ANKARA, (Reuters) – Turkish forces swept into Syria overnight to rescue about 40 soldiers who had been surrounded for months by Islamic State militants while guarding the tomb of a revered Turkish figure.
The Syrian government described the operation as an act of “flagrant aggression” and said it would hold Ankara responsible for its repercussions.
The action, which involved tanks, drones and reconnaissance planes as well as several hundred ground troops, was the first incursion by Turkish troops into Syria since the start of the civil war there nearly four years ago.
The military said no clashes took place during the operation although one soldier had been killed in an accident.
The 38 soldiers who had been guarding the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, were brought safely home.
Normally, the detachment is rotated every six months but the last one was trapped for eight months by Islamic State fighters.
The tomb, on a site within Syria that Ankara considers sovereign territory as agreed in a 1921 treaty, was to be relocated close to the Turkish border, while Suleyman Shah’s remains were taken to Turkey.
“The remains of Suleyman Shah, along with ancestral relics, have been brought back to our country pending their temporary transfer to a new site in Syria,” said Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.