Turkey, ISIS trade fire across Syrian border
Turkey also attacks Kurdish forces in northern Syria
Turkey’s military bombarded ISIS targets in northern Syria for the second consecutive day Tuesday after mortars from Syria struck two Turkish border towns, a senior Turkish official and state media reported.
On Tuesday, two mortar bombs struck a residential area in Karkamis, a Turkish town about a mile across the border from the ISIS-held Syrian city of Jarablus, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
Karkamis is in Gaziantep province, whose capital was struck by a devastating bomb attack on a wedding Saturday night and was blamed on ISIS.
Later, three rockets were fired from Syria into Kilis, another Turkish border town about 90 kilometers (56 miles) to the west, which has been previously targeted by jihadists.
No one was injured in either of the attacks, the agency reported.
Vow to purge ISIS from border
The strikes came after the Turkish army bombarded ISIS positions Monday in Jarablus, where Anadolu reports rebel militia are fighting to retake the city from the terror group.
Jarablus, on the west bank of the Euphrates River, is the last major town held by ISIS on the Syrian-Turkish border.
Turkey has vowed to eradicate ISIS from its border regions in the wake of Saturday’s bomb attack on the wedding in Gaziantep.
The attack on the Kurdish wedding celebration killed 54 people, many of them children, in the worst terror attack on Turkish soil this year.
“Our border must be completely cleansed of Daesh,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in televised remarks Monday, referring to ISIS by another name.
He said rebels had recently successfully removed ISIS from al-Rai, another Syrian town on the Turkish border being used as a transit point by the terror group, and said Turkey would continue to give support to drive ISIS from the border.
Kurdish YPG shelled
Turkey also shelled Kurdish YPG fighters Monday in northern Syria, attacking them north of Manbij, a city about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Jarablus.
Manbij and Jarablus have been key ISIS strongholds along its supply line from the Turkish border to the capital of its self-declared caliphate, Raqqa, to the southeast.
US-backed Kurdish forces have been eager to drive ISIS out and to remove the group’s access to resupply of materiel and fighters from Turkey. Last month they secured a significant victory in Manbij, driving the terror group from the city and toward the north; now Jarablus is in their sights.
But while Turkey and the Kurdish YPG share a common enemy in ISIS, Turkey remains determined to keep the Kurdish fighters from advancing on its border.
Turkey says the YPG is linked to its own Kurdish insurgents, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, who have been blamed for a string of deadly attacks in the country since a ceasefire crumbled last year.
Turkish soldiers killed in PKK attack
Two Turkish soldiers were killed Tuesday in a PKK attack in the southeastern town of Sirnak, Anadolu reported. Militants ambushed a lieutenant and soldier as they examined a roadside bomb, and they later died in the hospital of their wounds, the agency reported, citing a security source.
In a separate attack Tuesday, three soldiers were injured in southeastern Hakkari province’s Semdinli district when a roadside bomb struck a passing military vehicle.
Three bomb attacks blamed on the PKK struck in quick succession in Turkey last week, killing 11 people and wounding nearly 300 others. The blasts hit police and military targets – a hallmark of PKK attacks, in contrast to ISIS, which tends to conduct mass casualty attacks on soft targets.
On top of the twin threats of ISIS and the PKK, Turkey’s government survived an attempted military coup last month, and is in the midst of a sweeping purge of government institutions as it seeks to oust those it says supported the attempt.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said that there is no difference between ISIS, the PKK and the network of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who he claims was behind the failed coup. Gulen denies the accusation.