The U.S. has wasted no time taking advantage of a new agreement with Turkey that allows coalition forces to launch attacks against Islamist State forces in Iraq and Syria, though it remains to be seen just how much of a lasting impact the deal will have on the fight against the terror group.
The Air Force has ramped up its presence in the country following Ankara’s decision last month to allow the U.S. to utilize Incirlik Air Base to launch strikes against the extremist network.
Six F-16 fighter jets arrived in Turkey over the weekend, along with support equipment and about 300 personnel, according to U.S. European Command. Their arrival came less than a week after the Pentagon announced it had begun flying armed drone missions from Incirlik.
Being able to operate from the air base, as well as another location inside the country, is “significant,” according to U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa chief Gen. Frank Gorenc.
“Now we’re able, because they’ve joined the fight, to put in some of the things airpower does so well” and bring new pressure on ISIS from the north, he said Monday during an interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Gorenc said Incirlik is closer than the Gulf location strikes previously originated from, reducing the number of sorties that need to be flown over Syria and Iraq and flattening other logistical challenges.
Still, challenges remain. Turkey has faced increasing insecurity along its almost 600-mile border with Syria. Officials in Ankara are worried the conflict could spill onto their territory.
Tensions are also high inside the country, especially among the Kurdish minority, who are concerned the government will use the new military compact as a license to renew military campaigns against them.
Last month Ankara launched air strikes against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) units, as well as ISIS militants, in northern Iraq, as part of its new “synchronized war on terror.” It also rounded up hundreds of suspected extremists in a massive dragnet.
Pressures boiled over on Monday when a pair of women, members of a far-left political group, shot at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, one in a wave of security incidents across the country.
Such occurrences could increase the longer the air campaign against ISIS rages on, something that seems likely given that the coalition effort recently passed the one-year mark and is quickly approaching 6,000 airstrikes against the terror group.
Gorenc said he believed that airpower “has been effective” and changed the behavior of ISIS ground fighters, making them fight in smaller, less capable groups.
As for Turkey, he said, tankers “are sure to follow” the fighter jets that arrived this weekend.
“This is just the beginning,” he said.