Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says his country is open to allowing Russia to use the Incirlik Air Base in south-central Turkey to launch airstrikes against the positions of Daesh in Syria, as Ankara and Moscow further move to mend fences.
“We will cooperate with everybody who is fighting Daesh. Ankara has opened the Incirlik Air Base to all those wishing to join the active fight,” Cavusoglu said in an interview with the state-run TRT television network on Monday.
“Why not cooperate with Russia in the same manner? Turkey is ready for such cooperation. Terrorism is our common enemy. Joint efforts are important to avoid negative incidents,” the top Turkish diplomat said.
The Incirlik Air Base lies eight kilometers (five miles) north of the Turkish city of Adana near the border with Syria, and currently hosts military aircraft from the United States, Germany, Britain, Saudi Arabia as well as Qatar. The latter countries are involved in the US-led coalition that purports to be targeting Daesh targets inside Syria.
A crisis emerged in relations between the Ankara and Moscow after Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 fighter jet on November 24, 2015 as it was conducting an anti-Daesh mission in Syria. Turkey said the jet violated its airspace, a claim that Russia refuted.
One of the two pilots of the Russian jet — both of whom parachuted out of the aircraft — was killed by militants on the ground in Syria. The other was rescued.
Russia demanded an apology. Turkey refused, which plunged their relations into an abyss.
In late June, Russia said it had received a letter from the Turkish government in which the latter apologized for the incident. Although Ankara denied having offered an apology, saying that it had only “expressed regret” over the incident, the two sides have been engaged in efforts to normalize relations ever since.
The Russian and Turkish leaders talked on the phone, and the foreign ministers later met in person on July 1.
Russia has been carrying out an aerial campaign against militants in Syria since September 2015 on a request from the Syrian government. Moscow is currently using the Hmeimim military base in Latakia Province in northwestern Syria to launch the airstrikes in Syria.
There has been no official word from Moscow over the comments by Cavusoglu regarding Incirlik. The Turkish foreign minister did not specify whether the offer was an official one, and whether it had been conveyed to Moscow.
Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimates that over 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict. The UN has stopped its official casualty count in Syria, citing its inability to verify the figures it receives from various sources.
A ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia went into effect in Syria on February 27, but it does not apply to the Daesh and al-Nusra Front terrorist groups in the Arab country.