A column of at least nine Turkish tanks crossed into northern Syria with Turkish-backed Syrian rebels to push Islamic State out of the border town of Jarablus, military sources said. President Tayyip Erdogan said the operation was targeting Islamic State and the Kurdish PYD party, whose gains in northern Syria have alarmed Turkey. Ankara views the PYD as an extension of Kurdish militants fighting an insurgency on its own soil, putting it at odds with Washington, which sees the group as an ally in the fight against Islamic State.

US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Turkey, which has NATO's second biggest armed forces, hours after operations began on a pre-planned trip. Biden is the most senior U.S. official to visit since a failed July 15 coup shook confidence in Turkey's ability to step up the fight against Islamic State. Syria's foreign ministry condemned what it said was a breach of its sovereignty and accused Ankara of launching the incursion to replace Islamic State with ‘other terrorist groups’.


A senior US 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 synching up with the Turks on their plans for Jarablus. The shelling was hitting Islamic State, not Kurdish forces, he said.

Biden's visit comes at a testing time for Turkish-US relations. Turkey says the failed putsch was staged by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania for the past 17 years.

It was the first time warplanes from Turkey have struck in Syria since November, when Turkey downed a Russian warplane near the border, and the first significant incursion by Turkish special forces since a brief operation to relocate the tomb of Suleyman Shah, a revered Ottoman figure, in February 2015.


Plumes of smoke rose from the hills around Jarablus, visible from the Turkish town of Karkamis across the border. The boom of artillery rounds was audible as advancing Turkish tanks fired. Turkish military sources said the air strikes had hit 12 Islamic State targets, while artillery fire hit 70 targets.

"The aim of the operation is to ensure border security and Syria's territorial integrity while supporting the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State," one military source said, adding work to open a passage for ground forces was under way.

The US official acknowledged Turkey had not been happy about the Manbij operation but said Washington underlined the Kurds would pull back once the city was cleared and that they would not move north, addressing a major Turkish concern.

"We've put a lid on the Kurds moving north, or at least doing so if they want any support from us," he said.


Turkey had vowed on Monday to completely cleanse Islamic State militants from its border region after the Gaziantep bombing. Operation Euphrates Shield also comes after at least 10 mortar shells from Jarablus landed in Karkamis and the surrounding areas in recent days, forcing residents to flee.

Syrian rebels backed by Turkey had said they were in the final stages of preparing an assault from Turkish territory on Jarablus. A Syrian rebel with one of the Turkey-backed groups said about 1,500 fighters had gathered in Turkey to take part.

It is Turkey's first major military operation since the failed July coup by rogue solders who tried to overthrow Erdogan and the government, killing 240 people and triggering a purge of suspected coup supporters in the army and civil service.

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