In the wake of the deal with the U.S. for the use of İncirlik Airbase by the U.S.-led coalition to combat ISIS militant group, the U.S. will bring 30 fighter jets along with 300 troops to start hitting ISIS from the Turkish air base only 200 kilometers away from ISIS targets in northern Syria
Now that Ankara has formally signed a deal with Washington for opening its İncirlik Air Base in Adana province to the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the U.S. will bring 30 fighter jets along with 300 troops to start hitting ISIS militant positions located only 200 kilometers away from the base. According to sources in Ankara, airstrikes will not only aim to weaken the presence of the terrorist group but will also pave the way for Ankara's demand to create a safe zone in northern Syria. Recently, media reported a U.S. official saying that "the goal is to establish an ISIS-free zone and ensure greater security and stability along Turkey's border with Syria." Reportedly, nearly 300 troops, military supplies, 30 fighter jets including F-16s and F-15s along with several tanker aircraft will be deployed at İncirlik Air Base over the course of this week. In an attempt to create an ISIS-free zone, the joint operation with Ankara will be launched once the U.S. personnel and equipment has been deployed at the base. In addition, the U.S. has started providing air cover on the ground for moderate opposition forces in accordance with the recent deal.
Support was provided last week for the first time when U.S.-led coalition fighter jets helped moderate opposition forces in a clash with al-Nusra Front militants in Azaz province in Syria. The demand for air protection for moderate opposition forces was expressed in May by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu: "They have to be supported from the air. If you do not protect them or provide air support, what is the point?"
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday mentioned why providing air support for moderate opposition forces is crucial. Emphasizing that another benefit of air support is helping refugees return to their homes by means of a secure border, Erdoğan said: "Our support for moderate opposition forces and cooperation with the coalition is very important. The supply routes to opposition forces need to be secure. What we also want is to allow refugees who want to return to their homes to do so. Turkey will do what is necessary to ensure that."
Before Turkey and the U.S. entered an accelerated stage in the fight against ISIS following the authorization for the U.S. to use İncirlik Air Base, members of the U.S. House and Senate voiced their support and satisfaction. Speaking last week to the U.S. government's official external broadcaster, the Voice of America (VOA), Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that İncirlik Air Base plays a crucial role in the U.S. campaign to combat ISIS. He further added that Turkey's cooperation strengthens the U.S.'s hand.
In addition, Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, the senior senator from Georgia, was also pleased with Turkey's decision to allow the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition to use the air base. "Strategically, [İncirlik] is very well located. The Turks have not allowed us to use İncirlik [in the past] so the fact they are now considering it, I think, bodes well," he said.
Another vital point discussed at the meeting between U.S. and Turkish officials was how to use the air base. Ankara agreed to allow the U.S.-led coalition to use the air base under its control. Additionally, Ankara assured that it would enhance its fight against ISIS, including active participation in U.S.-led coalition operations in the case of a security threat to the border. Turkish fighter jets, however, will participate in the operations not from İncirlik, but from other nearby air bases.
İncirlik is a key joint U.S. air base used by the Turkish Air Force located outside the city of Adana, some 150 kilometers from the Syrian border. Since November 2011, the U.S. air force has been flying unarmed drones from İncirlik Air Base. The U.S. will now be able to conduct airstrikes from the air base. Contributed by Ebru Şengül
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