ANKARA — The United States on Wednesday launched its first airstrike from Turkey on an Islamic State target in Syria, as Ankara vowed it was ready to step up its own fight against jihadists.
"A US drone today carried out one airstrike in Syria near Raqa," said a Turkish official, referring to the town in northern Syria that the IS group sees as its capital.
The drone had taken off from Turkey's southern Incirlik air base, which Ankara has now opened to the US military for armed attacks on IS targets in Syria just 200 kilometres away, the source added.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier announced that Turkey was ready to begin a "comprehensive" fight against IS jihadists in Syria alongside the United States, after months of staying on the sidelines of the US-led coalition.
The Pentagon announced this week that US armed drones had taken off from Incirlik to conduct missions over northern Syria, but this was the first time an airstrike had been carried out.
Turkey, a member of the international coalition led by its NATO ally Washington, had so far declined to take robust action against jihadists but after a deadly bombing in July in a border town blamed on suspected IS jihadists, it launched limited strikes against the group in Syria.
According to media reports some 30 US fighter jets are due to arrive at the facility in the coming days in order to take part in the operation.
Turkey has so far concentrated an almost two-week "anti-terror" campaign on the bombing of Kurdish militants.
But Cavusoglu indicated after meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry in Malaysia that Turkey would be stepping up its campaign against IS jihadists.
"The US planes have begun arriving and soon we will launch a comprehensive fight against Daesh all together," he said, using a pejorative Arabic acronym for IS in a quote to the official Anatolia news agency.
Cavusoglu said at the start of a meeting with Kerry that the anti-IS operation would be helped by moderate Syrian rebels.
The two top diplomats met at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur on the sidelines of a regional security gathering.
Kerry "welcomed Turkey's recent decision to open its bases to US participation in air operations against (the militants) and its support for Syrian refugees," a senior State Department official told reporters after the meeting.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week said the formation of a safe zone inside Syria, free from threats, would help return some of the 1.8 million refugees Turkey is hosting.
Cavusoglu on Wednesday said the regions cleared of IS militants would automatically turn into a "natural safe zone" which would be filled by moderate rebels. — AFP