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Turkey grants US access to air base

July 24, 2015

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey will allow its Incirlik air base to be used by the US against "Islamic State" militants. His confirmation came hours after Turkish warplanes struck IS sites inside Syria.

F-16 Jet
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan changed tack on Friday and said Turkey will allow its Incirlik air base to be used by the United States to fight against "Islamic State" (IS) militants "within a certain framework." His confirmation came hours after Turkish warplanes struck IS sites inside Syria.

US and Turkish officials said the Turkish president had discussed the use of the southern Turkish base during a telephone conversation with US President Barack Obama earlier in the week.

Previously, Turkey had been reluctant to join the US-led coalition, which includes some Arab states, formed last year when IS seized swathes of northern Syria and Iraq.

On Friday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the first ever Turkish airstrikes against IS overnight had "removed potential threats" to Turkey. He added that they could continue.

Three F-16 jets operating from the Diyarbakir air base in southeast Turkey had dropped so-called "smart bombs" on three IS targets, said a government official.

Turkish media claimed the targets were in the Syrian village of Hawar al-Naht, just inside Syria.

Incirlik closer to Syria

Incirlik, a NATO air base, lies in Turkey's Adana province. Its proximity to Syria would put US fighter jets closer to IS and allow a wider range of aircraft to take part in combat missions.

The US had been pushing Turkey since last year for use of the base. Until now, it has used bases in allied Arab nations.

Türkei Parlamentswahl Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Erdogan was hesitant over Incirlik's use by the USImage: Getty Images/AFP/A. Altan

Friday's Turkish air raids on IS coincided with the arrests of nearly 300 people during Turkish police raids in Istanbul and 12 Turkish provinces.

Davutoglu said among those arrested were 37 foreigners alleged to be members of either the IS or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Fast developments

Monday's suicide bombing aimed at pro-Kurdish youth activists gathered at Suruc near the Syrian border killed 32 people. It was widely blamed on IS.

Two Turkish police officers were then killed in what the PKK said was retaliation for their alleged collaboration in the Suruc attack.

Turkey on Thursday said one of its soldiers and an IS militant were killed in what the Turkish army said was an attack on a border post.

Turning a blind eye?

In the past, Turkey had been accused of turning a blind eye to extremists, including foreign recruits, who crossed into Syria from Turkey to fight against Syrian government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

The main US allies inside Syria have been the Syrian-Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) which since last year have pushed back IS.

Resulting incidents have stoked tension between Kurds in Turkey and Erdogan's government and stalled a 2013 peace process involved the PKK.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) headed by Erdogan and Davutoglu is still looking for a partner for a new coalition government. It lost its parliamentary majority in last month's election for the first time since 2002.

ipj/sms (dpa, AP)