WASHINGTON — The US and Turkey have reached an agreement to incorporate Turkish forces to participate in anti-ISIL airstrikes, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.
However, the agreement does not cover increased Turkish security along its border with Syria, a major issue identified by US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter last week.
Peter Cook, Pentagon press secretary, announced the finalization of details to allow Turkey's "full inclusion" into the anti-ISIL coalition. That includes integration into the coalition's air tasking order, which is key to making sure Turkish fighters do not conflict with operations from other allied nations.
"It could take a few days to put these technical arrangements into place on the operational level," Cook said. But, "we believe Turkey is committed to fully participating as soon as possible."
After spending the greater part of a year avoiding the conflict with ISIL, also known as the Islamic State group, Turkey quickly spun up against the militant group following a July 20 bombing of a Turkish town on the border with Syria.
Since then, it has opened up its Incirlik Air Base to US forces, which began using the base to launch strikes on Aug. 4. Its incorporation into the coalition increases the number of strikes into Syria. Expect those strikes to involve Turkey's fleet of Block 30 F-16s, for which the government recently approved a major upgrade program.
While Cook called the agreement a "significant step forward" in the fight against the militant group, he acknowledged more negotiations are needed to address the border.
Speaking Aug. 20, Carter put public pressure on Turkey regarding the border issue, saying the nation must "do more" to control its border.
"We need them — also, as a neighbor to this conflict zone, as longtime NATO ally and a responsible member of the anti-ISIL coalition — to control the border, the long border that they have with both Syria and Iraq, more than it has been controlled over the last year," Carter said at the time. "It is a border over which logistics for ISIL and fighters cross, and so we're looking for them to do more in that regard as well, and we're in active discussions with them in that regard."
"We will continue to talk with the Turks in regard to border issues going forward," Cook said. "This is specific to flight operations."
Cook also said the US and Turkey are on the "same page," despite statements from Turkish officials that the two nations were developing a safe zone along the border. Asked about those comments, Cook said such an approach hasn't been "mentioned or discussed" in negotiations.