Turkey makes gains against IS in northern Syria

Turkey makes gains against IS in northern Syria
Turkey on Thursday said it has cleared IS militants from large areas along its border with Syria, while the Pentagon said the group only controls 25 kilometres along the border.
3 min read
02 September, 2016
Ankara's troops have continued their operations in northern Syria [AFP]

Turkey said Thursday it had made gains against the Islamic State on the ninth day of an offensive in northern Syria to clear the border area of IS fighters and Kurdish militias.

The Turkish army said it had cleared "terrorist elements" out of three villages west of Jarabulus - a border town taken from Islamic State militants by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels last week.

The villages - Zavgar, Tal al-Agbar and Kiliyeh - lie in territory where Turkish-backed forces have been fighting IS.

Turkey says it has cleared dozens of villages of "terrorists" since the start of its unprecedented Syria operation on August 24.

After taking Jarabulus without much resistance on the first day of the offensive, Turkey carried out strikes against a Kurdish militia that Ankara regards as a terror group.

The Pentagon on Thursday said IS in Syria is about to lose access to Turkey's porous border, a vital step in blocking foreign fighters from replenishing the jihadists' thinning ranks.

According to Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis, IS now retains control of only about 25 kilometres (15 miles) of border with Turkey along an area to the east of the small Syrian town of Al-Rai.

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"This is the only area with which ISIL has free communication with the outside world, where it touches a border," Davis said, using an IS acronym.

"This is about to be closed. We are very close to achieving this."

Working with "moderate" and "vetted" Syrian rebel groups, Turkish forces swept into northern Syria - assisted in part by US air power - and quickly took control of the border town Jarabulus.

The Turkish forces then began sweeping west along the border area.

Turkey's incursion into Syria has brought a new element to an already complex situation in the war-torn country, as Ankara has also targeted US-backed Kurdish fighters.

The United States is working frantically to ensure fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units militia (YPG) are not further attacked by Turkey, and has encouraged them to move east of the Euphrates river and away from Jarabulus and another key city to the south, Manbij.

"We have not seen any action (between the Turks and YPG) in probably three days," Davis said.

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters on Wednesday confirmed there was at least a lull in the fighting.

While pressing its Syria offensive, Turkey has also been reinforcing its defences to prevent cross-border attacks.

NTV television said Turkey was building a wall between Jarabulus and Karkamis on the Turkish side of the border.

Agencies contributed to this report.