EUCOM: US seeks to tamp down Turkey’s concerns about Syria offensive
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 5, 2017
STUTTART, Germany — U.S. European Command said on Thursday that talks are continuing about how to best support Turkey in its operations against the Islamic State group in Syria.
Ankara has criticized the U.S. for not providing air power to back up a Turkish-led push against the militants near the country’s border with Syria.
On Wednesday, Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik said discontent over a perception of a lack of U.S. support for Turkey’s efforts is prompting a public discussion over whether the U.S. coalition should operate from Incirlik Air Base. The base is a key hub for airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.
EUCOM said the two NATO allies are examining how to better coordinate efforts.
“Turkey and its partner forces have made tremendous progress against ISIL along the Syrian border,” said Lt. Col. David Faggard, a EUCOM spokesman, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
“We continue to discuss how we can most effectively support Turkey’s ongoing counter-ISIL operations in Syria. Those conversations are ongoing, regular and at multiple levels.”
Turkey says that the U.S. coalition operating out of Incirlik should be providing air support for the Turkish-backed offensive against Islamic State fighters in the Syrian city of al-Bab.
“We hope that all coalition forces, primarily the U.S., give air and other support that Turkey needs in the Euphrates Shield operation and the necessary step will be taken soon,” Isik told reporters in Ankara.
So far, the U.S. coalition has sent aircraft around al-Bab in a show of force but hasn’t dropped any bombs.
The U.S. and Turkey have increasingly been at odds over the war in Syria. A chief source of tension has been the U.S. backing of Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State. Turkey regards those Kurdish elements as an enemy force and fears they will seek to carve out an enclave on or near its border.
EUCOM played down the tensions, saying Turkey remains a vital partner.
“Our goal, as always, is to maximize the pressure on ISIL from as many fronts as possible,” Faggard said. “The Turkish air force base at Incirlik continues to fulfill an important role in support of NATO and coalition efforts.”