US fighter jets struck Syrian targets in an operation launched against Islamic State militants from the Incirlik airbase in Turkey, the US military confirmed Wednesday. This news comes amid reports of a renewed rebel offensive on Syrian government forces. Six F-16 strike fighters were deployed to Incirlik Airbase near Adana in southeastern Turkey earlier this week. The US forces stationed there have already been conducting drone operations against Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS/ISIL), but Wednesday’s strikes were the first manned missions staged from Turkey under an arrangement reached with the government of President Erdogan in July.
“The United States and Turkey, as members of the 60-plus nation coalition, are committed to the fight against ISIL in the pursuit of peace and stability in the region,” said a statement from the US mission to NATO announcing the fighters’ deployment on August 9.
No Turkish fighter jets were involved in the strikes, security sources told Reuters. Ankara has been reluctant to take part in the campaign against Islamic State militants, citing “fears of backlash.”
Western critics have slammed Ankara’s stance, considering that Turkish planes are currently flying bombing sorties against the Kurdish militias based in Syria and Iraq, but not against IS militants on the same territory. Ankara considers the Kurds to be a threat to Turkey’s integrity, labeling them as terrorists. However, they have been the only ground force in the region to have any success fighting Islamic State.
Covering rebel offensive on Assad?
Meanwhile in Damascus, at least five people have been killed and dozens wounded in the latest shelling by rebel militants. Noting that this is the second such incident in less than a week since 9 people died in a similar attack on Sunday, RT’s Middle East correspondent Paula Slier reports that the timing of the latest attacks coincides with a US promise of air cover for the so-called “moderate” rebels it is training and supporting.
For the first time in months, the Syrian government admitted Tuesday that its troops were on the defensive and retreating from various parts of the country, Slier noted, adding that the rebels had not shown this kind of offensive capability since at least June. The developments come amid a new wave of statements by US officials pinning all the blame for the situation in Syria on President Bashar Assad.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said during an August 3 briefing that “we believe that Assad regime long ago lost legitimacy,” while the State Department issued a statement claiming that “the Assad regime frankly is the root of all evil here … and has been instrumental in creating the kind of lawless area to the north where ISIL has been able to get purchase and extend its roots.”
But while the US-supported rebels aim to topple Assad, the reality today is that the only force that would replace the Syrian government in such an event is Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out on Tuesday after talks with his Saudi Arabian counterpart, Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir.
“I would not want any powerful state involved in attempts to solve the Syrian crisis to believe that Assad issue may be solved militarily, because the only way of such a military solution is the seizure of power [in Syria] by Islamic State and other terrorists,” Lavrov said, adding: “I don’t think anybody wants that.”
Despite the Assad government’s seemingly calm reaction for now, people in the Syrian capital are becoming increasingly concerned over the launch of US airstrikes from a Turkish air base. Local journalist Alaa Ibrahim told RT that US warplanes are authorized to target anyone threatening Pentagon-trained rebels, including Syrian state troops. RT