Turkey Bombs IS in Syria

Turkey Bombs IS in Syria
Turkey Bombs IS in Syria

Turkish fighter jets bombed positions of Islamic State militants early Friday inside Syria for the first time, in a dramatic escalation of fighting after the killing of a Turkish soldier in cross-border clashes, the prime minister’s office said.

Three Turkish F-16s took off from the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir and conducted an early morning bombing raid against three IS targets, dropping four guided bombs, the statement said, AFP reported.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the airstrikes had "removed potential threats" to Turkey, hitting targets with "100% accuracy." He did not rule out further airstrikes, saying Turkey was determined to stave off all terror threats against it.

The private Dogan news agency said as many as 35 IS militants were killed in one of the three targets. The agency did not cite a source for the report and there was no official confirmation.

The operation came after the first major cross-border clashes between Turkey and IS extremists on Thursday that left one Turkish soldier and one militant dead.

The decision to launch the air operation was taken at a meeting of security officials in Ankara late Thursday chaired by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

“In this context ... an operation was carried out against targets belonging to Daesh inside the Syrian border,” the statement said, using an Arabic acronym for the group.

“Three of our F-16s hit ... three targets belonging to Daesh. The government of the Turkish Republic is determined to take the necessary measures to protect national security.”

The planes dropped their bombs just before 4:00 a.m. local time and all returned safely to their base.

This is while one official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Turkish fighter jets "didn't cross the Syrian border during the operation," adding that the attacks had taken place in an area of Syria, across the border from the Turkish town of Kilis.

Turkish state TV also said the jets had not violated Syrian airspace as they attacked the border town of Havar, next to Kilis.

The bombing raid was the first such by the Turkish Air Force on IS since the insurgents began their advance across Iraq and Syria in 2013, seizing control of swathes of territory right up to the Turkish border.

It came after one soldier was killed and two sergeants wounded on Thursday by fire from five IS militants on the Syrian side of the border.

Four Turkish tanks from the fifth armored brigade responded by opening fire on IS targets in Syria in the most serious cross-border clashes yet between the two sides.

The fighting erupted after the killing of 32 people in a suicide bombing Monday in the Turkish town of Suruc on the Syrian border, blamed on IS, sparked an upsurge in violence in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast.

290 Terror Suspects Detained

The Turkish police conducted an anti-terrorist operation in 13 of the country's provinces, detaining more than 290 people suspected of involvement with various terrorist organizations, the government said in a statement on Friday.

"On July 24, the Security Office began an operation against (IS) militants … and other terrorist organizations that are a threat to national security."

"An investigation is underway. The government is committed to combating terrorism."

Given the proximity of conflicts in Syria and Iraq and the influx of nearly two million refugees, Turkey seems now to be being drawn slowly and reluctantly into more active engagement.

The Turkish government has faced criticism at home and abroad for not doing enough against IS, despite being part of the international coalition fighting it.

Anti-IS Bond

Earlier on Thursday, Turkish defense officials announced an agreement to expand cooperation with the United States in the fight against IS militants.

The Wall Street Journal and Turkish publications Zaman and Hurriyet reported that Turkey will allow the US military to launch airstrikes against the militants from Incirlik Air Base in eastern Turkey.

Under the agreement, the US military will be allowed to use manned and unmanned aircraft based in Turkey to hit targets in Syria, according to the Journal.

US President Barack Obama spoke with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday about the fight against IS militants, the White House said.

The pair said they would strengthen efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria, and secure Turkey's border, a popular entry point for militants looking to join the IS group, according to the White House.