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EghtesadOnline: Turkey launched its first major military operation in Syria on Wednesday, bombing Islamic State positions in one of the few border regions that aren’t controlled by rebel forces allied with Turkish Kurdish separatists.

The airstrikes around the town of Jarablus, reported by the prime minister’s office, were backed by Turkish special forces soldiers on the ground, according to CNN-Turk. While the troops were working to help open a corridor for Syrian rebel forces on the border, Turkey hasn’t begun a ground operation, the network said, citing military officials it didn’t identify.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war through activists on the ground, said Turkey has deployed tanks and minesweepers to cut the roads leading to Jarablus, a city of 30,000, to make way for Free Syria Army rebels. The Jarablus operation comes four days after a suicide bomber said to be linked to Islamic State killed at least 54 people at a wedding in Turkey’s largely Kurdish city of Gaziantep, reports Bloomberg.
 
The operation’s launch coincides with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Turkey to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The lira extended losses and was trading 0.3 percent lower at 2.9628 per dollar.

Kurdish Control

The targeted area in Aleppo province is one of the few patches along the frontier that aren’t dominated by Kurdish fighters from the YPG and Syria Democratic Forces, groups linked to Kurdish PKK militants who’ve been fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast since the 1980s.

The region in “the north of Syria can’t be in the hands of a single armed group,” Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in an interview on NTV on Tuesday.

Turkish aircraft struck 12 Islamic State targets in the operation that began at 4 a.m. local time, backing Free Syrian Army rebels battling the jihadist group on the ground, NTV television reported. An additional 70 targets were hit with artillery fire from the Turkish side of the border, NTV said. SOHR, citing residents, said one child was killed by Turkish shelling.

Stratfor, the strategic advisory firm, said the operation to recapture Jarablus had two purposes. “The Free Syrian Army hopes to not only push the Islamic State from the Turkish border but also to limit the Syrian Democratic Forces from extending their reach to the west,” it said in an e-mail.

Staging Area

Jarablus is one of the last major towns that Islamic State controls along the 
Syrian-Turkish border and has been a key staging area for transporting militants in and out of Turkey. Earlier this month, the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces seized Manbij, which is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Jarablus, from Islamic State. Retreating militants fled to Jarablus after their defeat in Manbij.

The Kurds have been seeking to wrest control of major towns and villages along the border to link their enclaves in northern Syria.

It’s the first time the Turkish air force joined the U.S.-led international coalition against the jihadist group since it downed a Russian warplane backing Syrian government forces in November. Turkey had grounded some military flights around the Syrian border after that incident, worried of risking another direct confrontation between the nations, which back opposite sides in Syria’s civil war. Russia denied Turkey’s allegation that it violated its airspace, and a rift ensued that wasn’t mended until June.

Following the reconciliation, Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Turkey would like to rejoin air operations against Islamic State in Syria, with the coalition’s approval.

ISIS Turkish Jets Turkish Kurdish separatists