Demanding Kurdish militia to retreat within a week, Turkey sent more tanks into northern Syria on Thursday. The artillery was directed as to secure the border region and drive back ultra-hardline ISIS militants to neighboring Syria.
Syrian opposition members backed by Turkish special forces, tanks and warplanes on Wednesday entered Jarablus, one of ISIS’ last strongholds on the Turkish-Syrian border.
Some of the blasts were triggered as Turkish security forces cleared mines and booby traps left by retreating ISIS gunmen, according to Nuh Kocaaslan, the mayor of Karkamis, which sits just across the border from Jarablus.
Three Syrian opposition fighters were killed during the operation to retake Jarablus, one of them when he opened the door of a house rigged with explosives, Kocaaslan told reporters. There were no casualties among the Turkish troops.
According to Reuters, President Tayyip Erdogan and senior government officials have made clear the aim of “Operation Euphrates Shield” is as much about stopping the Kurdish YPG militia seizing territory and filling the void left by ISIS as about eliminating the radical group itself.
Turkey, which has NATO’s second biggest armed forces, demanded that the YPG retreat to the east side of the Euphrates river within a week. The Kurdish militia had moved west of the river earlier this month as part of a U.S.-backed operation, now completed, to capture the city of Manbij from ISIS.
Ankara views the YPG as a threat because of its close links to Kurdish militants waging a three-decade-old insurgency on its own soil. It has been alarmed by the YPG’s gains in northern Syria since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, fearing it could extend Kurdish control along Turkish borders and fuel the ambitions of Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.
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.
“ISIS 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.