ANKARA • Turkish and Syrian rebel forces, aided by US aircraft and special operations advisers, have launched a cross-border offensive to capture the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) last stronghold on Syria's border with Turkey.
The operation, Turkey's largest direct involvement against the militants in Syria, includes Turkish planes, tanks, artillery and special operations units, along with 500 to 700 rebel fighters. As well as the presence of US advisers, American surveillance aircraft are providing intelligence and are poised to launch strikes, according to a senior Obama administration official.
The offensive immediately raised the stakes in the complex Syrian conflict. The Syrian government demanded an immediate end to what it called Turkish aggression, saying the incursion was a "blatant violation" of Syrian sovereignty being carried out under the pretext of fighting terrorism.
The offensive in the Syrian border town of Jarabulus, on the Euphrates River, began just hours before the arrival in Ankara yesterday of US Vice-President Joe Biden on a mission to repair the eroding US-Turkey relationship, which is considered crucial in the battle against ISIS.
"The major goal of the trip is to make sure that our alliance remains rock-solid and that relations get back on track," said the senior official, who is travelling with Mr Biden. "We can't afford any friction in our relationship right now because we have a lot of business to do with the Turks."
Mr Biden, the official said, would try to convince Turkey that the US understands the trauma of last month's coup attempt.
The Vice-President went directly from Ankara's airport to the Turkish Parliament, which was bombed by commandeered F-16s during the failed insurrection. Accompanied by Parliamentary Speaker Ismail Kahraman, Mr Biden walked across the rubble and glass covering an interior courtyard of the ruined building.
"This is devastating," Mr Biden said. "Can you imagine if this happened at home? Can you imagine what the American public would be saying... the psychological impact?"
Mr Biden then held a working lunch with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. He was scheduled to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later in the day before leaving Turkey.
Turkish officials have helped to whip up anti-US sentiment in the weeks since the coup attempt, accusing the US of siding with the plotters and warning that the Obama administration risks losing Turkey as an ally.