US increasing military support for Turkey in Syria

US increasing military support for Turkey in Syria
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The U.S. has conducted four airstrikes near Al-Bab, Syria, in support of a Turkish offensive against ISIS, a military official said Tuesday. 

"These strikes eliminated Daesh's capabilities around the forward line of enemy troops near the city," Air Force Col. John Dorrian told reporters Tuesday, using a derogatory Arabic term for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.  

The airstrikes highlight growing U.S. cooperation with Turkey in the war against ISIS, under pressure from Turkey. 

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It also highlights the balancing act that the U.S. is playing in Syria. 

U.S. forces in Syria are partnered against ISIS with the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is mostly comprised of Syrian Kurdish fighters who Turkey considers terrorists but are the U.S.'s most effective fighting partner on the ground against ISIS.  

But the U.S. is also increasingly partnered in Syria with Turkey, who intervened in part to limit the advance of the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces there. 

The recent U.S. airstrikes in support of Turkey's fight in Al-Bab against ISIS marks a significant increase in support. 

"This is something we expect to continue doing," Dorrian said. "Those targets were mutually developed, and we decided to strike them." 

U.S. and Turkish relations have been strained since July, after Turkey suffered a military coup that it has blamed on a Muslim cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania. 

The U.S. has resisted extraditing him, until Turkey can provide enough evidence that he was responsible for the coup.  

At the same time, Turkey and Russia have increased cooperation in Syria, brokering a fragile ceasefire between the regime and opposition forces. The U.S. has denied working with Russia in Syria, except for airspace deconfliction purposes. 

Both countries are flying missions in Syria -- the U.S. against ISIS, and the Russians to shore up the Assad regime. 

As to whether the U.S. notified Russia in advance of its strikes in Al-Bab, Dorrian said, "We do maintain our channel for deconfliction with the Russians. That's a dialogue that we maintain and it's a regular dialogue." 

Dorrian said U.S. and Turkey would continue to work together to develop targets. 

"U.S. and Turkish military officers will continue to work in combined headquarters, de-conflicting, coordinating and developing targets to maximize effects against Daesh, and avoid negative effects on this complex and crowded battlefield," he said. 

He also indicated that the U.S. might have forward air controllers on the ground with Turkish forces calling in the airstrikes. 

When asked if any such troops, known as joint terminal attack controllers, were with Turkish forces, Dorrian replied, "One of the things that we very much prize is to have boots on the ground operating in proximity or directly with our partner forces." 

"So that is the preferred alternative. And that is one of the reasons why we have to be very careful, especially in a very crowded and complex battlefield with a lot of different actors to make sure that we are hitting the targets that we intend to hit," he said.