Turkey denies deal reached with U.S. on airbase use in ISIS fight
U.S. , Saudi Arabia launch 8 airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria
NATO allies Turkey and the United States differed Monday on where they stand on the use of a key air base, with Turkish officials denying reports from the United States that there was a new agreement on its use for operations against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants.
The impasse suggests that major differences remain between the two sides. Turkey has said it won't join the fight against the extremists unless the U.S.-led coalition also goes after the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, including establishing a no-fly zone and a buffer zone along the Turkish border.
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The United States has been pressing Turkey to play a larger role against ISIS, who have taken control of large swaths of Syria and Iraq, including territory on Turkey's border, and sent several hundred thousand refugees fleeing into Turkey.
U.S. officials said again Monday that Turkey would let U.S. and coalition forces use its bases, including Incirlik air base, which is within 160 kilometres of the Syrian border, for operations against ISIS.
However, emerging Monday from a Cabinet meeting, Turkey's deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, said that "apart from the existing co-operation in combatting terrorism, there is no new situation concerning Incirlik air base."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said there are high-level contacts both in Turkey and the United States and the issue of bases is still on the agenda.
For his part, U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters, "I am optimistic about progress that we are making with the Turks as they, the Turks, further define their role in the coalition against ISIL," using an alternate name for the Islamic State group.
Hagel spoke at the end of Monday's meeting with defence ministers from the Americas at a conference in Arequipa, Peru.
U.S., Saudi Arabia launch air strikes
Reuters reported that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia launched eight airstrikes on Sunday and Monday against ISIS targets in Syria, including seven near Kobani, the U.S. military's Central Command said
Four strikes southwest of Kobani hit ISIS units and destroyed a machine gun firing position while three strikes northeast of Kobani struck a militant unit and damaged a staging location and several buildings, Centcom said in a statement. Another strike hit an ISIS garrison northwest of Raqqa, it said.
The Sunni extremists of ISIS have carved out a vast stretch of territory from northern Syria to the outskirts of Baghdad and imposed a harsh version of Islamic rule. The fighters have massacred hundreds of captured Iraqi and Syrian soldiers, terrorized religious minorities, and beheaded two American journalists and two British aid workers.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled into Turkey from Syria recently ahead of the militants.
A U.S.-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes against the militant targets in and around Kobani for more than two weeks. The town's fate has emerged as a major test of whether the air campaign can roll back the extremists in Syria.
The sound of explosions and occasional gunfire could be heard across the border from Kobani a day after Kurdish fighters managed to slow the advance of the jihadist group. What appeared to be a rocket-propelled grenade struck a minaret in the centre of the town, emitting a cloud of white smoke.
Activists said ISIS militants were carrying out a three-pronged attack from the eastern side of the town and that clashes were reported in the southern part.
The Syrian Kurdish enclave has been the scene of heavy fighting since late last month, with the better-armed ISIS fighters determined to capture the border post.
With files from Reuters