ANKARA, Turkey —After a pre-dawn barrage of heavy artillery and airstrikes, Turkey sent tanks and special forces into Syria on Wednesday to help clear a border town of ISIS militants, marking the NATO member’s most significant military involvement so far in the Syria conflict.
Hundreds of Syrian opposition fighters were also part of the cross-border incursion to oust the militants from Jarablus, which was reported by both Turkish state media and Syrian opposition activists.
Hours after the start of the operation, Turkey’s state-run news agency and a Syrian opposition media activist said the rebels captured Kaklijeh — an ISIS-held village near Jarablus — with the support of Turkish armored units. The village is some 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the Turkish border, the Anadolu Agency said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the military operation aims to prevent threats from “terror” groups, including the Islamic State and a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia that is affiliated with Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish rebels. Erdogan said the operation was in response to a string of attacks in Turkey, including a suicide bombing at a wedding party near the border that killed 54 people.
Wednesday’s dual-purpose operation puts Turkey on track for a confrontation with the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria, the most effective fighting force against ISIS in the area.
Turkey is concerned about the growing clout of the group, which it says is linked to Kurdish groups waging an insurgency in southeastern Turkey.