A Turkish official said Ankara’s ground incursion into Northern Syria, which Ankara claims is mainly aimed at fighting ISIL, had been in the making for over two years.
According to Ankara, the Operation Euphrates Shield began on Wednesday featuring Turkish warplanes and special ground forces to rid the border area of ISIL terrorists and Kurdish forces, presstv reported.
The offensive was launched in coordination with the US, which has been purportedly fighting the terror group since 2014.
The government had “been working on a ground incursion for more than two years” which was “delayed” by several factors, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity said.
Ankara had discussed the intervention plan with the US last June, according to the official.
The official said the US-backed operation had also been being delayed by elements in the Turkish army who staged a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government on July 15.
Also hindering the operation, the source told AFP, was the souring of Russo-Turkish relations after Ankara’s military downed Moscow’s jet over Syria last year.
The risk of a further confrontation with Moscow put an end to all Turkish air operations over Syria that would have been essential for any ground operation, the official said.
“It became practically impossible to implement our plans due to a lack of air cover.”
Erdogan, however, recently met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow, and called for a “clean slate” in the bilateral ties.
Turkish troops ostensibly hunting ISIL militants stand accused of helping Takfiri groups, giving them free passage into Syria and out of the country.
On Thursday, Turkey shelled Kurdish militia fighters in Syria on the second day of its incursion and sent a fresh contingent of tanks into the Syrian territory.
Hundreds of Syrian militants, backed by Turkish tanks, war planes and special forces, took the Syrian town of Jarabulus on Thursday.
The Hurriyet daily’s columnist Abdulkadir Selvi said 450 members of the Turkish military had been on the ground on the first day of the incursion but this number could rise to 15,000.
Turkey’s Defense Minister Fikri Isik warned Kurdish militants in Syria to move back East across the Euphrates or also face action.