Turkey has agreed to fly in coalition air missions against Islamic State, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Tuesday.
The Turks’ integration into the air operations “could take a few days” to begin, Cook told reporters.
“The fact that Turkey is now going to be flying alongside other coalition aircraft is a significant step forward, one we’ve been waiting for,” he said. “We’ve been trying to work out these logistical details. We’ve been able to do that.”
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last week that the Pentagon wanted Turkey “to do more in the fight” against Islamic State militants.
Last month, Turkey agreed to allow U.S. aircraft to fly anti-Islamic State missions out of its Incirlik air base. That, coupled with the inclusion of Turkish pilots in airstrikes, makes Turkey significantly more involved in the coalition’s efforts. Talks for further inclusion are ongoing, according to the Pentagon press secretary.
“Our cooperation with the Turks and the expansion of that cooperation remains a work in progress at this point,” Cook said.
The discussions about U.S.-Turkey cooperation are trying to address security issues along Turkey’s southern flank, which borders Syria and Iraq. Concern about the Turkish-Syrian border has mounted as weapons and foreign fighters continue to flow into the Islamic State-held territory of war-torn Syria.
Turkey has proposed carving out a “safe zone” in Syria to protect refugees escaping the violence. While Cook said the U.S. and Turkey are “on the same page” in expanding cooperation, the Pentagon does not appear interested in establishing such an area.
“We haven’t mentioned a safe zone from our approach,” Cook said.
(Photo: SAC Helen Farrer RAF Mobile News Team MOD)