TIME Turkey

Turkey Launches First Coalition Airstrikes Against ISIS

A Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter jet lands at Incirlik air base in Adana, Turkey
Murad Sezer—Reuters A Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter jet lands at Incirlik air base in Adana, Turkey on Aug. 11, 2015.

Turkey came to a decision to actively participate in efforts against ISIS after months of hesitation

(ANKARA, Turkey) — Turkey announced Saturday that its fighter jets have carried out their first airstrikes as part of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Syria.

A Foreign Ministry statement said the jets began attacking IS targets late Friday across the border in Syria that were deemed to be threats to Turkey.

After months of hesitance, Turkey agreed last month to take on a more active role in the fight against IS. Turkish jets used smart bombs to attack IS positions in Syria, without crossing into Syrian airspace and later Turkey granted U.S. jets access to a key air base close to the Syrian border.

The Turkish attacks that began Friday were the first launched as part of the U.S.-led campaign and came after Turkish and U.S. officials announced they had reached a technical agreement concerning their cooperation, which calls for Turkey to be fully integrated into the coalition air campaign.

“Our fighter aircraft together with warplanes belonging to the coalition began as of yesterday evening to jointly carry out air operations against Daesh targets that constitute a threat against the security of our country,” the Foreign Ministry said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. “The fight against the terrorist organization is a priority for Turkey.”

The statement did not give more details on the targets.

On Thursday, IS militants seized five villages from rebel groups in northern Syria as they advanced toward the strategic town of Marea near the Turkish border. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other groups said IS carried out a suicide bombing on the outskirts of Marea amid fierce fighting in the area.

The IS advance was in the northern Aleppo province near where Turkey and the United States have agreed to establish an IS-free safe zone.

TIME Basketball

NBA Star Enes Kanter Looks Like a Child Next to the World’s Tallest Man

Kanter is 6 ft. 11 in., Kosem is 8 ft. 3 in.

At 6 ft. 11 in., Turkish basketball player Enes Kanter is much taller than most regular people and more than a few of his NBA peers.

But if there’s anyone who can tower head and shoulders over the Oklahoma City Thunder center (literally), it’s his compatriot and the world’s tallest man Sultan Kosen.

The duo met at a school opening in an Atlanta suburb on Thursday, and a local reporter tweeted a picture of them standing side by side that really lays bare the difference in their heights.

At 8 ft. 3 in., Kosen would probably be near impossible to defend if he played in the NBA. Kanter, for one, is definitely open to the idea of having him as a teammate.

TIME Turkey

The U.S. and Turkey Will Soon Launch ‘Comprehensive’ Operations Against ISIS

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu answers a question during an interview with Reuters in Ankara, Turkey, August 24, 2015.
Umit Bektas—Reuters Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu answers a question during an interview in Ankara on Aug. 24, 2015

The joint operations include providing air cover for moderate Syrian rebels

Turkey’s Foreign Minister said Monday that Washington and Ankara have agreed on a plan to flush out ISIS extremists from the Turkey-Syria border.

In an interview with Reuters, Mevlut Cavusoglu said the two nations would soon launch “comprehensive” air operations to clear ISIS from a 50-mile long border zone in northern Syria.

“The technical talks have been concluded [Sunday], and soon we will start this operation, comprehensive operations, against Daesh [Islamic State],” Cavusoglu told the news agency.

He added that regional allies including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar as well as France and Britain may also take part.

Reuters reports that the joint operations include providing air cover for moderate Syrian rebels and aim to create an ISIS-free “safe zone” along the border with Turkey. ISIS has been using the border to transport supplies and foreign fighters into Syria.

U.S. and Turkish aircraft would use military air bases in Turkey to launch strikes against ISIS, Reuters says.

[Reuters]

TIME Turkey

Turkey’s President to Call Early Election for November

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
AP Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media in front of a mosque in Istanbul on July 24, 2015.

The announcement follows abandoned efforts for a coalition government

(ANKARA, Turkey) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday he will call a new election for Nov. 1 after the legal period for forming a new government ends this week.

The widely-expected announcement comes days after Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu abandoned efforts to build a coalition government, following the failure of talks with the leaders of two smaller parties.

Erdogan told reporters he had no intention of giving Turkey’s opposition leader the mandate to try and form a government. He said he would hold talks with the parliament speaker after the 45-day legal period for forming a government ends Sunday.

“After that, we will take our country to early elections,” Erdogan said. “God willing, on Nov. 1, Turkey will go through what I like to call repeat elections.”

The Turkish leader also said he would form an interim government to lead the country to the election.

Erdogan reportedly favors a new election over a coalition government in the hope that the ruling party that he founded can regain the majority it lost in the June election.

TIME Turkey

Police Officer Hurt After Attack at Istanbul Palace

Turkey Palace
Emrah Gurel—AP A woman talks to a police officer securing the road that leads to Istanbul's Dolmabache Palace on Aug 19, 2015

Police apprehended two people in an area close to the palace

(ISTANBUL) — Turkish police arrested two people Wednesday after a hand grenade was hurled and shots were fired at officers guarding Istanbul’s Dolmabahce Palace, an Ottoman-era palace that is a major tourist attraction, the Istanbul governor’s office said. One police officer was slightly injured, according to the country’s state-run news agency.

Later Wednesday, at least eight Turkish soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb detonated by Kurdish rebels in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast region, the military said.

Police apprehended two people in an area close to the palace and seized two hand-grenades, an automatic rifle, a hand gun and a large amount of ammunition, a statement from the Istanbul governor’s office said. It did not identify the suspects or give a motive for the attack.

However, the state-run Anadolu Agency said the two assailants are members of the outlawed leftist group the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army-Front, or DHKP-C. It did not cite a source for the report.

The DHKP-C claimed responsibility for an attack earlier this month in which two female assailants opened fire at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul. No one was hurt in the attack but one of the assailants was shot by police and hospitalized.

The attacks come amid a sharp rise in violence between Turkey’s security forces and the Kurdish rebels, and as Turkey has been conducting operations against the Islamic State group and others. Turkey last month rounded up more than 1,000 people linked to IS, the Kurdish rebels and the DHKP-C, after a suicide bomb attack blamed on IS killed 32 people. Turkish warplanes, meanwhile, have raided PKK targets in Iraq and in southeast Turkey in tandem with airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria.

Close to 100 people, most of them police and soldiers, have been killed since July in the renewed violence between the security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, according to a count by The Associated Press.

An IS propaganda video released this week called Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a traitor for allowing the U.S. to use air bases for strikes against the group, and urged all Muslims in Turkey to join the IS in its fight against “crusaders, atheists and tyrants” in the country.

The police officers who were attacked were standing guard at an area far from the entrance used by visitors to the 19th century Dolmabahce palace.

Margarita Paban, a visitor from Poland, said she heard a “boom” and three or four gun shots as she emerged from the tramway with her family.

She said they had no plans to cut their visit short.

“We have more sights to see,” she said. “We haven’t seen the Grand Bazaar or the Asian side yet.”

The prime minister has an office inside the palace, situated on the shores of the Bosphorus strait, but was in the capital Ankara at the time of the attack.

___

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.

TIME europe

A Record 107,500 Migrants Entered the E.U. Last Month

Illegal migrants rescued by Turkish coast guard in Aegean Sea
Anadolu Agency—Getty Images Illegal migrants who were trying to reach Greece's Kos island, are rescued by Turkish coast guard after their boat sank off Turkey's Aegean coast near Bodrum district of Mugla, western Turkey on August 18, 2015

Greek islands bore the brunt of the increase

July saw an influx of 107,500 migrants into the E.U., straining thinly-stretched resources even further, reports Frontex, the bloc’s border agency.

The figures have increased significantly since June, when the border agency registered around 70,000 migrants crossing into Europe. Nearly 340,000 migrants have arrived in Europe since January — a huge jump compared to the 280,000 migrants who arrived in all of 2014.

“The pace of arrivals has been steadily increasing in recent weeks,” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told reporters in Geneva, according to the AFP.

The majority of the migrants come from the Middle East, fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan through Turkey, then crossing the Aegean sea into Greece. The largest concentration of refugees has been on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos and Kos, Frontex says.

Aid workers with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) warn of an increasingly precarious situation due to the unprecedented number of arrivals and the lack of resources to help them, “The situation is already volatile and we have started seeing increased tensions with the local authorities and between different refugees groups,” Kirk Day, the field director of IRC’s ground operation in Lesbos, said in a statement.

As numbers continue to rise, Day hopes that views towards the migrants will grow more sympathetic. “European donors and international institutions need to stop focusing on where these refugees are, and instead remember where they are from — and, what they are fleeing,” Day said.

TIME Turkey

U.S. Fighter Jets Fly First Anti-ISIS Missions From Turkey

Turkey Kurdish Clash
Emrah Gurel—AP A missile-loaded Turkish Air Force warplane rises in the sky after taking off from Incirlik Air Base, in Adana, southern Turkey, on July 29, 2015.

The Incirlik-based F-16s can be used to verify targeting information

(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. on Wednesday launched its first airstrikes by Turkey-based F-16 fighter jets against Islamic State targets in Syria, marking a limited escalation of a yearlong air campaign that critics have called excessively cautious.

In a brief statement the Pentagon announced the F-16 strikes were launched from Incirlik air base in southern Turkey but provided no details on the number or types of targets struck. It did not say how many of the six F-16s now based at Incirlik were used in the initial strikes.

Earlier this month the U.S. began flying armed drones from Incirlik, but the F-16 flights add a new dimension to the air campaign, in part because of the added risk to pilots who might encounter Syrian or other air defenses.

Pentagon officials have said the main advantage of using Incirlik is its proximity to Islamic State targets in northern Syria, although a senior U.S. defense official said Wednesday that the F-16s may also be used on missions over Iraq. The official was not authorized to discuss F-16 mission details publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Most U.S. aerial combat missions over Iraq and Syria are being flown from more distant air bases in Qatar and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region, although the U.S. also is flying F-16s from Muwaffaq Salti air base in Jordan.

The official said the Incirlik-based F-16s are equipped with surveillance and reconnaissance equipment in addition to weapons, and thus can be used to verify targeting information that may be provided by local Syrians or Iraqis cooperating with the U.S. A total of six F-16s are operating from Incirlik; they are from the 31st Fighter Wing based at Aviano, Italy.

With the threat of Syrian air defenses in mind, the U.S. military is considering how to reconfigure its network of combat search-and-rescue forces in the region, the senior defense official said. The official indicated those forces are deemed sufficient for the moment but might change. Other officials have said the U.S. also is considering placing refueling aircraft at Incirlik in support of the F-16 mission.

After months of negotiations between Washington and Ankara, the Turkish government agreed in late July to permit the U.S. to station aircraft at Incirlik in southern Turkey.

A Foreign Ministry official in Ankara said Wednesday that Turkey has not carried out its own airstrikes against the Islamic State recently because the U.S. asked it to wait so that the two countries can coordinate efforts. The official asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The senior U.S. defense official in Washington said the two governments are working on a memorandum of understanding that would set the terms under which Turkish warplanes would be integrated into the U.S.-led air campaign.

Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War and a retired Navy commander, said the deployment of six F-16s to Turkey provides only a marginal improvement to U.S. air operations against the Islamic State, in part by shortening the flying distance to targets in northern Syria.

More broadly, the escalation is important for bringing Turkey more directly in the conflict, Harmer said.

“Turkey is coming off the sideline,” Harmer said. “More than anybody else in the region, Turkey did not want to tangle with ISIS,” he added, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group. “All that nastiness that ISIS can do could be turned against Turkey in very short order.”

The Turkish situation is especially touchy in political terms, in part because Turkey is a NATO ally with a different perspective on the Islamic State problem. Whereas the U.S. is focused on fighting the Islamic State militants and has partnered with Syrian Kurds to that end, Turkey’s main priority is curtailing growing Kurdish power along its southern border with Syria.

The Turks worry that Kurdish gains in Iraq and in Syria will encourage a revival of a Kurdish armed insurgency in Turkey in pursuit of an independent state. The PKK, a Kurdish terror group, killed two Turkish police officers and the Turks have retaliated, bombing their positions. Other Kurdish fighters have been effective against the Islamic State.

“For a long, long time Turkey has struggled mightily to stay out of this fight because they are so vulnerable,” Harmer said.

An early indication of Turkish concern about the chaos in Syria was its request in 2012 for NATO missile defense support. Since early 2013 a number of NATO countries have operated Patriot missile defenses in southern Turkey, including a U.S. Army Patriot unit based at Gaziantep, due north of the Syrian city of Aleppo.

TIME Turkey

Turkish Warplanes Strike Kurdish Rebel Targets in Southeast

Turkey Syria
Emrah Gurel—AP A missile-loaded Turkish Air Force jet after taking off from Incirlik Air Base, in Adana, southern Turkey, July 29, 2015

The Turkish military said jets overnight hit 17 targets

(ANKARA, Turkey) — Turkish warplanes struck Kurdish rebels positions in southeast Turkey, the military said Tuesday, a day after heavy violence in the country left at least nine dead.

In a statement, the Turkish military said jets overnight hit 17 targets of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, around the Buzul mountain and the Ikiyaka region in Hakkari province, which borders Iran and Iraq.

In further violence Tuesday, Kurdish rebels attacked an infantry brigade command in nearby Sirnak province, seriously wounding a soldier who later died in hospital.

On Monday, nine people, including five police officers, were killed in separate attacks in Istanbul and in the southeastern Sirnak province. The attacks were blamed on the PKK.

Turkey has seen a sharp spike in clashes between security forces and Kurdish rebels in recent weeks. At least 48 people have died during the renewed violence that has wrecked an already fragile peace process with the Kurds.

Turkish warplanes have raided PKK targets in Iraq and in southeast Turkey in tandem with airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria since late July.

The PKK has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in southeast Turkey. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.

 

TIME Turkey

Assailants Fired Shots at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul

Turkey Explosion
Akin Celiktas—AP Turkish forensic police officers work at the site of an explosion at a police station in Istanbul's Sultanbeyli neighbourhood on Aug. 10, 2015

The attack came hours after a bombing at a police station in Istanbul

(ISTANBUL, Turkey) —Two assailants opened fire at the heavily-protected U.S. Consulate building in Istanbul on Monday, touching off a gunfight with police before fleeing the scene, Turkish media reports said.

Police later caught one person in connection with the attack, but provided no details, the state-run Anadolu Agency said. One of the assailants — a woman — was injured in the crossfire and was captured inside a nearby building where she hid, the private Dogan news agency reported. No one else was injured in the onslaught.

Hours earlier an overnight bomb attack at a police station in Istanbul injured three policemen and seven civilians and caused a fire that collapsed part of the three-story building. Police said the assailants exploded a car bomb near the station. Unknown assailants later fired on police inspecting the scene of the explosion, sparking another gunfight with police that killed a member of the police inspection team and two assailants.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility and it was not known if the assaults were connected.

Also Monday, Kurdish rebels in the southeastern province of Sirnak fired at a helicopter carrying conscripts who either finished their term of duty or were taking leave, killing one of them and injuring one other, the military said. Four soldiers were also killed in Sirnak province, when their armored vehicle was attacked with a roadside bomb, the Dogan news agency reported.

The attacks come at a time of a sharp spike in violence between Turkey’s security forces and rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Turkey is also taking a more active role against Islamic State militants. Last month it conducted aerial strikes against IS positions in Syria and agreed to let the U.S.-led coalition use its bases for its fight against IS. The move followed a suicide bombing blamed on IS which killed 32 people and IS militants firing at Turkish soldiers from across the border in Syria, killing one soldier.

On Sunday, the U.S. military announced that a detachment of six F-16 fighter jets and some 300 personnel have arrived at Turkey’s southern Incirlik Air Base to join the fight against IS militants.

Turkey last month carried out a major security sweep, detaining some 1,300 people suspected of links to terror organizations, including the PKK, IS and the banned far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army-Front, or DHKP-C.

In 2013, a suicide bombing at the U.S. Embassy in the capital Ankara killed a Turkish security guard and injured one other person. The DHKP-C claimed responsibility for the attack.

The U.S. Embassy said U.S. officials were working with Turkish authorities to investigate the incident. The consulate would remain closed to the public until further notice, it said.

Police wearing flak jackets and holding machine guns blocked off streets leading to the consulate. The building, which is surrounded by fortified walls, was intact and its flag was flying.

___

(An earlier version said seven policemen — instead of seven civilians — were injured in the bomb attack)

___

Fraser reported from Ankara.

TIME Turkey

Six U.S. F-16 Jets Arrive In Turkey To Help Fight ISIS

Turkey US Syria Islamic State
AP—AP A United States Air Force cargo plane maneuvers on the runway after it landed at the Incirlik Air Base, in Adana, southern Turkey, Aug. 9, 2015

Last week, U.S. armed drones struck ISIS positions

(ANKARA, Turkey) — Six U.S. F-16 fighter jets arrived at an air base in southern Turkey on Sunday to join the U.S.-led coalition fight against Islamic State militants, the U.S. military said.

The U.S. European Command said in a statement that the U.S. air force deployed a “small detachment” of six F-16 jets, support equipment and about 300 personnel at Incirlik Air Base. The detachment is part of the 31st Fighter Wing based at Aviano Air Base, in Italy, it said.

Turkey carried out airstrikes against IS targets in Syria last month following a suicide bombing that killed 32 people and the killing of a soldier by IS militants and agreed to allow the U.S. to use the strategically-located base. The moves ended months of reluctance by Turkey, giving it a more active role in the U.S.-led coalition against the extremist group.

Last week, U.S. armed drones taking off from Incirlik struck IS positions, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said an “extensive” fight against the extremists would soon begin.

“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,” the U.S. military said, using an alternative name for the militant group.

Turkish media reports say the U.S. is expected to deploy around 30 fighter jets at Incirlik for strikes against IS.

Incirlik is located close to IS strongholds across the border in Syria, allowing the U.S. to move more swiftly and nimbly against IS targets. Its use would enable the U.S. -led coalition to conduct better surveillance over Syria and act quicker on intelligence than when it was limited to launching flights from places like Iraq, Jordan and the Gulf states.

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