Ankara has “agreed in principle” to participate in the U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State militants — a step that is welcome, overdue, and insufficient, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said during a news briefing at the Pentagon Thursday.
Carter said Turkey also needs to stop ISIS fighters and equipment from moving across its lengthy borders with Syria and Iraq.
“They’ve indicated considerable willingness to do that,” the secretary said. “We’re working through the practicalities of that and it’s extremely important to the campaign against ISIL.”
Turkish warplanes have been bombing Kurdish PKK militants in Iraq, but they have not yet added their planes to the air campaign against ISIS. American officials want Turkey to join the air tasking order, or ATO, which allows U.S. war planners in a Middle East air operations center to assign specific strike missions to Turkish fighter jets.
“We do want Turkey to do more in the fight against ISIL,” Carter said. “They need to join the ATO and they need to work more on controlling their border.”
Now more than a year into the airstrikes campaign, Turkey last month opened a key air base to American fighter jets and unmanned aircraft. “That’s important, but it’s not enough,” Carter said Thursday.
A NATO ally, Turkey flies many American-made military aircraft, including F-16 fighters. Turkey is also a partner on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project.