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Turkey Sends More Tanks into Syria with US Backing

Turkish special forces, tanks and warplanes on Wednesday entered Jarablus, one of Islamic State’s last strongholds on the Turkish-Syrian border, in a US-backed offensive. (AP Photo)
Turkish special forces, tanks and warplanes on Wednesday entered Jarablus, one of Islamic State’s last strongholds on the Turkish-Syrian border, in a US-backed offensive. (AP Photo)

Turkey sent more tanks into Syria Friday to consolidate its hold on the border town of Jarablus, and also fired artillery at a Syrian Kurdish militia group backed by the U.S.

The Turkish artillery fired on forces of the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) which allegedly were seen to be moving north from the city of Manbij toward Jarablus, Turkey’s state-run Andalou news agency reported.

About 200 Turkish soldiers from mechanized units and 150 Special Forces soldiers were involved in the cross-border action and were now involved in clearing operations, Andalou reported.

The U.S. provided close air support for the cross-border action by Turkey that began Wednesday. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said then that the incursion had the dual purpose of driving ISIS from Jarablus and preventing the YPG from taking the town.

Vice President Joe Biden, on a one-day visit to Ankara Wednesday to mend frayed relations, backed Erdogan in demanding that the YPG move east of the Euphrates River in Syria. Biden said the YPG risked losing U.S. support if they failed to move to the east, but Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Thursday that elements of the YPG were still west of the river.

"We have made it absolutely clear that the (YPG) must go back across the river," Biden said. "They cannot and will not, under any circumstances, get American support if they do not keep that commitment."

Turkey's defense minister, Fikri Isik, said Thursday that Turkish forces In Jarablus had the twin missions of securing the border against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and also making sure that the YPG militias "are not there." The YPG has proven to be the most effective anti-ISIS force in northeastern Syria, but Turkey has charged that the YPG is a terrorist organization with links to the Kurdish insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

Isik suggested that the Turkish presence in Jarablus and other areas along the border might be open-ended. "It's our right to remain there until" opposition forces backed by Turkey were capable of taking control in the area, Isik said, according to the Associated Press.

"For now, the withdrawal hasn't fully taken place" by the YPG, Isik said. "We are waiting for it and following it," he told the private NTV television station.

Turkey has long advocated for a buffer area inside Syria protected by a no-fly zone to stop cross-border terror attacks and also to serve as a safe haven for refugees.

At the White House Friday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest renewed U.S. arguments against a no-fly zone. "That is still off the table because of the implied military commitment to enforce it," he said. The responsibility for enforcing a no-fly zone was "all too likely to fall on the shoulders of the U.S. in a way that’s contrary to our interests."

"It sounds simple" to enforce a no-fly zone, Earnest said, but "the work would be intensive to say the least" and "it would be dangerous. All of that would come at the expense of our effort to degrade and defeat" ISIS, he said.

--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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