ISTANBUL — Turkey has launched its first wave of airstrikes as part of the United States-led coalition to fight the Islamic State, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Saturday.
Turkish fighter jets carried out joint operations against Islamic State targets in Syria late Friday, which posed a threat to Turkey’s national security, the statement said.
Islamic State militants gained control of five villages in northern Syria on Thursday and advanced toward the Turkish border, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.
The attack comes weeks after Turkey took a major tactical shift by assuming a more active role in the campaign against the Islamic militant group, plunging into direct cross-border confrontations and allowing American warplanes to use its air bases.
Until now, Turkey, a NATO member and longtime ally of the United States, had been unwilling to take a direct stance against the group, mainly out of concern over retaliation.
Since shifting gears, however, Turkey has come under criticism for lagging in its engagement and prioritizing its renewed military operations against a Kurdish insurgency group in Turkey and Northern Iraq, a group that has nonetheless been one of the most effective in fighting the Islamic State on the ground.
Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter of the United States called on Ankara last week to participate fully in the American-led campaign against the group and increase security measures across its border with Syria.
Mr. Carter said Turkey needed to join in the airstrike campaign, adding, “They need to work more on controlling their border. And we’ve made that clear.”
Turkish officials have rejected accusations that they have been reluctant to join international efforts to fight the Islamic State, and insist the delay is because of lengthy discussions on logistics and technical operations.
Those talks were concluded last week, according to the Foreign Ministry, which said Ankara would coordinate with coalition nations on airstrikes.
“The fight against the terrorist organization is a priority for Turkey,” the statement said.
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(via NY Times)