ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — An armed drone taking off from Turkey launched a strike on the Islamic State group on Wednesday, a U.S. official said, as Turkey’s foreign minister said American aircraft had begun to arrive at a Turkish base close to the border with Syria and an “extensive” fight against the extremists would begin soon.
Also Wednesday, Syria’s foreign minister said Damascus would support efforts against IS, as long as the fight is coordinated with the Syrian government.
Ending its reluctance, Turkey carried out airstrikes against IS targets in Syria late last month and agreed to allow U.S. warplanes to use Incirlik Air Base for operations, taking a more front-line role in the U.S.-led coalition’s fight against the extremists.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said a drone had launched an airstrike from Turkey for the first time on Wednesday, but provided no further details.
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He said the U.S. was planning to fly manned aircraft out of Turkey but that had not yet begun.
U.S. officials had said the first armed drone missions out of Turkey began last weekend although they did not conduct airstrikes at the time.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an ASEAN meeting in Kuala-Lumpur, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the battle against the IS from the Turkish air base would begin soon, but didn’t elaborate.
“As part of the agreement reached with the United States, we have made great strides on the technicalities of Incirlik’s use and the U.S. aircraft have started to arrive,” the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted him as telling reporters. “Soon we will together start an extensive battle against Daesh.” He was using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
The Turkish minister also told reporters that once the “effective” fight has begun, the ground would become safer for moderate opposition forces fighting IS.
His comments came following reports that members of the Free Syrian Army who went through a U.S. training program to fight Islamic State militants were captured by the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front in Syria.
Turkey on Wednesday named a new chief of military staff as it takes on a more active role in the fight against IS. Land Forces Commander Gen. Hulusi Akar was appointed to replace the current military chief who retires at the end of a three-day, annual High Military Council meeting which decides on promotions, retirements and dismissals within Turkey’s armed forces.
Syrian’s state media quoted Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem as saying in Tehran on Wednesday said the fight against the IS should be coordinated with Syria.
“We are with any effort to fight Daesh as long as it is in coordination with the Syrian government otherwise it is an infringement on Syria’s sovereignty,” al-Moallem was quoted as saying by Syrian state TV.
Al-Moallem has been in Iran since Tuesday where he is believed to have been discussing an Iranian initiative to try to end Syria’s four-year conflict that has killed more than 250,000 people.
According to the Lebanon-based pro-Syrian Al-Mayadeen TV, the four-point Iranian initiative calls for an immediate cease-fire, formation of a national unity government, amending the constitution to reassure ethnic and religious minorities and holding internationally supervised elections.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, said his country would hand over its four-point initiative for resolving the Syrian crisis to United Nations soon, the official IRNA news agency reported on Wednesday. He did not elaborate on the plan.
Iran is Syria’s strongest ally in the region and has backed Assad since the country’s crisis began in March 2011.
Associated Press reporters Credit Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Nasser Karimi in Tehran contributed.
(An earlier version said the airstrikes against were last week. The airstrikes took place late in July)