Turkey Will Let the United States Use Its Base for Attacks on Islamic State

© AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda A Turkish fighter jet flies above the Incirlik airbase, southern Turkey.
© AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda A Turkish fighter jet flies above the Incirlik airbase, southern Turkey.

Turkey has agreed to allow the United States to use Turkish soil to launch air attacks against the Islamic State, signaling a major shift in policy on the part of the once-reluctant American ally, U.S. officials said Thursday. 

The decision to allow U.S. warplanes to use the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey is one element in a broad cooperation plan first broached nine months ago. Additional elements, including expansion of U.S. airstrikes into the western part of the border area, and the use of Turkish military ground spotters to guide them, are still being discussed and finalized.

Turkey had resisted being drawn too deeply into the war against the Islamic State because of concerns about the direction of the Obama administration’s Syria policy.

The Incirlik agreement was sealed in a telephone conversation Wednesday between President Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a senior U.S. administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

A White House statement said only that the two leaders had discussed “deepening our ongoing cooperation in the fight against ISIL, as well as common efforts to bring security and stability to Iraq and a political settlement to the conflict in Syria.” The Islamic State is also known as ISIS and ISIL.

[Iraqi forces prepare offensive against Islamic State]

Use of the Incirlik base , located just 60 miles from the northwest Syrian border, would enable piloted U.S. warplanes and armed drones to move more quickly and efficiently against Islamic State targets in their northern Syrian strongholds, U.S. officials have said. Planes currently fly from Iraq, to Syria’s east, and from Arab states such as Jordan and in the Persian Gulf that are a part of the anti-Islamic State coalition.

Survillance aircraft have been permitted to fly from Incirlik, but the Turkish government’s refusal to allow the base to be used for air attacks had triggered one of the deepest rifts in the U.S.-Turkish alliance in more than a decade, reflecting deep-seated policy differences between Ankara and Washington over ways to address the Syrian war. Incirlik has hosted American forces under the umbrella of the NATO alliance for many years, but it remains subject to Turkish sovereignty.

There was no immediate comment from Turkish officials, although several Turkish media outlets reported the Incirlik agreement. In a Wednesday press conference, Deputy Foreign Mnister Bulent Arinc said that Turkey had “agreed on certain topics to support the [anti-Islamic State] coalition’s efforts during a recent meeting with the U.S. special representative,” a reference to retired Gen. John Allen, the administration’s coordinator for the coalition, who visted Turkey earlier this month.

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Source: The Washington Post | Liz Sly and Karen DeYoung

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