ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish fighter jets have carried out their first airstrikes as part of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Syria, Turkey announced on Saturday.
A Foreign Ministry statement said the jets began attacking IS targets late Friday across the border in Syria that were deemed to be threats to Turkey.
After months of hesitance, Turkey agreed last month to take on a more active role in the fight against IS. Turkish jets used smart bombs to attack IS positions in Syria, without crossing into Syrian airspace and later Turkey granted U.S. jets access to a key air base close to the Syrian border.
The Turkish attacks that began Friday were the first launched as part of the U.S.-led campaign and came after Turkish and U.S. officials announced they had reached agreement “on the procedures and technical details” of their cooperation, which calls for Turkey to be fully integrated into the coalition air campaign.
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“Our fighter aircraft together with warplanes belonging to the coalition began as of yesterday evening to jointly carry out air operations against Daesh targets that also constitute a threat against the security of our country,” the Foreign Ministry said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. “The fight against the terrorist organization is a priority for Turkey.”
The statement did not provide further detail on the targets or say how many jets were involved.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, reporting from Aleppo and citing unnamed local sources, said the coalition forces have raided IS targets in the IS-held town of Manbij in Aleppo province. It said the raids destroyed IS positions but said there was no information on any casualties.
The private Dogan news agency meanwhile, said two Turkish warplanes hit four IS targets north of Aleppo. It did not cite a source for the report or provide any more information.
On Thursday, IS militants seized five villages from rebel groups in northern Syria as they advanced toward the strategic town of Marea near the Turkish border. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other groups said IS carried out a suicide bombing on the outskirts of Marea amid fierce fighting in the area.
The IS advance was in the northern Aleppo province near where Turkey and the United States have been discussing establishing an IS-free safe zone.
In Washington, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said the Turkish airstrikes were “fully integrated” in the coalition campaign.
“We commend Turkey for its participation in counter-ISIL air operations alongside other coalition nations in the international campaign to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL,” Cook said, using an alternative acronym for IS.
A statement from the U.S. Embassy said: “Turkish participation in coalition airstrikes strengthens our capacity to degrade and defeat our common enemy.”
Turkey’s deeper involvement in the coalition came after a suicide bombing in July, blamed on IS, killed 33 people in the Turkish border city of Suruc near Syria, and an attack on Turkish troops guarding the border, which killed one soldier.
Earlier this month, the U.S. F-16 jets launched their first airstrikes from the Turkish air base of Incirlik — just a short distance from targets in northern Syria. Earlier, the U.S. also began flying armed drones from Incirlik, which is just a short distance from targets in northern Syria.