WASHINGTON – The United States is talking with Turkey about what the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition will provide Turkish forces near the northern town of al Bab, Syria, a coalition spokesperson said Wednesday.
“There have been discussions at the diplomatic level about the way ahead,” U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a spokesperson for the anti-ISIS coalition, told reporters at the Pentagon via teleconference from Baghdad.
“I don’t have the details to offer you about what the way forward will be in al Bab. But I do know there has been some good discussion on that, and Turkey is aware of that discussion.”
The statement came amid questioning by Turkish leadership about why it allows the anti-ISIS coalition to use its Incirlik air base in southern Adana province when the coalition is not supporting Turkish efforts in Northern Syria with airpower.
“If you are not supporting us in the most significant operation, then why are you based at the Incirlik Airbase?” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu asked Wednesday, according to state-run Anadolu Agency. “The U.S. is an important ally; we have cooperation in almost every field. However, the truth is [that we are having] a ‘confidence crisis’ with the U.S.”
The coalition uses Turkey’s Incirlik air base, just north of the Syrian border, to fly planes against ISIS targets. It enables the coalition aircraft to reach their targets without having to refuel mid-air.
“It’s absolutely invaluable and the capabilities it has made available for the coalition,” Dorrian said. “The entire world has been made safer by the operations that have been conducted there.”
The U.S. has been hesitant about supporting unilateral Turkish effort in northern Syria, dubbed Operation Euphrates Shield, because Turkey is not only targeting ISIS with Syrian rebel allies but also Kurdish militants whom the U.S. regards as allies.
The U.S. is supporting the Kurdish militants, including some of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters, as part of the coalition of militias that are advancing on Raqqa, a city in Syria on the northeast bank of the Euphrates River, about 37 miles east of Aleppo.
Turkey, however, considers the YPG to be affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who have fought a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey’s borders.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook confirmed Tuesday that U.S. warplanes had supported Turkish forces fighting ISIS near al Bab last week, with a “show of force” but did not drop bombs.
Dorrian said that coalition aircraft did not drop bombs on the ISIS fighters at the time because there wasn’t high enough fidelity that they would only be hitting ISIS militants.
“That’s what we could do right then… there are limitations that are driven by weather. They’re driven by limitations in intelligence information that we have,” he said. “But when we do have good fidelity on where the enemy is and where our partner forces are in relation to the enemy, then we… will strike enemy targets anywhere that they can be found.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that the effort to take al Bab from ISIS is being reworked, but gave no details, according to Anadolu Agency. Erdogan indicated that the Syrian town of Manbij, located about 30 miles east of al Bab, may be the next target of Turkish-backed forces.