ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkish fighter jets have carried out their first airstrikes as part of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Syria, Turkey announced Saturday.
A Foreign Ministry statement said the jets began attacking Islamic State targets late Friday across the border in Syria that were deemed to be threats to Turkey.
After months of hesitance, Turkey agreed last month to take on a more active role in the fight against the Islamic State. Turkish jets used smart bombs to attack militant positions in Syria, without crossing into Syrian airspace, and later Turkey granted U.S. jets access to a key air base close to the Syrian border.
The Turkish attacks that began Friday were the first launched as part of the U.S.-led campaign and came after Turkish and U.S. officials announced they had reached agreement "on the procedures and technical details" of their cooperation, which calls for Turkey to be fully integrated into the coalition air campaign.
"Our fighter aircraft together with warplanes belonging to the coalition began as of yesterday evening to jointly carry out air operations against Daesh targets that also constitute a threat against the security of our country," the Foreign Ministry said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. "The fight against the terrorist organization is a priority for Turkey."
The statement did not provide further details on the targets or say how many jets were involved.
Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency, reporting from Aleppo and citing unnamed local sources, said the coalition forces have raided Islamic State targets in the militant-held town of Manbij in Aleppo province. It said the raids destroyed Islamic State positions but that there was no information on casualties.
The private Dogan news agency said two Turkish warplanes hit four militant targets north of Aleppo. It did not cite a source for the report or provide any more information.
On Thursday, militants seized five villages from rebel groups in northern Syria as they advanced toward the strategic town of Marea near the Turkish border. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other groups said the Islamic State carried out a suicide bombing on the outskirts of Marea as fighting raged in the area.
The Islamic State advance was in the northern Aleppo province near where Turkey and the United States have been discussing establishing a militant-free zone.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the Turkish airstrikes were "fully integrated" in the coalition campaign.
"We commend Turkey for its participation in counter-ISIL air operations alongside other coalition nations in the international campaign to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL," said Cook, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State.
A statement from the U.S. Embassy said, "Turkish participation in coalition airstrikes strengthens our capacity to degrade and defeat our common enemy."
Turkey's deeper involvement in the coalition came after a suicide bombing in July, blamed on the Islamic State, killed 33 people in the Turkish border city of Suruc near Syria, and an attack on Turkish troops guarding the border that killed one soldier.
Earlier this month, U.S. F-16 jets launched their first airstrikes from the Turkish air base of Incirlik -- just a short distance from targets in northern Syria. Earlier, the U.S. began flying armed drones from Incirlik, which is just a short distance from northern Syria.
Turkey had been reluctant to team up with the U.S.-led coalition formed a year ago. At the time, the jihadists were holding more than 50 Turks, who are now free, captive in Iraq. Turkey also was worried that assaults on the Islamic State could benefit separatist Kurds in Syria and embolden Turkey's Kurds to pursue their objective of autonomy.
Despite the cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey, disagreements remain about the scope of the operation against the jihadists.
President Barack Obama has ruled out sending U.S. ground troops into combat in Syria or Iraq, and he is counting on defeating Islamic State fighters through forces on the ground, bolstered by U.S. and allied airstrikes.
Joint support for local forces is critical for the success of the air operations, said Jonathan Friedman, a London-based Turkey analyst at Stroz Friedberg, a global risk consultancy. Turkey and the U.S., though, are at odds over which groups to support in Syria.
While the U.S. has armed Syrian Kurds, Turkey has backed the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, worried that the American alliance with Kurdish fighters in Syria would buttress separatists in Turkey's restive southeast.
"Airstrikes are only effective when you actually have partners on the ground who can take the territory cleared by airstrikes and hold it," Friedman said Saturday. "Turkey and the U.S. don't see eye to eye" on Islamist groups including Ahrar al-Sham, he said.
Also Saturday, Islamic State militants moved to stamp out dissent in a remote western Iraqi town, detaining at least 70 and tying dozens of residents to streetlight poles as a punishment, security officials said.
The protest by hundreds of residents in Rutbah, in Anbar province, was triggered by the Islamic State earlier Saturday executing Munir al-Kobeisi, a civil servant, for killing an Islamic State member. The killing was part of a long-running feud between two clans.
Eid Amash, a spokesman for Anbar's provincial government, confirmed al-Kobeisi's execution and the subsequent protest.
Relying on sketchy information from Rutbah, in Iraq's far west near the Jordanian border, the officials said they didn't know the whereabouts of the detained residents. The militants, they said, tied two residents to each light pole.
Information for this article was contributed by Suzan Fraser and Qassim Abdul-Zahra of The Associated Press and by Onur Ant and Larry Liebert of Bloomberg News.
A Section on 08/30/2015
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