Turkey has agreed to allow the U.S. military to launch air strikes against Islamic State militants from a U.S. air base in Incirlik, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing defence officials.
Local media in Turkey said an agreement was finalised late on Wednesday, but Reuters could not immediately confirm the report.
The White House said President Barack Obama and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan spoke on Wednesday, but it declined to say whether they had reached an agreement on the air base. The Pentagon also would not confirm the reports.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama and Erdogan agreed to “deepen” cooperation in the fight against Islamic State militants, but declined to comment on whether they had come to an agreement on Incirlik.
“I’m not able to talk about some of those issues because of specific operations security concerns,” Earnest said when asked about the Incirlik air base.
“What we have acknowledged is that our coalition has access to a variety of bases throughout Europe and the Middle East for a variety of missions,” he said.
Turkey, which confronts Islamic State militants directly across its southern border with Syria, has been a reluctant partner in the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamist group.
The U.S. Air Force has not been allowed to fly any bombing sorties against Islamic State from Incirlik base in southern Turkey, but it does use the airfield to launch drones.
Ankara has refused to take a frontline role in military action against Islamic State and said only the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – not just air strikes on the radical Islamists – can bring peace.
Turkey’s stance has frustrated some of its NATO allies, including the United States, whose priority is fighting Islamic State rather than Assad. The allies have urged Turkey to do more to prevent its 900-km (560-mile) Syrian border from being used as a conduit by foreign jihadists.
(Reporting by Emily Stephenson and David Storey; Editing by Sandra Maler)
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