Turkey announced Saturday that its fighter jets have carried out their first airstrikes as part of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group in Syria. The Turkish Foreign Ministry made a statement that its air-force had begun attacking targets across the border in Syria on Friday.
Until now, Turkey had taken a more passive role in the conflict, allowing the US Air Force access to its air bases close to the border. Last month, Turkey attacked ISIS targets with smart weapons without invading Syrian air space, but the strike was a unilateral move and not as part of the coalition.
“Our fighter aircraft together with warplanes belonging to the coalition began as of yesterday evening to jointly carry out air operations against Daesh (Arabic acronym for ISIS) targets that constitute a threat against the security of our country. The fight against the terrorist organization is a priority for Turkey.”
The Turkish attacks came as a result of Turkish and US officials reaching a technical agreement concerning their cooperation, which calls for Turkey to be fully integrated into the coalition air campaign. The formal agreement was signed last Monday.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said, “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.” ISIL is the official White House acronym for ISIS.
Turkey has the largest military in the region and is a key element in any military actions. It seemed that the Turkish government was unwilling to join in the coalition’s military effort. It may be that a terror attack last month in the town of Suruc by an ISIS suicide bomber that killed 34 led to a change of heart.
On Thursday, ISIS fighters captured five villages from rebel groups in northern Syria and advanced toward the strategic town of Marea near the Turkish border. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other groups said ISIS carried out a suicide bombing on the outskirts of Marea.
The ISIS advance was in the northern Aleppo province near where Turkey and the United States have agreed to establish an ISIS-free safe zone.