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Turkey is now allowing the U.S. to launch unmanned aircraft to fly over Syria. But so far, traditional warplanes are out of the question.
‘Send in the drones. But keep the manned aircraft at home.’
That’s the message from the Turkish government to the U.S.-led coalition bombing ISIS and other extremists in Syria.
Despite some recent signals from the Turkish government that it was finally ready to partner with the United States and others in the new war against ISIS, there is still a major snag.
U.S. officials working on the diplomacy and intelligence components of the new war tell The Daily Beast that Ankara is still prohibiting the United States from flying manned aircraft from the U.S. airbase in Incirlik, Turkey. Instead, the Turks are allowing only drones to take off from the base.
“They are letting us do a ton of signals work,” a U.S. official working the issue said, using military jargon for the interception of hostile communications. “They have not objected to just about anything on the surveillance side. The fights have been about manned aircraft coming in and out.”
The dispute over flying the manned aircraft has been a source of considerable tensions behind the scenes since the U.S. campaign against ISIS began in August. But the outlines of that dispute spilled out into the open this week.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Oct. 13 on “Meet the Press” that Turkey had agreed to let its bases be used in the fight against ISIS, but several senior Turkish officials rushed to deny Rice’s claim. “There is no decision at the moment concerning Incirlik or any other issue,” Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the next day. Turkey has publicly called for a no-fly zone and for airstrikes against the Assad regime.
Turkey has been a fair weather ally against ISIS and al-Nusra as well. U.S. officials have publicly testified in the last year that new western recruits often travel through Turkey to get to Syria to join ISIS and al-Nusra. U.S. officials now say Turkey has started to take steps to cut down on the number of foreign fighters traveling through Turkey into Syria.