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Turkey ramps up efforts to fight Islamic State

Tribune News Service

ANKARA, Turkey – Discarding two years of seeming ambivalence toward the Islamic State, Turkey on Friday threw itself into the fight against the extremist organization, sending warplanes to attack jihadist positions in Syria, rounding up the group’s supporters in Turkey, and stating unequivocally that it was a member of the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition.

Turkish aircraft dropped four precision-guided bombs on three Islamic State targets in the early hours Friday and were reported launching fresh attacks late Friday night.

The decision by the Turkish government to move aggressively against the Islamic State could prove to be a major turning point in a campaign that has shown at best mixed results after nearly a year.

A concerted Turkish effort to combat the group could cut off its primary conduit for recruits – as many as 25,000 foreigners are thought to have crossed from Turkey into Islamic State territory – and limit its ability to smuggle supplies in and oil and other contraband out.

“The Daesh problem is a primary national security threat for Turkey,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement, using a common term for the Islamic State. “The dimensions of this threat are constantly growing.”

The Foreign Ministry acknowledged that two events this week had driven its move: the suicide bombing Monday in the town of Suruc that killed 32 and the Islamic State attack Thursday on a Turkish military patrol that left one Turkish soldier dead.

“It is clear that these threats and attacks directed against our national security will receive the response they deserve,” the statement said.

Turkish officials also suggested that the developments had caused the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to soften its open hostility toward the Syrian Kurdish militia battling the Islamic State inside Syria. Previously, Erdogan had suggested the growth of the YPG militia in areas formerly controlled by the Islamic State was Turkey’s No. 1 concern and had blasted the United States for coordinating with the Kurdish group.

But Friday’s official statements made no reference to the Kurdish militia, and officials said the two sides are talking in secret on ways to counteract the jihadists.

Turkish officials also confirmed that they were dropping their objection to the U.S. use of the vast Incirlik Air Base to conduct airstrikes against the Islamic State and suggested that allied aircraft also would be allowed to use Turkish bases at Diyarbakir, Batman and Malatya for raids.

Turkish aircraft are expected to take part in those missions, the Foreign Ministry said.

The United States welcomed the developments. “Just in terms of physics, any time you can have your aircraft and your assets closer to your enemy, that’s a good thing,” said Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command.

But the Turkish action against the Islamic State also is likely to upend what had been a tacit peace with the jihadists that had kept Turkey relatively free of spillover from the Syrian civil war, despite the arrival of nearly 2 million refugees over the past four years.

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