Piloted American warplanes Wednesday launched airstrikes from Turkey against Islamic State fighters in Syria, the first American manned bombing raids against the group from the only Islamic member of NATO.
Four F-16s left Incirlik Air Base and bombed Islamic State targets across the border in Syria, Pentagon and Turkish sources said.
“Today, the United States began flying manned counter-ISIL missions from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey,” the Pentagon said in a statement, using its preferred acronym for the Islamic State. “Strikes were conducted.”
Navy Cmdr. Elissa Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman, later confirmed that the planes had struck targets in Syria “and the planes returned safely.”
She declined to say whether Kurdish militia inside Syria had called in the strikes. “While we aren’t going to provide specifics about our intelligence gathering and targeting process, in some cases the anti-ISIL fighters in northern Syria provide information to the coalition about the locations of ISIL positions,” she said.
Turkish officials have been critical of U.S. cooperation with the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which they accuse of being linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, which has fought a 30-year insurrection against the Turkish government. But U.S. officials have acknowledge they work closely with the YPG and consider them the most effective fighting force in northern Syria.
Turkey agreed to allow U.S. planes to fly from its bases and to launch airstrikes of its own against the Islamic State under a deal reached last month after the Islamic State was blamed for the bombing in the Turkish city of Suruc that killed at least 32.
Turkey bombed Islamic State fighters in Syria for the first time July 24, but since then it has conducted waves of strikes against the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The United States has criticized Turkey in recent days for bombing PKK fighters at northern Iraq sites close to where U.S. elite forces are training Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers.
“I don’t know exactly how close they are, but obviously we’ve had conversations about this to make sure it doesn’t happen (again),” outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters Wednesday.
The U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition began flying unmanned drone strikes from Turkey against the militant group earlier this month.
Leaving bases in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Middle East nations, U.S.-led warplanes have carried out more than 5,800 bombing raids against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria in the past year. Human rights groups say the strikes have killed hundreds of civilians in the two countries.
McClatchy special correspondent Duygu Guvenc contributed to this report from Ankara, Turkey.