want to clear the border area between al-Rai and Jarabulus from IS, 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.