Turkey says 'extensive' fight against IS to start soon
By SUZAN FRASER
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- U.S. drones and aircraft have begun arriving at a Turkish air base close to the border with Syria, and an "extensive" fight against Islamic State militants will soon begin, Turkey's foreign minister said Wednesday.
Syria's foreign minister said, meanwhile, that Damascus would support efforts against IS, as long as the fight is in coordination with the Syrian government.
Ending years of reluctance, Turkey late last month carried out airstrikes against IS targets in Syria and agreed to allow U.S. warplanes to use Incirlik Air Base for operations, taking a more front-line role in the U.S.-led coalition's fight against the extremists.
U.S. officials said the first armed drone missions out of Turkey began last weekend and that the military was planning to add manned aircraft flights from the country. Officials said that so far, none of the drones had launched airstrikes, but they may begin soon.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an ASEAN meeting in Kuala-Lumpur, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the battle would begin soon, but didn't elaborate.
"As part of the agreement reached with the United States, we have made great strides on the technicalities of Incirlik's use and the U.S. aircraft have started to arrive," the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted him as telling reporters. "Soon we will together start an extensive battle against Daesh." He was using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
The Turkish minister also told reporters that once the "effective" fight has begun, the ground would become safer for moderate opposition forces fighting IS.
His comments came following reports that members of the Free Syrian Army who went through a U.S. training program to fight Islamic State militants were captured by the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front in Syria.
Syrian's state media quoted Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem as saying in Tehran on Wednesday said the fight against the IS should be coordinated with Syria.
"We are with any effort to fight Daesh as long as it is in coordination with the Syrian government otherwise it is an infringement on Syria's sovereignty," al-Moallem was quoted as saying by Syrian state TV.
Al-Moallem has been in Iran since Tuesday where he is believed to have been discussing an Iranian initiative to try to end Syria's four-year conflict that has killed more than 250,000 people.
According to the Lebanon-based pro-Syrian Al-Mayadeen TV the four-point Iranian initiative calls for an immediate cease-fire, formation of a national unity government, amending the constitution in what reassures ethnic and religious minorities and holding elections under the supervision of international observers.
Iran is Syria's strongest ally in the region and has backed Assad since the country's crisis began in March 2011.
Associated Press reporter Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed.