US did not inform Turkey before Atma strikes, official says

Turkish government official says US did not inform Turkey before coalition air strikes on Syria’s Atma town, that reportedly killed about two dozen civilians

A Turkish government official, who spoke to on the condition of anonymity on Friday said “The US did not inform Turkey about the coalition air strikes that hit northern Syrian town of Atma,” near Syria's Turkish border.

The air strikes on Tuesday reportedly hit an arsenal belonging to a Syrian opposition group called Jaysh al Sunna as well as a civilian camp, killing more than two dozens of civilians including women and children.

Coalition Joint Task Force (CJTF), which leads the air strikes against ISIS in the scope of Operation Inherent Resolve, claimed the air strikes on Aug. 12, in a written answer to a question by Turkish Daily Sabah’s Washington correspondent, Ragip Soylu.

“CJTF-Operation Inherent Resolve can confirm that it included a deliberate airstrike in the vicinity of Aleppo on 11 August 2015,” CJTF said, and added “The area is inclusive of the area Atimah,” using a different spelling for the name of the town.

Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a press release following the air strikes saying neither Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base nor Turkish air space were used in the air strikes.

“Unmanned aerial vehicles flying from Incirlik Air Base or using Turkish airspace participated in the air operation reported to have been carried out this evening [11 August], by the Coalition Air Forces against certain targets in the vicinity of the town of Atma/Syria,” the ministry said.

Town of Atma is less than a kilometre away from the Turkey’s Syria border, and the targeted Syrian opposition group, Jaysh al Sunna is not known to have ties with ISIS or Al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate the Nusra Front.

Following the US air strikes, the head of foreign political relations for one of the most influential opposition groups, Ahrar al-Sham, which publicly supports the US-Turkey ISIS-free safe zone plan, published a statement saying the “building targeted in Atmeh air strike not used by Ahrar Al-Sham, no one from Ahrar was hurt.”

The air strikes were carried out without the prior knowledge of Turkish authorities despite an agreement between the NATO allies to coordinate efforts for air strikes against the targets in Syria, and Turkey’s decision to allow the US to use Incirlik Air Base in Adana province.

Complications of Turkey-US cooperation

Before the US air strikes on Atma, anonymous US military sources speaking to FOX News said Turkey informed them very late before the air strikes launched on the outlawed PKK targets in Northern Iraq.

Citing an anonymous senior US military official, another article in the Wall Street Journal also claimed Turkey was using ISIS as “a hook” to move against PKK.

US State Department spokesperson John Kirby had disagreed with the claims that Incirlik agreement between Turkey and the US is used as a “hook to attack PKK locations.”

“Absolutely not, and I've said that before,” Kirby said, regarding the claims.

“Turkey is an important ally, a NATO ally, a close friend, and a strong partner in this coalition.”

However, Kirby said the US requested Turkey to refrain from hitting ISIS “in Syria until Turkey is fully integrated in coalition operations, to ensure safe air operations for the coalition in very dense airspace” and Turkey has accepted it.

Responding to a question from regarding the US air strikes against Atma, the officials in the US Embassy in Ankara refused to make further comments and said the earlier statements from the US authorities in Washington DC would suffice.

However, experts say that Turkey and the US have not agreed on the specifics of the proposed safe zone, despite the recent agreement over the use of Incirlik.

“As a result, there seems to be a lack of coordination between the two sides,” said Kadir Ustun, the Executive Director of SETA Foundation at Washington DC.

He also said the two countries have yet to agree which opposition can be trusted to occupy the so-called ISIS-free zone.

“If these differences continue, the fight against ISIL [ISIS] will be less effective,” Ustun said.

“The US and Turkey need to better coordinate their efforts and ensure that there is no miscommunication about each other’s goals."

Turkey launched a campaign of air strikes against ISIS and PKK, which are recognised as terrorist organisations by Turkey, the US and the EU, in Syria and Northern Iraq respectively after the militant groups increased its terror attacks following a suicide bombing on July 20 in Suruc district of Turkey’s southeastern Sanliurfa province, which the Turkish government blamed on ISIS.

The Suruc suicide bombing claimed 34 lives and the terror attacks carried out by ISIS and that PKK terrorists since then claimed the lives of more than 40 Turkish security forces.

Stepping up measures against PKK, ISIS and other militant organisations, Turkish security forces detained 1,821 and arrested 412 suspects since late July.

TRTWorld and agencies