Updated at 11:30 p.m. ET
Turkey has agreed to allow anti-ISIS coalition warplanes to begin using the air base at Incirlik in the country’s east to carry out airstrikes against the extremist group in neighboring Syria, NPR has confirmed.
The news, also reported in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, marks a sudden shift in Ankara’s policy that until now has barred the U.S. and its allies from using the base for anything other than unarmed surveillance drones directed against the self-declared Islamic State.
The Associated Press reports that Turkish warplanes have joined in the air strikes:
“Turkey’s state-run television says Turkish warplanes have struck Islamic State group targets across the border in Syria.
TRT television says four jets took off from Diyarbakir air base in southeast Turkey and used missiles to hit the IS targets in the Syrian village of Havar. Havar is across the border from the Turkish border province of Kilis. TRT said the planes did not violate Syrian airspace.”
… The report comes a day after IS militants fired from Syrian territory at a Turkish military outpost, killing one soldier and prompting Turkish retaliation that killed at least one IS militant.”
“The United States and Turkey have held ongoing consultations about ways we can further our joint counter-ISIL efforts,” National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey tells NPR’s Brian Naylor, referring to an acronym that the administration uses for the Islamic State.
“We have decided to further deepen our cooperation in the fight against ISIL, our common efforts to promote security and stability in Iraq, and our work to bring about a political settlement to the conflict in Syria,” Baskey says. “Due to operational security I don’t have further details to share at this time.”
According to The AP, President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the agreement by telephone on Wednesday.
The AP says:
“Turkey has yet to publicly confirm the agreement, and the U.S. officials requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment publicly. The White House declined to confirm the agreement, citing operational security concerns, but White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama and Erdogan had discussed efforts to fight IS during their phone call Wednesday.
“‘The two leaders did agree that we would deepen our cooperation as we take on this ISIL threat,’ Josh Earnest said, using an alternative acronym for the militant group.”
The WSJ reports:
“Use of the base is part of a broader deal between the U.S. and Turkey to deepen their cooperation in the fight against Islamic State, which is growing increasingly perilous for Turkey.
“The agreement comes after months of tense negotiations between U.S. officials seeking greater freedom to strike the extremist forces and reluctant Turkish leaders who have resisted American pressure to play a larger role in the fight across the border.”