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Turkish troops cross into Syria in clashes with IS

Islamic State militants flee Syrian township of al-Raei as Turkey sends in troops, tanks and jets across the border after the killing of its soldier
Vehicles of the Turkish army move on a dirt road as the Syrian city of Kobane is pictured in the background on 26 June 2015 in Suruc, Turkey (AFP)

Islamic State (IS) militants are fleeing the Syrian township of al-Raei, north west of Aleppo province, after Turkish troops crossed the Syrian border to battle them there, MEE correspondent Ibrahim Khader reported on Thursday.

IS militants have reportedly moved to the nearby Syrian village of al-Ayasha, also on the Turkish border, Khader added.

The Turkish troops were responding to an IS attack against them in the Turkish border region of Kilis, which led to the death of one officer and left a soldier critically wounded, Khader noted.

A Turkish official confirmed the incident.  

"We can confirm that shots were fired from IS controlled territory inside Syria close to the border and one Turkish soldier died during the exchange while several were wounded," a senior Turkish government official told MEE on condition of anonymity.

"The soldiers fired back as according to our rules of engagement, if someone fires at Turkish troops they fire back. It is still too early to tell if there will be further action," he added.

Turkish tanks from the fifth armoured brigade have opened fire on IS targets inside Syria, AFP reported, citing NTV television.

Turkey has also sent fighter jets to the Syrian border after clashes with IS, a Turkish official told Reuters.

Turkish security forces have also fired at IS positions in Azaz town in northwestern Syria, while sending armoured vehicles to the border region, AA reported.

The township of al-Raei, which also includes a village with the same name, has a Turkmen-majority population.

MEE's Khader said IS was calling for support from nearby militants, urging them on social media to head to the area where Turkish troops are present.

Reinforcements for IS have already become visible near Ayyasha, as the militants appear to be re-grouping in the area, local sources told Khader.

The Turkish army is still firing on IS positions in Ayyasha, but have yet to drive out the militants there, reported the pro-Syrian uprising website Eldorar Eshamiya.

"Three vehicles belonging to the IS terrorists were fired on and heavily damaged," the Turkish army said, noting that one IS militant had been killed.

There were also unconfirmed reports of Turkey setting up a small "safe zone" along the Syrian border, as well as allowing the US to access the Incirlik Air Base. 

The Anadolu Agency has named the killed officer as Yalcin Nane, and the two wounded sergeants as Fatih Kurt and Necef Cakmaktepe.

"Unfortunately, one of our non-commissioned officer [Yalcin Nane] has been martyred and two sergeants injured," Kilis Governor Suleyman Tapsiz told AA.

The wounded sergeants have been taken to Kilis State Hospital and are in stable condition, he added.

A Google map showing Syria's al-Raei township (marked with a red pointer) and Ayyash village (circled in green) near the Turkish border.

Party politics

Meanwhile, the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) - two of Turkey's three main opposition parties - have called for a parliamentary inquiry over the security situation.

Just hours after their call for an inquiry, a Turkish court issued a secrecy order surrounding the suicide bombing attack in Suruc on Monday that killed 32 people and injured 100. 

The court said the order was issued on the grounds that an open process would "endanger the purpose of the investigation". 

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister, Numan Kurtulmus, has called on the three opposition parties in parliament to join his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to "stand against terror with a joint declaration."

Turkey's AKP has recently lost its majority in parliament for the first time since 2002, and the country is expected to call new elections if a coalition government is not formed.

The AKP is "aware of responsibility to not leave Turkey without a government. This is AK Party's political maturity and the people have seen that Turkey has a strong democracy," said Kurtulmus. 

New border security measures

Turkey shares a 900 kilometre border with Syria and hosts nearly two million Syrian refugees.

It has around 20,000 soldiers stationed along the Syrian border, which is half of the total number of soldiers tasked with protecting Turkey's borders as a whole.

Ankara has recently been sending more armoured vehicles and unmanned drones to its border units there.

The Turkish cabinet had reportedly discussed on Tuesday night a number of new physical measures to improve security on the Syrian border, which include building a concrete wall.

The measures were reported following a wave of violent attacks in Turkish areas along the Syrian border.

On Monday, a suicide bombing killed 32 people the Kurdish-majority Turkish town of Suruc.

The attack appeared to be the works of IS but pro-Kurdish activists sought to blame Ankara, subsequently leading military wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to murder two Turkish policemen on Wednesday.

The PKK - designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union, the United States, and other countries, including Iran - described the attack as a meant to "revenge" the Suruc bombing.

On Wednesday evening, an explosion targeted the headquarters of AKP in the city of Iskenderun, some 40 kilometres from Turkey’s border with Syria, without causing any injuries.

However, on Thursday, a third policeman will shot dead in the city of Diyarbakir.