Iran’s official press TV said that Turkey has been preapring for the Euphrates Shield operations inside Syria for the past two years.
Syrian rebel and Turkish forces pressed on past Jarablus on Thursday in attempt to clear the border area of any ISIS presence.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that ISIS had been driven out of Jarablus and that it was now controlled by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.
But Erdogan and senior government officials have made it clear that the aim of “Operation Euphrates Shield” is as much about stopping the Kurdish YPG from seizing more territory along the border and filling the void left by ISIS as it is about eliminating the hardline group itself.
A Syrian rebel commander in charge of one of the main groups involved in the Turkish-backed operation told Reuters the forces now aimed to move westward after taking Jarablus, an advance that could take weeks or months to complete.
Colonel Ahmad Osman, speaking to Reuters from Jarablus, said the priority was now to advance about 70 km (40 miles) west to Marea, a town where rebels have long had a frontline with Islamic State.
Turkey has long lobbied for a “buffer zone” in northern Syria controlled by what it regards as moderate rebels, potentially in border territory currently held by Islamic State and stretching about 80 km (50 miles) west of Jarablus.
Sweeping out Islamic State would deprive the group of a smuggling route taken by foreign fighters joining its ranks, and could also create a safe area for displaced civilians and help to stem the flow of refugees, Turkish officials have said.
Turkey planned Euphrates Shield for 2 years
The Turkish government had “been working on a ground incursion for more than two years” which was “delayed” by several factors, a Turkeish official told the French news agency AFP on Thursday, according to Press TV
Ankara had discussed the intervention plan with the US last June, according to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official said the US-backed operation had also been delayed by elements in the Turkish army who staged a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government on July 15.
Also hindering the operation, the source said, was the souring of Russo-Turkish relations after Ankara’s military downed Moscow’s jet over Syria last year.
The risk of a further confrontation with Moscow put an end to all Turkish air operations over Syria that would have been essential for any ground operation, the official said.
“It became practically impossible to implement our plans due to a lack of air cover,” the official said, according to Press TV.
Erdogan, however, recently met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow, and called for a “clean slate” in the bilateral ties.