The United States has deployed half a dozen F-16 warplanes to Turkey to help operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL), the US mission to NATO has said.
The deployment of warplanes at the Incirlik base is the first since Ankara and Washington reached a deal two weeks ago to give access to the US and the international coalition in the fight against ISIL in Syria and Iraq.
“Six US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons deploy to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, to support the fight against ISIL,” the US mission to NATO said on Sunday.
Incirlik is a key air base used by the Turkish Air Force located outside the city of Adana, about 150km from the Syrian border.
Since November 2011, the US air force has been flying unarmed drones from the base. It will now be able to carry out air strikes from the base.
The ability to fly manned bombing raids out of Incirlik against targets in nearby Syria could be a big advantage. Such flights have had to fly mainly from bases in the Gulf countries.
Media reports say some 30 US fighters are due to arrive in the coming days to take part in the operation.
Ankara last month launched a two-pronged “anti-terror” offensive against ISIL group in Syria and Kurdish fighters’ position in Iraq after a wave of attacks inside Turkey.
On Sunday, the Turkish official Anatolia news agency said nearly 400 members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have been killed and hundreds injured in two weeks of Turkish airstrikes on positions in northern Iraq.
The report said at least four PKK leaders and 30 female rebel fighters were among the dead. Anatolia generally bases its information on security and Turkish intelligence sources.
“So far 390 terrorists have been rendered incapable of causing harm and another 400 have been injured, with 150 suffering serious injuries,” Anatolia said.
The PKK has meanwhile, kept up its attacks on the Turkish state, killing at least 20 members of the security forces since the start of the latest cycle of violence that has shattered a ceasefire declared in 2013.
In the latest incident, a policeman was killed and another injured in an attack believed to have been carried out by the PKK in Midyat, a town in predominantly Kurdish southeast Turkey, according to the Dogan agency.
The PKK’s insurgency for greater rights and powers for Turkey’s Kurdish minority began more than 30 years ago and has left tens of thousands dead.