The United States may have more than doubled its capacity to conduct air strikes on ISIS strongholds in Syria without committing a single new plane or soldier to the fight. Multiple foreign media sources are now reporting on an agreement between the U.S. and Turkey that would open up Turkey’s Incirlik air base to U.S. planes engaged in the fight against the terror group.
Turkey has been a reluctant ally in the battle to push back ISIS, which still controls large amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria. Among other things, the U.S. and its allies have been angry about the unwillingness of Turkish authorities to take stronger measures to secure its border with Syria – a favored crossing point for recruits looking to join ISIS. While U.S. planes have long used Incirlik for other operations, Turkey has so far not granted permission to use it to stage attacks on ISIS.
However, according to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, officials from Washington and Ankara have been in negotiations over the use of Incirlik for some time. A preliminary agreement appears to have been struck earlier this month and was finalized yesterday, according to reports.
The news about the possible opening of Incirlik comes just days after British Prime Minister David Cameron promised that he would step up Great Britain’s air war against ISIS as well.
A recent suicide bombing in the Turkish town of Suruc, on the Syrian border, may have played a role in the final agreement. The bombing killed 34 and wounded more than 100 others. Afterward, Turkish officials said that they had reason to believe ISIS was involved.
President Obama is reported to have spoken to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday, at least in part to express condolences in the wake of the attack.
The news that Turkey is more willing to engage in the effort to fight ISIS is bad news for the terror group even if all that changes is that the U.S. can launch combat sorties from Incirlik. The air base is only a few hundred miles from key ISIS strong points in Syria – compared to the more than 1,000 miles some U.S. pilots were having to cover from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf or other air bases in the Middle East.
Flying out of Incirlik, the same number of planes currently committed to the fight could fly more missions and could spend considerably more time over their targets without the need for refueling.
If the opening of Incirlik signals the start of further cooperation from Turkey in fighting ISIS, the news is even worse for the terror group. The Turkish military is among the largest in NATO and would not face the logistical challenges of deploying troops from outside the region.
Thursday saw one of the first open engagements between Turkish troops and ISIS fighters. One Turkish soldier was killed and two others wounded after ISIS personnel reportedly opened fire on a unit patrolling the Syrian border. The Turkish government reported that its soldiers returned fire, killed at least one ISIS fighter and destroyed military equipment.