At least 10 more Turkish tanks on Thursday crossed the border into Syria a day after pro-Ankara Syrian opposition fighters ousted jihadists from the town of Jarabulus close to the frontier, an AFP photographer said.
The tanks were set to join a contingent of around a dozen Turkish tanks who had crossed the day earlier for Turkey’s operation “Euphrates Shield” aimed at ridding the area of Islamic State extremists and also Kurdish militia.
The air and ground offensive — the most ambitious launched by Ankara in the Syria conflict — had made rapid progress towards Jarablus, with rebel fighters already proclaiming victory by the late afternoon, just 14 hours after it started.
“Jarablus is completely liberated,” Ahmad Othman, commander of the Sultan Mourad rebel group, told AFP from the scene on Wednesday, while another rebel spokesman said IS fighters had fled towards Al-Bab to the southwest.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emphasized the operation was also targeting Kurdish militia fighters strongly opposed by Ankara — but backed by the US as a key ally against IS — who had also been closing in on Jarablus.
But visiting US Vice President Joe Biden reassured Turkey that Washington had told the Kurdish fighters under no circumstances to cross west of the Euphrates River or face the total loss of American support.
The operation — named “Euphrates Shield” — began at around 4:00 a.m. with Turkish artillery pounding dozens of IS targets around Jarablus.
Turkish F-16 fighter jets, backed by US-led coalition war planes, also hit targets inside Syria.
A dozen Turkish tanks then rolled into Syria in support of Syrian opposition fighters who had also crossed, with 1,500 of them now in the area according to state media.
A US defense official said that American planes were conducting airstrikes as part of the ongoing operation to drive Islamic State militants from Jarablus.
The official said US A-10 and F-16 fighter jets were participating in the cross-border operation.
The US was also providing assistance with intelligence and surveillance aircraft overhead.
The rapidity of the advance was stunning and in complete contrast to the long-grinding battles where Kurdish forces had taken towns in northern Syria like Kobane and Manbij from IS.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.