Six US F-16 jets have arrived at Turkey's Incirlik air base to carry out airstrikes against "Islamic State." The agreement to host the deployment ended months of reluctance by Ankara to become embroiled in the conflict.
The US European Command said in a statement that a "small detachment" of the F-16s, plus support equipment and some 300 people were being deployed to Incirlik. The planes come from the 31st Fighter Wing, based at Aviano airbase in Italy.
"This follows Turkey's decision to host the deployment of US aircraft conducting counter-ISIL operations," the statement said, using a different acronym for Islamic State (IS).
"The United States and Turkey, as members of the 60-plus nation coalition, are committed to the fight against ISIL in the pursuit of peace and stability in the region."
The permission from Turkey to fly manned raids from the base is expected to offer greater flexibility in operations against IS, particularly against targets in Syria. Sorties have previously been flown out of the Persian Gulf.
Tentative shift in position
Turkey has struggled with increasing insecurity along its 900-kilometer (560-mile) border with Syria, amid fears that the conflict there could spill over onto its own territory. However, Ankara appeared reluctant to become engaged in the fight against IS.
That changed after a suicide bombing in late July on Turkey's side of the border, which killed 32 people in the town of Suruc.
Turkey even subsequently carried out its own airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, waging an apparent two-pronged attack against IS and the Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK).
In reality, most of Turkey's raids have been aimed at the PKK, creating something of a headache for the US which is working with the Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG), who are fighting IS. The official Anatolia news agency on Sunday reported that nearly 400 members of the PKK have been killed in two weeks of Turkish airstrikes on their positions in northern Iraq.
rc/gsw (Reuters, AP)