Turkish warplanes pound Islamic State in Syria as Ankara steps up to front-line
ANKARA/ELBEYLI, TURKEY – Turkish warplanes pounded Islamic State targets in Syria and police detained hundreds of suspected militants across Turkey on Friday, a sign that Ankara may have shed its hesitancy in taking a front-line role against jihadist fighters.
Turkey has long been a reluctant partner in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, emphasizing the need to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and saying Syrian Kurdish forces also pose a grave security threat.
But the attacks on Islamic State targets inside Syria and the early morning raids across 13 provinces at home, which also targeted Kurdish militants, are among its most robust operations yet. One official said Ankara had moved to “active defense” from a passive strategy.
Turkey acted hours after officials in Washington said Ankara had agreed to let U.S. jets launch air strikes from a base near the Syrian border, dropping its earlier refusal to allow manned American bombing raids from there. This followed a phone conversation between President Barack Obama and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan.
“We can’t say this is the beginning of a military campaign, but certainly the policy will be more involved, active and more engaged,” a Turkish government official told Reuters. “But action won’t likely be taken unprompted.”
Turkey has faced increasing insecurity along its 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria. A cross-border firefight on Thursday between the Turkish army and Islamic State, which has seized large areas of Syria and Iraq, left one militant and one soldier dead.
Three F-16 fighter jets took off from a base in Diyarbakir, southeast Turkey, early on Friday and hit two Islamic State bases and one “assembly point” before returning, the Prime Minister’s office said in a statement.
One official said the raid has been launched from Turkish airspace. “Turkish fighter jets didn’t cross the Syrian border during the operation,” the official said, adding the targets had been across the border from the Turkish town of Kilis. – Reuters