Turkish F-16 fighter jet.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
ANKARA - Turkish fighter jets and ground forces hit Islamic State militants in Syria and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) camps in Iraq overnight on Saturday, in a campaign Ankara said would help create a "safe zone" across swathes of northern Syria.
Turkey has dramatically cranked up its role in the US-led coalition against Islamic State since a suspected IS suicide bomber killed 32 people earlier this week in a town close to the Syrian border, while pledging to also target Kurdish militants.
This has raised concern about the future of the shaky Kurdish peace process. Critics including opposition politicians accuse President Tayyip Erdogan of trying to use the campaign against Islamic State as an excuse to crack down on Kurds.
The heightened security operations will go on for as long as Turkey feels threatened, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference. Islamic State has seized much of northern and eastern Syria four years into the country's civil war.
"These operations are not 'one-point operations' and will continue as long as there is a threat against Turkey," he said.
Turkey was long a reluctant member of the coalition against Islamic State, a stance that annoyed NATO ally Washington with the air strikes doing little so far to "degrade and destroy" IS capabilities, as President Barack Obama described their goal.
Ankara has now, for the first time
, taken a front-line role in the battle, apparently spurred to action by the suicide bombing in the border town of Suruc.
Many of those killed in the attack were Kurds and it kicked off waves of violence in the largely Kurdish southeast by militants who say Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party have covertly supported Islamic State against Syrian Kurds.
Ankara denies the accusation.
Turkey staged its first-ever air strike on IS in Syria early on Friday, while police rounded up hundreds of suspected Islamist and Kurdish militants in cities and towns across the country. As of Saturday, nearly 600 people had been detained.