ANKARA, Turkey, Aug. 25 (UPI) — Syrian rebels on Thursday said they seized the border town of Jarablus from Islamic State control shortly after Turkey launched a cross-border offensive.
The Free Syrian Army‘s assault on the city began at dawn and was later aided by U.S. airstrikes, as well as Turkish warplanes, tanks and special forces soldiers who crossed into Syria on Wednesday.
Up to 12 Turkish tanks crossed into Syria, followed by pick-up trucks believed to be holding hundreds of fighters from the Free Syrian Army.
“Jarablus can now be considered fully liberated,” Ahmed Othman, a commander in the Free Syrian Army, told Al Jazeera.
Militants fighting for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, Daesh and ISIL, seem to have fled southwest toward IS-held al-Bab, a militia spokesman told Al Jazeera.
“The attack started in the morning and we were able to take control of a number of villages near the town. After a few hours and after controlling the hills surrounding the town, ISIL felt the danger,” the spokesman said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s military efforts in Syria target both the Islamic State and Kurdish militia fighters, some of which are backed by the United States.
The southern provinces of Turkey this year have faced increased rocket attacks and indiscriminate civilian bombings mainly carried out by the Islamic State, but also from Turkish rebels. Most recently, 54 people were killed in a Gaziantep wedding bombing where about half of the victims — 29 — were children. The Islamic State is blamed for carrying out the bombing.
Meanwhile, Turkish and U.S. officials on Thursday said Kurdish-led forces in Syria have partially withdrawn to the area east of the Euphrates River.
The move follows U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s threat to withdraw U.S. support of the forces if the Kurds do not remove themselves from areas where Turkey said they pose a threat to national security. Turkey and Kurdish rebels have fought for decades over the Kurds’ drive for independence.