Proving that a larger regional war remains among the most significant threats of the protracted military campaign against the Islamic State (or ISIS), Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey confirmed on Monday that Turkish warplanes bombed several targets inside Syria on Monday.
According to the Associated Press:
Davutoglu said the airstrikes had "removed potential threats" to Turkey and targets were hit with "100 percent accuracy." He did not rule out further strikes, saying Turkey was determined to stave off all terror threats against it.
"This was not a point operation, this is a process," Davutoglu said. "It is not limited to one day or to one region... The slightest movement threatening Turkey will be retaliated against in the strongest way possible."
Turkish police on Friday launched a major operation against terror groups including IS, carrying out simultaneous raids in Istanbul and 12 provinces and detaining more than 290 people.
News that at least three Turkish F-16 fighters took off from the Diyarbakir air base in the southern part of the country to strike at ISIS is the first time Turkey itself has executed airstrikes against its neighbor since the conflict began and marks a potentially significant escalation in the conflict that pits the U.S. military and allied Gulf and European nations against the militant group that has taken over large swaths of both Syrian and Iraqi territory.
Turkish media reported the targets as being close to the Syrian border with Turkey in the village of Hawar al-Naht, but officials would not confirm the exact location.
Local people on the Turkish side of the frontier reported the sound of the attack. "We heard something last night, but we couldn't tell if it was air strikes or gunfire," said Zeki Polat, a 47-year-old who was sitting in a teahouse in the village of Elbeyli.
The attacks are probably the first time that Turkey has publicly said it bombed Islamic State in Syria, according to Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. He said the aim of the strikes could also be "to help rebels on the ground control areas near the border instead of Kurdish forces".
Turkey has suffered a wave of violence in its largely Kurdish southeast after a suspected Islamic State suicide bombing killed 32 people, many of them Kurds, in the town of Suruc on the Syrian border this week.
The airstrikes also come a day after it was announced that Turkey would allow U.S. and allied warplanes to use the same airbase to stage bombing raids and other missions over Syria and Iraq.
On Thursday, U.S. Defense Department officials announced that Ankara had agreed to allow use of a separate air base in Turkey, called Incirlik, as a launching pad for airstrikes following a phone call between President Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
As the Guardian notes, the latest developments come as Turkey faces increasing levels of internal political tension, with the Erdogan government lumping many of its left-wing adversaries—namely the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but also young socialists and others—together with the militant threat posed by ISIS and those sympathetic to its cause.
"Tension has risen dangerously in the predominantly Kurdish south-east, where many have long accused the [Erdogan government] of directly supporting ISIS against the Kurdish struggle in Syria, a charge Ankara vehemently denies," the newspaper reports.