WASHINGTON – Turkey has agreed to let the U.S. military launch airstrikes against the Islamic State from a key air base near the Syrian border, senior U.S. officials said Thursday, giving a boost to the U.S.-led coalition while drawing Turkey deeper into the conflict.
President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan finalized the deal in a phone call Wednesday, officials said, following months of U.S. appeals and delicate negotiations over the use of Incirlik and other bases in Turkey. Frustrated by Obama’s focus on fighting IS instead of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Turkey’s government had resisted the move, but in recent days a surge in Islamic State activity in Turkey has brought concerns about the militant group to the forefront.
Under the deal, the U.S. military will be allowed to launch manned and unmanned flights from Incirlik; in the past, only unmanned drone flights were allowed.
Turkey has yet to publicly confirm the agreement, which U.S. officials discussed on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment publicly. Citing operational security, the White House declined to confirm the agreement, but noted that Obama and Erdogan had agreed to “deepen our cooperation” against IS in their phone call Wednesday.
“Turkey is a critical partner in degrading and defeating ISIL, and we appreciate the essential support Turkey provides to the international coalition across the many lines of effort,” said Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, using an alternative acronym for the militant group.
Turkey’s shift on Incirlik came as the country is on higher alert following a series of deadly attacks and unsettling signs of increased IS activity in Turkey. On Thursday, IS militants fired from Syrian territory at a Turkish military outpost. Turkish forces retaliated, killing at least one IS militant. And earlier in the week, a suicide bombing that Turkey blamed on IS militants killed 32 people in southeastern Turkey, near the Syrian border.