Turkish fighter jets have hit “Islamic State” targets in Syria – for the first time as part of the US-led coalition. Turkey took on a more active role in the fight against IS in July, ending months of indecisiveness.
“Our fighter planes … along with planes from the coalition yesterday evening began joint operations against (Islamic State) targets, which pose a threat to the security of our country,” the foreign ministry in Ankara said in a statement on Saturday.
Turkey, which is a NATO member, launched strikes against the Sunni militant group in Syria last month, but they were carried out unilaterally. But Turkey’s participation in the battle against IS, which has taken over vast swathes of territories in Syria and Iraq, remained limited and was overshadowed by its attacks on Kurdish separatists.
Saturday’s strikes were the first time that Ankara operated as part of the US-led coalition, fully integrated at the highest level.
Turkey had already permitted Washington to use a key air base on the Syrian border in its campaign against the jihadist group. The majority-Muslim country joined the coalition – formed last year and comprising many Western and Arab countries – after an IS-perpetrated suicide bombing killed 34 people in southern Turkey.
Last week, US and Turkish officials concluded “technical talks” over plans to cooperate military operations against IS. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters that US and Turkish officials had come to an agreement concerning “the procedures and technical details” of planned operations against IS.
The agreement with Turkey calls for the NATO member to be fully integrated into the coalition air campaign, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said.
Cook said Turkey is “committed to fully participating” in military operations against IS, but that the agreement does not include proposals for Turkey to control its borders with Iraq and Syria to stem the flow of foreign fighters into both countries. He added it would likely take “a few days” to implement the agreement.
“Our cooperation with Turks and expansion of that cooperation remains a work in progress at this point,” Cook said, adding that the US did not discuss with Turkey the creation of a safe zone along the Turkish-Syrian border from which IS fighters could be cleared.
shs,bw/sgb (dpa, AFP)