Turkey will let US and coalition forces use its bases for attacks against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria and Iraq, American defence sources have said.
The sites, they said, included a key installation within 100 miles of the Syrian border, and Turkish bases include Incirlik in the south. US defence secretary Chuck Hagel has said America wanted access to the Turkish bases.
But progress in negotiations with Turkey – including Ankara’s agreement to train several thousand Syrian moderate rebels – may not be enough to stop the massacre of civilians in the border town of Kobani, where intense fighting continues.
The Obama administration had been pressing Ankara to play a larger role against the extremists, who have taken control of large swathes of Syria and Iraq, including territory on Turkey’s border, and sent refugees fleeing into Turkey.
US officials said Ankara had agreed to train Syrian moderate forces on Turkish soil. A Turkish government official said the country put the number at 4,000 opposition fighters, who would be screened by its intelligence services.
As fighting continued in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, US secretary of state John Kerry, speaking in Cairo, said its defence did not define the international counter-terrorism strategy.
IS militants had taken parts of Kobani, Mr Kerry indicated, but not all of it. The United Nations has warned of mass casualties if the town falls.
“There will be ups and there will be downs over the next days as there are in any kind of conflict,” Mr Kerry said.
Elaborating on a theme on which the Obama administration has zeroed in, Mr Kerry said the US had been realistic about how quickly it would prevail against the militants. Officials have spoken of years of efforts ahead.
US and coalition aircraft have been bombarding territory in and around Kobani for days, launching air strikes on dozens of locations and taking out militants, weapons and other targets.
The enclave has been the scene of heavy fighting since late last month, with heavily-armed IS fighters determined to deal a symbolic blow to the coalition air campaign.
US Central Command said warplanes from the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launched strikes on four locations in Syria at the weekend, including three in Kobani that destroyed an IS fighting position and staging area.
Beyond the training and bases, there are other issues the US hopes Turkey will agree to, American officials said, They would not not elaborate because discussions were continuing, but Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, stressed that the US did not ask Turkey to send its ground forces into Syria.
American officials were “continuing to talk to the Turks about other ways that they can play an important role. They are already essential to trying to prevent the flow of foreign fighters” and prevent extremists from exporting oil through Turkey, Ms Rice said.
“So Turkey has many ways it can contribute,” she told NBC’s Meet The Press.
Mr Hagel, who is in South America, spoke by telephone to Turkey’s defence minister Ismet Yilmaz and thanked him for his country’s willingness to assist in the fight.
Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said Mr Hagel “noted Turkey’s expertise in this area and the responsible manner in which Turkey is handling the other challenges this struggle has placed upon the country, in terms of refugees and border security”.
Turkey and other American allies are pressing the US to create a no-fly zone inside Syrian territory and seeking creation of a secure buffer on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey. A “safe zone” would require Americans and their partners to protect ground territory and patrol the sky.
Mr Hagel has said American leaders are open to discussing a safe zone, but creating one is not “actively being considered”.
Speaking alongside Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, Mr Kerry told a Cairo news conference that Kobani was “one community and it is a tragedy what is happening there”.
The primary focus of the fight against IS has been in Iraq, where the US is working to help shore up Iraqi security forces, which were overrun in many places by the militants. In Syria, the US is starting by going after the extremists’ infrastructure and sources of revenue.
In the meantime, Mr Kerry said, IS “has the opportunity to take advantage of that particular build-up, as they are doing. But I’d rather have our hand than theirs”.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has estimated it would require hundreds of US aircraft and cost as much as one billion dollars (£625m) a month to maintain an area in Syria safe from IS attacks and Syria’s air force, with no assurance of a change in battlefield momentum towards ending the Syrian civil war.
“Do I anticipate that there could be circumstances in the future where that would be part of the campaign? Yeah,” Gen Dempsey told ABC’s This Week.