Beirut and Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—Turkey and the United States are to begin a joint offensive that will see them coordinate airstrikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), informed Turkish sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday.
The sources, who requested anonymity, said Washington and Ankara have agreed that Turkey will carry out strikes against ISIS targets lying along its border with Syria and located no more than 12 miles (20 kilometers) inside Syrian territory.
The US and its allies, who have formed a coalition against the extremist group since August 2014, will meanwhile target ISIS positions further into Syria, concentrating especially on Raqqa, the group’s stronghold in the country.
This comes as Ankara, which has thus far been a reluctant participant in international efforts against ISIS, on Friday launched airstrikes against the group for the first time, also allowing planes from the US-led anti-ISIS coalition to use its airbases to launch attacks against ISIS, in what one senior US official called a “game changer” in the fight against group.
This followed a suicide bomb attack last Monday in the southeastern district of Suruç, which killed 32 people, mostly students. Turkish authorities identified the suicide bomber as a 20-year-old Turkish national whom they said had links with ISIS and had traveled to Syria earlier in the year.
The attack targeted a groups of students, many of whom were of Kurdish origin, who had gathered in Suruç on their way to the Syrian border town of Kobane. The students were beginning an initiative to help rebuild the Kurdish-majority town, which has been the scene of fierce fighting between Syrian–Kurdish groups and ISIS over the past 12 months.
Ankara has been accused of taking a lax approach to the movement of ISIS recruits into Syria across its borders and of not intervening in Kobane when ISIS fighters attacked it last year.
Kurdish separatist group the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on Wednesday said it killed two Turkish police officers in the southeastern town of Ceylanpınar. In a statement, the group said the action was carried out in retaliation for the government’s “collaboration with the Da’esh [ISIS] gangs.”
In addition to hitting ISIS positions in Syria, Turkish jets have since Friday also been targeting the PKK in Iraq in response to Wednesday’s attack by the group.
On Sunday Turkish authorities announced a car bomb struck a military vehicle in the southeastern Diyarbakır province, killing two soldiers and wounding four others. They blamed the attack on Kurdish rebel groups.
The PKK and other Kurdish separatist groups in Turkey have since the 1980s waged a deadly insurgency campaign in southeast Turkey calling for autonomy from Ankara, a conflict which has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Peace talks between Ankara and the PKK began in 2013 and a ceasefire was declared but Turkey’s stance toward Syria and the treatment of Syrian–Kurdish refugees in Turkey have led to recent tensions.
On Saturday, Bakhtiar Dogan, spokesman for the People’s Defense Force (HPG), the armed wing of the PKK, told Asharq Al-Awsat the ceasefire declared between Ankara and the PKK was “now meaningless” in light of the airstrikes launched by Turkey against PKK targets in Iraq.
“There is no peace process [anymore]. Turkey has targeted our fighters with hundreds of rockets, even though our party has throughout this past period abided by the ceasefire, called by our leader Abdullah Öcalan, who remains imprisoned by Ankara,” he said.
Dogan maintained that Turkey’s airstrikes against ISIS were a cover for targeting Kurdish groups and said Ankara was “not serious about fighting ISIS.”
Meanwhile, the White House on Sunday said it welcomed Turkey’s increased efforts against ISIS, and called the PKK a “terrorist” group
Brett McGurk, deputy presidential envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition, said on Twitter the White House “strongly condemned” the PKK’s attacks. “We fully respect our ally Turkey’s right to self-defense,” he added.
NATO, of which Turkey is a member state, announced on Sunday it would meet for consultations following a request from Ankara to discuss progress on its airstrike campaigns against ISIS and the PKK and the recent attacks on Turkish soil.
“NATO allies follow developments very closely and stand in solidarity with Turkey,” the alliance said in a statement.
Dalshad Abdullah contributed additional reporting from Erbil.