BEIRUT — Turkish leaders pledged further action against the Islamic State on Friday after Turkish jets bombed Islamic State targets in Syria for the first time, opening an important front in the war against the militants.
The strikes early Friday came after U.S. and Turkish officials said Turkey had agreed to allow the United States to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State from Turkish territory, a major strategic shift aimed at facilitating more extensive attacks against the militants in their strongholds in northern Syria.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Friday confirmed the government’s decision to grant access to Turkish bases to “manned and unmanned aircraft from the U.S. and other coalition countries.”
The Turkish air force also will participate “with the same objective,” the ministry said in a statement, describing the Islamic State as “a primary national security threat for Turkey.”
In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said that “Turkey has granted clearance” for U.S. and coalition aircraft to use its bases, and “that includes Incirlik air base.”
“We’re looking for deeper cooperation with Turkey and with the members of the coalition,” and this is another step in that process, Toner said.
In addition to deploying manned and unmanned aircraft from Incirlik, he said, the United States is “looking at how we can deepen the train-and-equip program, operational coordination and intelligence sharing.”
Turkey had refrained from full participation in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State since last summer, citing a range of concerns that the Obama administration’s strategy did not adequately address the complexity of the Syrian war.
Recent events, including gains by both the Islamic State and Syrian Kurds along the Turkish border, as well as signs that the Islamic State is gaining a stronger foothold inside Turkey, appear to have galvanized Turkey to act.
“We have entered a very difficult struggle,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul, according to local media reports.
“This is not an operation limited to only tonight, and it will continue in a determined way in the coming period, too,” he said.
Erdogan confirmed that a deal has been reached with the United States regarding use of Incirlik air base “within a certain framework,” suggesting that there were still details to be worked out.
The Turkish airstrikes could potentially draw the country’s NATO-allied forces deeper into the Syrian conflict and risk retaliation at home from the militants, who have long used Turkey as a transit route into Syria and Iraq.
On Thursday, Islamic State fighters fatally shot a Turkish soldier on the Turkey-Syria border, prompting Turkey to retaliate with artillery fire and then airstrikes.
A statement from the office of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said three Turkish F-16s struck two Islamic State headquarters and a gathering of fighters Friday shortly before 4 a.m. local time.
“The state of the Republic of Turkey is decisive in taking any precaution to safeguard its national security,” the statement said.
A Turkish official told the Associated Press that Turkey did not violate Syrian airspace — suggesting that the planes skimmed the border — and fired on the Islamic State positions from inside the Turkish border province of Kilis.
Hours later, thousands of Turkish police officers launched raids against suspected Islamic State, Kurdish and leftist militants in towns across the country, a sign of Turkey’s concerns that its deeper engagement in Syria could prompt terrorism at home. One person was killed and 297 detained nationwide, the government said.
“They are at risk of some kind of blowback, but there is a risk of blowback no matter what Turkey does,” said Aaron Stein, a Geneva-based analyst with the Atlantic Council.
This week, a Turkish student believed to have links to the Islamic State blew himself up among a group of mostly Kurdish peace activists in the border town of Suruc, killing more than 30 people and underlining the threat of domestic terrorism in Turkey.
A Turkish official cited the suicide bombing in Suruc, and other recent incidents on the Turkish border, for the government’s decision to move into “a new phase” in Turkey’s war against terrorism, which he described as one of “preemptive defense.”
The priority, he said, explaining the raids across Turkey, will be to confront the threat of domestic terrorism and protect Turkish citizens from possible retaliatory strikes. Further strikes inside Syria also are possible, he said.
He said Turkey notified the United States about Friday’s airstrikes but did not carry them out under the auspices of the international coalition. “Today’s operation was a unilateral move on which Turkey and its allies agree,” he said.
Intense pressure from Washington also contributed to the Turkish shift. The details of the U.S.-Turkish understanding have not been publicly disclosed, however, and officials in Washington and Ankara said some are still being worked out.
Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara that “a consensus, conciliation” has been reached over the many issues that had divided the United States and Turkey over ways to address the Islamic State problem, but he declined to give details.
“Unanimity of thought and action has been reached about the issue of joint operations in the future,” he said.
A U.S. military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the plan for sorties from Incirlik “is being put together now.” He declined to say when the missions will begin.
“Having another axis and broader cooperation from Turkey benefits the coalition fight against ISIL,” the official said.
The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News said the agreement with the United States included plans for a buffer zone in northern Syria, one of Turkey’s key demands for participation in the coalition.
Retired Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, President Obama’s special envoy to the coalition, appeared to rule out a buffer-zone agreement in comments Thursday to the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, according to the New York Times. “No. It was not part of the discussion,” he said.
But Toner, speaking in Washington, declined to rule out a buffer zone. While the administration has mentioned “some of the logistical challenges inherent in a buffer zone, . . . we obviously take threats to Turkey’s border seriously. . . . So, we’re looking at options,” he said.
It was not immediately clear whether Turkey had secured concessions from the United States on any of its other key demands, including a more robust strategy for removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.
Cunningham reported from Cairo. Karen DeYoung and Brian Murphy in Washington and Missy Ryan in Irbil, Iraq, contributed to this report.