Turkish warplanes on Friday struck three Islamic State targets inside Syria, the first offensive action against a terrorist organization that has taken control of much of the Syrian side of the 560-mile long Turkish-Syria border.
Turkish officials said the aircraft took off from the country’s Diyarbakir airbase and did not cross into Syrian airspace to strike three Islamic State positions in the town of Havar, where precision guided weapons hit what were described as two Islamic State command posts and a an assembly area.
There was no immediate word on casualties.
The attack signaled a new aggressive attitude by the Turkish government toward the Islamic State after years when it was accused of turning a blind eye toward the group’s activities.
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Hours before the strikes on Havar, Turkish security forces launched more than 140 simultaneous raids across the country, rounding up scores of suspected Islamic State members as well as persons affiliated with Kurdish separatists movements.
Friday’s events culminated a bloody week in Turkey that pushed the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to move against the Islamic State. On Monday, a suicide bomber who’s since been linked to the Islamic State set off an explosion in the southern Turkey town of Suruc, killing 32 activists who were gathering to send toys to Kobani, the Syrian Kurdish town devastated last year in battles with the Islamic State.
On Wednesday, Kurdish separatists affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, executed two Turkish police officers in Ceylanpinar, accusing them of complicity in the bombing. A third police officer was killed in Diyarbakir the next day.
Then on Thursday, Islamic State fighters opened fire on a five-man Turkish army patrol which stopped them from bringing a wounded comrade into Turkey for medical treatment. One soldier was killed and two were wounded. At least one Islamic State fighter was killed.
It was the first exchange of gunfire between the Islamic State and Turkey.
Turkey this week also concluded a much-discussed agreement to allow the United States to use the Incirlik air base for bombing missions against the Islamic State. The decision will allow American surveillance aircraft to spend more time overflying Syria and reduce the response time of combat aircraft to Islamic State targets.
Turkey had resisted the use of Incirlik for months, complaining that the United States did not have a comprehensive strategy for Syria that included the toppling of Syrian President Bashar Assad and demanding that the U.S. agree to set up a safe zone inside Syria for the training of rebel forces. It’s not clear whether Turkey won any concessions in agreeing to the use of Incirlik.
A Turkish official who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to discuss the agreement, said that Turkey and the United States would coordinate Turkish participation in the anti-Islamic State air campaign, but that command of the operation would remain at a U.S. command center in Qatar.
Turkey has attacked targets inside Syria in previous years in response to errant mortar shells landing near Turkish cities. But that retaliation was aimed at Syrian government troops.