Turkey is now ready to fully participate in coalition strikes against the Islamic State group and may do so within days, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
Department of Defense spokesman Peter Cook also said Washington has “no indication” the Turkish government had tipped off an Al-Qaeda affiliate group to help them go after US-trained Syrian rebels, as alleged in one report citing rebel figures.
The agreement with Turkey will incorporate Turkish planes into the “air tasking order” — or ATO — to ensure Turkish operations do not interfere with the operations of the coalition of countries targeting the IS group.
“US and Turkey have finalized technical details for Turkey’s full inclusion in counter ISIL coalition operations. This includes full integration into the coalition air tasking order,” Cook said.
“It could take a few days (to put) these technical arrangements into place at the operational level. We believe that Turkey is committed to fully participating as soon as possible.”
Last week, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter expressed impatience with the pace of discussions with Ankara on its participation in the campaign.
“They need to join the ATO and they need to work more on controlling their border. And we’ve made that clear,” he told reporters.
Last month, Turkey had made a preliminary step toward joining the counter-offensive by allowing US planes to use Incirlik Air Base to attack IS positions in Syria.
But its participation in the anti-extremist fight remains limited and its attention seems focused on fighting the Kurdish separatists of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Cook said Tuesday that talks on controlling Turkey’s long border with Syria were still in progress.
“Our cooperation with Turks and expansion of that cooperation remains a work in progress at this point,” he said, noting that “we haven’t mentioned or discussed a safe zone” in which IS fighters could be swept from a strip along the Turkish-Syrian border.
Cook also rejected reports from US newspaper group McClatchy that alleged Turkish intelligence tipped off the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, earlier this summer to help them capture or kill Syrian rebels trained by the United States.