NEWS BRIEF Hours before U.S. Vice President Joe Biden landed in Turkey on Wednesday, the Turkish military drove tanks across the Syrian border, protected overhead by U.S. aircraft, in what is Turkey’s largest ground operation in Syria.
Turkish forces are aiming to take control of the city of Jarabulus from the Islamic State, which is its last stronghold on the Turkey border. They also plan to drive out Syrian Kurdish rebels in the area, which the U.S. supports and depends on in its military campaign against ISIS, but which Turkey considers a threat.
In a press conference in Ankara after he arrived, Biden said the U.S. is prepared to drop its support of the Syrian Kurds unless they pulled back from Jarabulus, beyond the Euphrates River, which runs to the east of the town. The Kurds, Biden reassured the Turkish government, “cannot—will not—under any circumstance get American support if they do not keep that commitment.”
The U.S. support of Kurdish rebels has caused tension between the U.S. and Turkey in the last year. The Kurdish rebels have been instrumental in helping the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS in Syria. But the Turkish government believes they are connected to groups in Turkey’s southeast that it accuses of leading a separatist insurgency and carrying out terrorists attacks. Biden’s announcement, combined with the U.S. air support provided to Turkish forces in the new operation, is an indication the two countries are attempting to ease their strained relations.