U.S. warplanes take off from Incirlik Air Base to go after ISIS targets in Syria
Turkey had resisted such a move until last month
For the first time, the United States launched manned airstrikes from a base in Turkey against ISIS forces in Syria, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
The attacks from Incirlik Air Base are part of an agreement reached last month between NATO allies Turkey and the United States.
The United States has long wanted to use Turkish bases for manned airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and parts of Iraq. Such access should shorten flight times for U.S. (and presumably allied) fighter jets – especially into Syria, where the group calling itself the Islamic State has its de facto capital, Raqqa – compared with taking off from bases in Iraq or aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf.
Washington has made going after ISIS one of its national security priorities.
While it has helped train moderate Syrian rebels as well as Iraqi forces, the U.S. military hasn’t put any of its troops in combat roles – though Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army’s outgoing chief of staff, said such a move should be an option if more progress isn’t made against ISIS.
So far, the air campaign has been America’s biggest tool in its fight. Turkey’s cooperation in this regard, paved by a July deal between President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan allowing for the expanded access, should be a big help.
Turkey has long endured the buildup of ISIS on its porous border with Syria, but until July was reluctant to permit the United States to use its bases to strike the radical militant group.
Ankara has been under pressure from allies to move more directly against ISIS, and that pressure grew inside Turkey after a series of attacks blamed on the group.
On July 20, a suicide blast that authorities blame on ISIS killed 32 people in Suruc, Turkey. Also that month, Turkey said ISIS militants attacked Turkish troops at the Turkey-Syria border, killing a soldier.
In addition to letting the United States use its bases for strikes, Turkey began launching its own against ISIS last month.
The country also struck against the Turkish-Kurdish separatist group PKK, launching airstrikes in July against its camps in Iraq.
Turkey has long had troubled relations with its ethnic Kurdish population. The PKK-Turkey conflict has killed 45,000 people since 1984.
A ceasefire in 2013 paused the conflict, but Turkey said the PKK recently violated the truce, blaming it in the deaths of security officers.
Though Wednesday marked the first manned U.S. airstrikes under the deal, lethal U.S. drone strikes into Syria from southern Turkey began this month.
CNN’s Zeynep Bilginsoy, Barbara Starr and Don Melvin contributed to this report.