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Turkey agrees to allow U.S. military to use its base to attack Islamic State

 

Turkey has agreed to let the United States 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 expanding U.S. airstrikes into the western part of the border area and using Turkish military ground spotters to guide them — are 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 deal 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 the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

A White House statement said only that the 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.

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 region that are a part of the anti-Islamic State coalition.

Surveillance 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.

Turkish officials made no immediate comments, although several Turkish media outlets reported the Incirlik agreement. In a news conference Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Bülent Arinç said 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 R. Allen, the administration’s coordinator for the coalition, who visited Turkey earlier this month.

“A unanimity of thought and action has been reached about the issue of joint operations in the future,” Arinç said, according to the Hürriyet newspaper. “A related cabinet motion is now open for a signature.”

The newspaper quoted an unidentified U.S. official as saying that American strike operations from Incirlik will begin in August.

 

Read Full Article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/turkey-agrees-to-allow-us-military-to-use-its-base-to-attack-islamic-state/2015/07/23/317f23aa-3164-11e5-a879-213078d03dd3_story.html

 

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