Six U.S. F-16 fighter jets arrived at an air base in southern Turkey on Sunday to join the U.S.-led coalition fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the U.S. military said.
The U.S. European Command said in a statement that the U.S. Air Force deployed a "small detachment" of six F-16 jets, support equipment and about 300 personnel at Incirlik air base. The detachment is part of the 31st Fighter Wing, based at Aviano air base in Italy, it said.
Incirlik is a key air base used by the Turkish air force outside Adana, about 90 miles from the border with Syria and ISIL strongholds on the other side. The U.S. Air Force operates unarmed drones from the base.
Turkey carried out airstrikes against ISIL targets in Syria last month after a suicide bombing that killed 32 people and the killing of a soldier by ISIL fighters and agreed to allow the United States military to use the strategically located base.
The moves ended months of reluctance by Turkey, giving it a more active role in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL. Turkey, a U.S. ally with the second-largest armed forces in NATO, has faced increasing insecurity along its 560-mile border with Syria, with fears the conflict could spill onto Turkish soil and worsen relations with its Kurdish minority.
Last week U.S. armed drones taking off from Incirlik struck ISIL positions, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said an "extensive" fight against the ISIL would begin soon.
"The United States and Turkey, as members of the 60-plus nation coalition, are committed to the fight against ISIL in the pursuit of peace and stability in the region," the U.S. military said.
Turkish media reports say the U.S. is expected to deploy about 30 fighter jets at Incirlik for strikes against ISIL.
Basing jets at Incirlik will enable the U.S. -led coalition to conduct better surveillance over Syria and act faster on intelligence than when it was limited to launching flights from places like Iraq, Jordan and the Gulf states.