Turkish planes bombed Islamic State targets for the first time Friday, representing the country’s first armed foray into the conflict against the group.
The airstrikes, which reportedly destroyed three terrorist sites in Syria, represent a serious change in the country’s approach to ISIS. Just months ago, Turkey was attracting criticism for its lax enforcement of the 500-mile border it shares with Syria, which countless jihadi groups use for smuggling fighters to the front lines of battle.
The announcement came just a day after reports emerged of American pilots conducting raids out of two Turkish airbases for the first time. Turkey’s government confirmed the reports Friday, stating that “Turkey and the US have decided to further deepen their ongoing cooperation in the fight” against ISIS. (RELATED: Pentagon: Airstrike Killed Infamous Syrian Al-Qaida Leader)
Previously, the airbases only hosted U.S. surveillance drones, not aircraft with striking capability.
On Monday, a suicide bomb killed 32 people in the southern town of Suruç. The town’s population is majority-Kurdish; while Kurds have been among the strongest fighters against ISIS in Syria, Turkey is suspicious of its own Kurds’ aspirations to independence.
In the days since, Turkey has cracked down on suspected Islamic State sympathizers, as well as Kurdish nationalists and radical leftist groups.
The United States has been pressuring a hesitant Turkey to join its coalition against Islamic State since it first began bombing the group last summer. Monday’s attack may have precipitated the government’s response.
But government statements claimed the air raids were in response to gunfire Thursday by Islamic State militants against a Turkish military installation, which killed a soldier. It is unclear whether Turkey will continue to participate in the campaign after an initial series of attacks.
Earlier this month, Turkey announced it would help train Iraq’s military and police as they fight against ISIS’ presence there. (RELATED: Is Turkey The Key To Finally Beating ISIS In Iraq?)
Turkey also hosts 1.5 million refugees from the ongoing civil war in Syria — making it the country shouldering the largest civilian spillover from the conflict.
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