US launches first strikes against ISIL from İncirlik

US launches first strikes against ISIL from İncirlik

Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
US launches first strikes against ISIL from İncirlik

File photo

U.S. warplanes have carried out their first air strikes on Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets in Syria after taking off from the key İncirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, kicking off a key new phase in the campaign against the jihadists.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Elissa Smith said the U.S. began flying manned counter-ISIL missions from İncirlik on Aug. 12.

Later, both Turkish military sources speaking to Turkish media and the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed that U.S. jets flying from İncirlik had hit ISIL targets in Syria for the first time.

U.S. official Brett McGurk also met officials in Ankara on Aug. 12 to discuss the anti-ISIL fight.

McGurk’s talks in Ankara came exactly as the U.S. launched its first F-16 fighter missions from Turkey against ISIL targets in Syria. McGurk travelled to Turkey following his meeting with Iraqi Kurdistan’s leader, Masoud Barzani, in Arbil.

More anti-ISIL military aircraft will be deployed mainly at the İncirlik Air Base, but other bases are needed, according to a Foreign Ministry official who asked to remain anonymous.

Joint anti-ISIL operations with the participation of Turkey will increase in the coming days, as Ankara is waiting for requests by Washington to maintain full-fledged coordination with the expected aircraft, the official told the Hürriyet Daily News.

The train-and-equip program for putatively moderate Syrian opposition members has launched a second phase of training in Turkey with almost twice the number of Syrians compared to the first round of 54 “train-and-equip” fighters.

The effort to train Syrian opposition groups is part of an overall campaign to defeat ISIL militants who have seized large parts of Syria and Iraq since June last year.

PYD cannot cross west of Euphrates

Turkey and the U.S. both agree that the Democratic Union Party (PYD) cannot be permitted to enter an area in Syria in which Turkey plans to establish a zone that will ostensibly be free of jihadists, according to the Foreign Ministry official. 

“There is no hesitation from the beginning regarding the understanding we have reached with the U.S. They [PYD] will not cross to the west of the Euphrates [River]. They will not perform ethnic cleansing and demographic surgery,” said the official noting that displaced Arabs and Turkmens in the region would also return to their homeland as part of the consensus. 

The PYD is also “aware where they must stop,” the official said, noting that the message was conveyed to the group through the U.S. and also through various channels that they should not penetrate into the zone.

After the PYD’s military wing, the People’s Defense Units (YPG), removed ISIL from Tal Abyad in June, officials in Ankara declared that the PYD was more dangerous than the jihadist group, while also accusing the YPG of removing Arabs and Turkmens from the area. Many from the communities, however, have returned to the area now controlled by the PYD.

Turkey and U.S. have agreed in general terms on a plan that envisions clearing ISIL militants from northern Syria by forming an “ISIL-free zone.” The ISIL-free zone will be 98 kilometers long and 40 kilometers wide and situated between the Marea-Jarablus line.

The plan crafted by Ankara and Washington foresees the deployment of Free Syrian Army (FSA) units to the area if ISIL is completely cleared from that particular zone, which would both prevent the PYD from further expanding its influence toward the West and relieving the canton of Afrin from jihadist attack.
Turkey also expects the zone to become a safe environment to shelter Syrians fleeing violence or those who want to return to their homelands.

Turkish FM corrects statement 

Coalition forces have conducted airstrikes against the ISIL using Turkey’s İncirlik Air Base, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said after correcting a statement earlier from Aug. 13 in which he appeared to say U.S. forces had not yet attacked the jihadist group from the base.