July 23, 2015 / 6:49 PM / 5 years ago

Turkey to let U.S. strike Islamic State from Incirlik air base - WSJ

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Turkey has agreed to allow the U.S. military to launch air strikes against Islamic State militants from a U.S. air base in Incirlik, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing defence officials.

A Turkish F-16 fighter jet approaches the tarmac of Incirlik airbase in the southern Turkish city of Adana July 4, 2012. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Local media in Turkey said an agreement was finalised late on Wednesday, but Reuters could not immediately confirm the report.

The White House said President Barack Obama and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan spoke on Wednesday, but it declined to say whether they had reached an agreement on the air base.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama and Erdogan agreed to “deepen” cooperation in the fight against Islamic State militants, but declined to comment on whether they had come to an agreement on Incirlik.

“I’m not able to talk about some of those issues because of specific operations security concerns,” Earnest said when asked about the Incirlik air base.

“What we have acknowledged is that our coalition has access to a variety of bases throughout Europe and the Middle East for a variety of missions,” he said.

The U.S. Air Force has not been allowed to fly any bombing sorties against the group from Incirlik base in southern Turkey, but it does use the airfield to launch drones.

Ankara has refused to take a frontline role in military action against Islamic State and said only the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - not just air strikes on the radical Islamists - can bring peace.

Turkey’s stance has frustrated some of its NATO allies, including the United States, whose priority is fighting Islamic State rather than Assad. The allies have urged Turkey to do more to prevent its Syrian border being used as a conduit by foreign jihadists.

Turkey is also concerned about disruption among its Kurdish minority, which mainly lives near the southeastern border.

Earlier on Thursday Turkish forces fired tank shells across the border after coming under fire from Islamic State militants that killed a Turkish soldier near Kilis, an area where Ankara had recently sent reinforcements.

The fighting came days after a suspected suicide bombing by the Islamist radical group in the Turkish border town of Suruc killed 32 people, many of them students and some of them Kurds, touching off waves of violence.

The incident sparked fears of the Syria conflict spilling onto Turkish soil and the prime minister’s office issued a statement saying the country would take all necessary steps to protect national security.

Reporting by Emily Stephenson and David Storey; Editing by Sandra Maler and Lisa Shumaker

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