Defense Department officials announced in a statement that U.S. military began manned airstrikes against ISIS targets on Wednesday. The missions are launched fom Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. The U.S.-led coalition had launched flying, unmanned missions against the militants earlier this month, the Combined Joint Task Force said in a statement. Turkish fighter jets were not part of the manned U.S. strikes, according to Turkish officials.
Turkey agreed last month to open its strategically important bases to the U.S.-led coalition, a major policy change after years of reluctance to take a frontline role against the Islamist fighters pressing on its borders. In July, Turkey launched air strikes against the militants in Syria for the first time. The US began flying unmanned missions against the terror group from the installation earlier in August, after Turkey gave Washington permission to use the air base, near the Syrian border, in July. US drones had previously executed a single lethal airstrike in Syria but this was the first time manned US fighter jets had carried out raids after taking off from Turkey’s strategically located Incirlik base.
Turkey is currently pressing a two-pronged “anti-terror” offensive against Isis jihadists in Syria and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq and south-east Turkey following a wave of attacks inside the country. But until now the Turkish air strikes have overwhelmingly concentrated on the separatist Kurdish rebels, to the frustration of western commentators who want to see Turkey ramp up its involvement in the fight against Isis.
Today, the United States began flying manned counter-Isil missions from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Strikes were conducted,” Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Elissa Smith said, using an alternate name for the terror group.
The expectation now will be that Turkish forces – which so far have only carried out the most limited strikes against Isis – will also join in the bombing raids.“Turkey and the United States will coordinate operations,” a Turkish official said on condition of anonymity in Ankara just before the Pentagon announcement. “From our perspective, there has been a pause right now as Americans asked to wait for coordination purposes.”
Turkish officials have indicated a major priority will be the establishment of a safe zone inside Syria free of Isis jihadists where some of the 1.8 million Syrian refugees Turkey is hosting could be housed. But Washington has yet to express clear enthusiasm for the idea. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed there would be “no concessions” in Turkey’s relentless offensive against Kurdish militants, as its south-east was hit by new deadly violence.