ISTANBUL: Turkish fighter jets early Friday bombed positions of Islamic State jihadists inside Syria for the first time, in a dramatic escalation of fighting after the killing of a Turkish soldier in cross-border clashes.
Three Turkish F-16s took off from the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir for an early morning bombing raid against three IS targets, dropping four guided bombs, a statement from the prime minister’s office said.
The operation came after the first major cross-border clashes between Turkey and IS jihadists on Thursday left one Turkish soldier and one militant dead, thrusting Turkey into an open conflict with the Islamists.
The bombing raid was the first by the Turkish air force on IS since the Islamists began their advance across Iraq and Syria in 2013, seizing control of swathes of territory right up to the Turkish border.
It also came as Turkey, after months of negotiations, finally gave the green light for the US to use a key air base in its south for its air strikes against IS.
The decision to launch the Turkish air force’s operation was taken at a meeting of security officials in Ankara late Thursday chaired by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
“In this context . . . an operation was carried out against targets belonging to Daesh inside the Syrian border,” the statement said, using an Arabic acronym for the group.
“Three of our F-16s hit . . . three targets belonging to Daesh,” it said, adding, “The government of the Turkish Republic is determined to take the necessary measures to protect national security.”
The planes dropped their bombs just before 4:00 am local time (0100 GMT) and all returned safely to their base.
On Thursday, one Turkish soldier was killed and two sergeants wounded on Thursday in the Kilis region by fire from IS militants on the Syrian side of the border. A jihadist was also reported dead.
Turkish tanks then responded by opening fire on IS targets in Syria.
Militants raided in Istanbul
The fighting erupted after the killing of 32 people in a suicide bombing Monday in a Turkish town on the Syrian border that the government blamed on IS.
This sparked an upsurge in violence in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast, where many accuse the Turkish authorities of collaborating with IS, accusations Ankara denies.
Turkish police on Friday launched raids to arrest suspected members of the IS group and Kurdish militants in an apparent bid to stamp down on all sources of violence, the official Anatolia news agency said.
‘Deal on key air base’
NATO member Turkey has also fallen far short of playing a full role in the US-led coalition assisting Kurds fighting IS militants, much to the chagrin of its Western allies.
However Ankara has finally given the green light to US forces for use of its Incirlik base for air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq, American officials said Thursday.