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US to Send More Troops and Aircraft to Turkey to Combat ISIS

A Turkish Air Force Security Forces patrolman, (left) and Staff Sgt. Ryan Schaefer (right) work as a team during a joint patrol Oct. 22, 2010, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Patrolmen (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ashley Wood)
A Turkish Air Force Security Forces patrolman, (left) and Staff Sgt. Ryan Schaefer (right) work as a team during a joint patrol Oct. 22, 2010, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Patrolmen (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ashley Wood)

The U.S. will be sending more Air Force personnel and aircraft to Turkey to combat ISIS but plans for a no-fly zone over the Syria-Turkey border remain on hold, Pentagon officials said Monday.

"We're holding ongoing consultations with the Turks," said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, but currently "we have no plans for imposition of a no-fly zone."

At a Pentagon briefing, Davis said that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was reviewing the options that came with Turkey's surprise announcement last week permitting the U.S. to use the Air Force base at Incirlik, Turkey,  for strikes against ISIS in Syria, but decisions were weeks away.

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, said at the Aspen Security Forum last week that the use of Incirlik could give him more "flexibility" in SOCOM operations inside Syria, but Davis said only operations by manned aircraft and drones out of Incirlik were currently under consideration.

When asked about the deployment of more troops to Turkey, Davis said "We're talking about logistics -- berthing and force protection and things like that." He declined to say how many additional troops would be sent to Incirlik and possibly three other airbases in Turkey, but added that "you would need to have more people to do more operations."

"We're actively talking about what forces or capabilities might be based out of Turkey and how we can do joint operations with the Turks," Davis said.

Currently, about 1,700 mostly Air Force personnel are based at Incirlik, according to Defense Department statistics.

Turkey, a NATO ally, in the past has put restrictions on the number of personnel at Incirlik and limited use of the base against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to unarmed surveillance flights.

The use of Incirlik and Turkish territory in the war on terror also has traditionally been politically sensitive for the Turks. In 2003, during the invasion of Iraq, Turkey refused to allow U.S. troops to use Turkey as a transit to set up a northern access route against the forces of Saddam Hussein.

On Tuesday, NATO ambassadors were to meet in emergency session in Brussels at Turkey's request on Turkey's decision last week to conduct airstrikes against ISIS in Syria while also taking action in Iraq against the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) faction, which is considered a terrorist group by the U.S.

The meeting will be held under Article 4 of the NATO treating entitling member states to seek an emergency meeting when they consider their "territorial integrity, political independence or security" to be in jeopardy.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Turkey's request for the meeting followed recent "heinous terrorist attacks," including an ISIS suicide bombing near Turkey's border with Syria that left 32 people dead and an ISIS attack on Turkish forces which killed a soldier.

"NATO allies follow developments very closely and stand in solidarity with Turkey," Stoltenberg said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com

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