Turkish media on Friday announced that the United States and Turkish officials have reached an agreement that would allow U.S. forces to access Turkish air bases in order to fight ISIS. A finalized deal would give the U.S. crucial access from Turkey into Syria and Iraq that it has long wanted. The deal would shorten flight times on airstrikes against the Islamic terrorist group compared to flights from bases in Iraq or carriers based in the Persian Gulf. Turkey shares a 1250-kilometer border with Syria and with Iraq, where IS also controls broad swaths of territory.
If the agreement holds, the coalition will be positioned to conduct better surveillance over Syria and act quicker on intelligence than when it was limited to launching flights from places such as Iraq, Jordan and the Gulf states. Under the deal, the US military will be allowed to launch manned and unmanned flights from Incirlik; in the past, only unmanned drone flights were allowed. Turkey has yet to publicly confirm the agreement, which US officials discussed on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to comment publicly. White House spokesman Josh Earnest remained silent on the agreement but acknowledged that Obama and Erdogan had agreed to “deepen our co-operation.”
“Turkey is a critical partner in degrading and defeating ISIL, and we appreciate the essential support Turkey provides to the international coalition across the many lines of effort,” said Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, using an alternative acronym for the militant group. Turkey’s security officials have grown concern about ISIS followed by a series of large-scale raids. Senior administration officials said this discussion has been going back and forth for about nine months, but they started to make a lot of progress a month ago and the final deal was struck to launch strikes against ISIS during Obama’s call with Erdogan this week. U.S. officials have resisted imposing a no-fly zone to increase security inside Syria near the Turkish border, saying the step was not necessary. Air Force Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said on Friday there had been “no change in that position.”
Asked if the deal would lead to a no-fly zone, Toner noted the issue had been a “point of discussion for some time” but U.S. officials were concerned about the “logistical challenges that would be inherent in a buffer zone.” “We continue to have discussions with Turkey, evaluate options for the … best way to counter ISIL along the border,” Toner said. “We obviously take threats to Turkey’s border seriously. They are a NATO ally.”