The Turkish army killed five Islamic State militants in Syria in cross-border shelling, Turkish military sources said on Thursday, hitting positions west of where an offensive on militants was launched by Syrian fighters with U.S. backing.
Thousands of Syrian rebels supported by a small U.S. special operations team launched a major offensive on Tuesday to drive Islamic State from the “Manbij pocket” near the Turkish border, which Islamic State has used as a logistics hub.
Washington informed Ankara of the Manbij operation, but it was beyond the range of Turkish artillery and Turkey would not back a campaign in which Syrian Kurdish fighters played a role, another Turkish military source said on Wednesday.
Turkish border guards fired artillery at two Islamic State positions near the Syrian town of Azaz on Wednesday, the Turkish military sources said, west of the U.S.-backed operation and directly south of the Turkish border town of Kilis, which has been repeatedly hit by Islamic State rockets.
Turkey objects to the United States’ backing of the Kurdish YPG militia against Islamic State in Syria because it considers the group to have deep ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group waging an insurgency in the Turkish southeast.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Wednesday said weapons given to the YPG militia in Syria were making their way to PKK militants in Turkey.
“The side elements of the terrorist organisation (PKK) in Syria and Iraq are procuring these in the name of the struggle against terrorism and transfer them to the terrorist organisations in Turkey. This is unacceptable,” he said.
Turkey is trying to stamp out the PKK insurgency after it re-ignited last July when a two-year ceasefire collapsed. The United States and Turkey both list the PKK as a terrorist group.
Turkish jets struck PKK camps in northern Iraq early on Thursday and destroyed seven rebel targets the Metina area, the military sources also said.
The PKK is mainly based in mountainous northern Iraq, and Turkey regularly enters Iraqi airspace to strike their camps and weapon stores, despite objections from Baghdad and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.