Turkey Will 'Very Soon' Begin Bombing ISIS in Iraq, Syria: Pentagon

FILE - in this Wednesday, July 29, 2015 photo, a missile-loaded Turkish Air Force warplane rises in the sky after taking off from Incirlik Air Base, in Adana, southern Turkey (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel, file)
FILE - in this Wednesday, July 29, 2015 photo, a missile-loaded Turkish Air Force warplane rises in the sky after taking off from Incirlik Air Base, in Adana, southern Turkey (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel, file)

Turkey will soon have its warplanes bombing Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria as part of a deal that was complicated by Turkish politics and U.S. support for the Kurdish faction fighting in Syria.

The airstrikes were expected to begin "very soon" after details are finalized on the so-called air tasking order, or ATO, for targeting, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

Davis said the agreement, which allowed the U.S. to use the Incirlik airbase in southeastern part of the country for strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq or Syria, ISIS, called for Turkey to join the air campaign in Syria and also Iraq.

Apart from the coalition, Turkey has already been bombing in Iraq for weeks against elements of the Kurdish Workers Party, known as the PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by the U.S.

Davis said negotiators were putting "the finishing touches on the agreements with the Turks detailing how we'll go about integrating them into the ATO" but "we'll be having them conduct missions as part of the coalition very shortly."

When asked how the Kurds in Iraq would be able to distinguish the Turkish F-16 fighter jets from the coalition warplanes in strikes against the PKK, Davis said "I don't know the answer to that."

The U.S. has been concerned that Turkish strikes against the PKK in Iraq could erode support for the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units) fighting against ISIS in Syria.

"I can only tell you that when it comes to the operations against ISIL those are things we're doing as a coalition and those will be done only through the coalition and only against ISIL," Davis said, referring to another name for ISIS.

Davis also said that a deal has yet to be reached with the Turks on the U.S. request to use the Diyarbakir airfield south of Incirlik to base search and rescue teams as back-up for the missions over Syria. "We're still in talks about that," he said.

Civil unrest has been rising in Turkey since the Turkish airstrikes in northern Iraq against the PKK on July 24, ending a two-year ceasefire.

The PKK has lost around 800 fighters in the bombings, according to Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency. More than 60 Turkish police officers and soldiers have been killed and 200 wounded in attacks blamed on the PKK.

Critics have charged that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been using the airstrikes against the PKK to fan anti-Kurd sentiment and build support ahead of November elections.

At a Pentagon briefing, Davis said that adding Turkish warplanes to the coalition will translate into "more targets, more sorties, more missions.  On any given day, the way that this targeting process works is you have a list of target nominations -- they go through a board, they get prioritized, they get assigned to available platforms."

"So the more available platforms you have, which Turkey's participation will give us, the more of those targets you're able to hit," Davis said.

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

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