Syrian rebels backed by Turkish tanks are
advancing under intense bombardment towards a
major northern town in Syria held by Kurdish-led
Fighting between the Turkey-backed fighters and
the Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) was
concentrated on Saturday near the town of Tel
Rifaat, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for
Human Rights said.
Ahmad Aaraj – member of the Syrian National
Democratic Coalition, which is allied with the Kurds
– said Turkish tanks crossed the border near the
town of Marea and were heading toward Tel Rifaat.
The Syrian Observatory said 13 Turkey-backed
rebels and three SDF fighters were killed.
The Turkish military intervened in the Syrian war in
August to clear the border area of Islamic State of
Iraq and the Levant fighters – and US-backed
Syrian Kurdish forces linked to Turkey’s own
outlawed Kurdish insurgency.
Turkish-backed forces will press on to the ISIL-
held town of al-Bab in Syria, President Tayyip
Erdogan said on Saturday, emphasising Ankara’s
drive to sweep ISIL and Syrian Kurdish fighters
from territory near its border.
The Syrian military, however, said the presence of
Turkish troops on Syrian soil was unacceptable,
and a “dangerous escalation and flagrant breach of
Backed by Turkish tanks, special forces, and air
strikes, the rebels fighting under the loose banner
of the Free Syrian Army crossed into northern
Syria in August and took the border town of
Jarablus from ISIL largely unopposed.
The rebels have since extended those gains and
now control an area of roughly 1,270 square
kilometres in northern Syria.
While Turkey’s initial focus was on driving ISIL
from Jarablus, much of its efforts have been spent
on stopping the advance of US-backed Syrian
“They say, ‘Don’t go to al-Bab’. We are obliged to,
we will go there,” Erdogan said in a speech in the
northwest province of Bursa. “We have to prepare
a region cleansed from terror.”
Erdogan also said Turkey would do what was
necessary with its coalition partners in Syria’s
Raqqa – ISIL’s main stronghold in the country – but
would not work with the Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Differences over Syria have caused strains between
NATO allies Turkey and the United States.
Washington is backing the Syrian Kurdish YPG
militia, seeing it as an effective partner in the fight
Turkey fears the militia’s advance will embolden
Kurdish separatists at home.
The outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has
carried out a three-decade insurgency that has
killed more than 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, in
Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast.
Both sides are supposed to be fighting ISIL in
Syria, but escalating clashes between them have
highlighted the conflicting agendas of Turkey and
the United States in the increasingly complex
battlefield of northern Syria.
Statements from the Kurdish fighters on Saturday
said an intense attack was being waged by
Turkey-backed forces with tanks and heavy
The Syrian military said earlier this week it would
bring down any Turkish warplanes entering Syrian
air space and reiterated its warning against Ankara
“The presence of Turkish military units inside the
Syrian border is totally unacceptable in any form.
We will deal with them as an occupying force and
will confront them by all possible means,” the
Syrian Army General Command said.