Turkey says it has carried out a series of airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria, further expanding its involvement in the battle against the extremist group.
Three Turkish air force F-16s struck targets in Syria early Friday, according to a statement from the office of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
Earlier, state-run TV broadcaster TRT reported the jets took off from Diyarbakir air base in southeast Turkey and hit sites in the Syrian village of Havar.
The strikes come a day after reports suggested President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has agreed to let U.S. fighter planes use Incirlik Air Base in Turkey to launch attacks on Islamic State militants inside Syria.
The reports, by Turkey’s Hurriyet daily and The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times in the U.S. said the agreement was finalized during a phone call Wednesday between Erdogan and President Barack Obama.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he was not able to answer a direct question about Incirlik because of “operational security concerns.”
But the White House said in a statement that the two leaders vowed to deepen the two countries’ fight against Islamic State militants, to heighten efforts “to bring security and stability to Iraq and a political settlement to the conflict in Syria.”
The White House statement did not mention use of Incirlik, but said Obama and Erdogan “discussed efforts to increase cooperation to stem the flow of foreign fighters [to the Islamic State] and secure Turkey’s border with Syria.”
The U.S. military has long operated at the Incirlik base, but Turkey had precluded its use for attacks against Islamic State.
The air base is about 400 kilometers from Raqqa, the Islamic State stronghold in Syria, and would sharply cut the length of the 1,900-kilometer bombing runs the U.S. has been carrying out from Iraq into Syria.
Hurriyet said general agreement on Incirlik’s use for the new attacks was reached in early July. The U.S.-led coalition has launched thousands of bombing runs on Islamic State positions in Syria and Iraq and says it has had some success in halting the militants’ advance. But the Islamic State group still controls wide swaths of northern and western Iraq and northern Syria just across the border from Turkey.
On Thursday, Islamic State fighters in Syria and the Turkish military engaged in a cross-border skirmish that left at least one Turkish officer dead.
Thirty-two people, mostly young activists preparing for an aid mission to Syria, were killed Monday in a devastating suicide bombing in Suruc, Turkey. The Turkish government for the first time blamed the Islamic State for the assault.
(Photo: SAC Helen Farrer RAF Mobile News Team/MOD)