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U.S. launches first anti-ISIS airstrikes from Turkey

The airstrikes mark a limited escalation of a yearlong air campaign that critics have called excessively cautious

Published: Updated:

The U.S. on Wednesday launched its first airstrikes by Turkey-based F-16 fighter jets against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets in Syria, the Pentagon said.

The airstrikes mark a limited escalation of a yearlong air campaign that critics have called excessively cautious.

Previously, the U.S.-led coalition bombing the jihadist group had used unmanned drones for missions launched from Turkey, with jets flying from carriers and other bases in the region.

“Today, the United States began flying manned counter-ISIL missions from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Strikes were conducted,” Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Elissa Smith said, using another acronym used for ISIS.

“This follows Turkey’s announcement last month that it would open its bases to United States and coalition members'’ air operations against ISIL, as part of deeper U.S.-Turkey counter-ISIL cooperation,” she added.

Pentagon officials have said the main advantage of using Incirlik is its proximity to ISIS targets in northern Syria, although a senior U.S. defense official said Wednesday that the F-16s may also be used on missions over Iraq. The official was not authorized to discuss F-16 mission details publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Most U.S. aerial combat missions over Iraq and Syria are being flown from more distant air bases in Qatar and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region, although the U.S. also is flying F-16s from Muwaffaq Salti air base in Jordan.

Separately, a military spokesman confirmed that the strikes launched from Incirlik had targeted the ISIS group in Syria, one of the most powerful factions in the country’s complex civil war.

The United States is leading a coalition of Western and Arab powers carrying out strikes against ISIS fighters in territory they have seized in Syria and Iraq.