Turkey wants to clear Islamic State from a 90 km (56 miles) stretch of territory on the Syrian side of its border, an official said on Wednesday, a week after launching an operation that have strained ties with the United States.
Operation “Euphrates Shield”, in which Turkish troops and tanks entered Syria in support of rebels for the first time, began on Aug. 24 with the swift capture of Jarablus, a town a few km (miles) inside Syria that was held by Islamic State.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the goal was to drive Islamic State from a 90 km strip of land along the border with Turkey, which has been buffeted by a spate of bombings blamed on the group that has killed scores of people.
“Starting from Jarablus, the cleansing of this region is our priority,” Kalin told a news briefing. “We have already cleansed 400 square km successfully.”
Turkey has long said it wants a “buffer zone” in the area, although it has not used the term during this incursion. As well as driving out the ultra-hardline Islamists, it also wants to prevent Kurdish militias from taking territory that will let them join up cantons they control in northeast and northwest Syria.
Turkish military operation against Kurdish militias in Syria
After seizing Jarablus, the Turkish-backed rebels have advanced up to 10 km (6 miles) south of the border town, rebel sources and a group monitoring the war said.
on Monday, Syrian rebels said that they are advancing towards Manbij in northern Syria.
“After seizing control of the border town of Jarablus, the FSA fighters moved under Turkish air cover to control villages such as Amarna, Yousef Beq and Ain Al Baida within hours,” a journalist said.
“But their main target is to take over Manbij,” he added. “YPG fighters maintain a significant presence along that area with their local allies.”
Turkey demanded that the YPG retreat to the east side of the Euphrates within a week. The Kurdish militia had moved west of the river earlier this month as part of a US-backed operation, now completed, to capture the city of Manbij from ISIS.
Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik said preventing the Kurdish PYD party – the political arm of the YPG – from uniting Kurdish cantons east of Jarablus with those further west was a priority.
“Islamic State should be completely cleansed, this is an absolute must. But it’s not enough for us … The PYD and the YPG militia should not replace Islamic State there,” Isik told Turkish broadcaster NTV.
“The PYD’s biggest dream is to unify the western and eastern cantons. We cannot let this happen,” he said.
“If the PYD does not retreat to east of the Euphrates, we have the right to do everything about it,” the minister said.