Turkey Brings Fight Against ISIS Across the Syrian Border
On Wednesday morning, Turkish tanks and special forces units supported by American airstrikes stormed across Turkey’s southern border with Syria, into the town of Jarablus. Within hours, ISIS and Kurdish militants–who control most of the surrounding territory–were thwarted, and the town was under the control of Syrian rebel groups. ISIS troops fled south to the town of al-Bab.
The incursion, while successful from Turkey’s perspective, underscores the interconnected and at times contradictory relationships of the Syrian civil war, which is in its sixth year. Turkey is a NATO member, and therefore an important ally in the region for the U.S., especially as a bulwark against ISIS. But Syrian Kurds, who control much of the border with Turkey, are considered terrorists by Turkey, yet are also one of the U.S.’s most potent surrogates in the fight against ISIS.
But ISIS is the one common denominator in Syria, the one foe that all parties share–Turkey, the U.S., Syrian rebel factions, the Syrian government and its allies (which includes Russia and Iran), and Syrian Kurds. With Wednesday’s “Euphrates Shield” mission–Jarablus sits on the western bank of the Euphrates– Turkey made clear its goal of ridding the border of ISIS and the Kurds, a longtime adversary who it fears aims to create a border-length autonomous zone.
— AFP news agency (@AFP) August 24, 2016
Vice President Joe Biden, who flew to Turkey’s capital, Ankara, on Wednesday to discuss combating ISIS, stood by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Though the U.S. backs Syrian Kurds, Biden said they “must move back across the Euphrates River. They cannot, will not, under any circumstance get American support if they do not keep that commitment.” He added: “We believe very strongly that the Turkish border should be controlled by Turkey.”
Roughly 1,500 soldiers from Syrian rebel groups backed Turkey’s assault, according to an activist embedded with the rebels. It is unclear if Turkey expects the rebels to hand over control of the town, or if its accomplishment of wiping it clean of ISIS militants and Kurds is enough.
Syria, which effectively holds no governance over the territory near its border with Turkey, nevertheless called Turkey’s incursion a “blatant violation” of its sovereignty. Turkey’s aggressive incursion is a response to a string of attacks on its soil by ISIS, most recent of which was a suicide bombing at a wedding in Gaziantep on Saturday. That attack killed 54 people.