BEIRUT — Turkey launched a new incursion into Syria on Saturday, dispatching additional tanks and troops across the border to support Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State, expanding the scope and reach of its 10-day-old military intervention.
The additional Turkish forces crossed the border into the rebel-controlled town of Al-Rai, which rebels seized from the Islamic State last week but have since struggled to secure, according to the official Turkish news agency Anadolu.
Al-Rai is 34 miles west of Jarabulus, the border town that was the original target of the initial Aug. 24 intervention, code-named Operation Euphrates Shield. The Islamic State still controls the territory between the two towns, and the extra force, including at least 20 tanks and at least half a dozen armored vehicles, is intended to intensify the Turkish effort to push the Islamic State back from Turkey’s border.
The expansion of the intervention will bring additional pressure to bear on the weakening Islamic State but also further complicate the battlefield in northern Syria, where the United States is backing rival efforts by its allies to defeat the militants.
Taking territory from the Islamic State in areas along the Turkish border also prevents Syria’s Kurds from controlling them, and Turkey has made no secret of the fact that halting Kurdish expansionism is as much a goal of the intervention as battling the Islamic State.
Turkish-backed rebels have clashed on several occasions with Kurdish and Arab fighters as they press south of Jarabulus toward Manbij, a town liberated by a Kurdish-led force from the Islamic State with U.S. support late last month.
After securing the border area between Jarabulus and Al-Rai, the next target of the Turkish-led operation will be to control Al-Bab, a major Islamic State stronghold farther south, and well away from the border, according to the Daily Sabah, a government-controlled newspaper. The Kurds have also identified Al-Bab as their next target in the Islamic State fight.
Saturday’s intervention in Al-Rai was backed by Turkish warplanes and helped rebels affiliated with the Free Syrian Army capture two more villages from the Islamic State, the Anadolu agency said.
The agency used Al-Rai’s Turkish name, Cobanbey, in its reports on the operation, in a reminder that until the 1920s, Turkey ruled the areas of Syria in which it is now intervening.