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US launches first anti-ISIS drone strikes from Turkey

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The US has launched its first drone strikes at northern Syria from a Turkish airbase, the Pentagon has reported. This comes as Washington struck a deal to use the base in its fight against Islamic State. A spokesman for Pentagon said on Wednesday that an unmanned drone was launched on Monday from Incirlik Air Base and that preparations were underway for strikes inside Syria by manned US warplanes, Reuters reported.

The American armed drone hit a number of targets near Raqqa, Islamic State’s stronghold in Syria, the Hurriyet Daily Times reported. Washington had previously only used the Incirlik airbase, which is near the southern city of Adana for reconnaissance missions using drones.

“As part of our agreement with the US, we have made progress regarding the opening up of our bases, particularly Incirlik,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier told state broadcaster TRT, as cited by Reuters.

“We’re seeing that manned and unmanned American planes are arriving and soon we will launch a comprehensive battle against Islamic State all together,” he said during a trip to Malaysia.

Turkey had been against the US and NATO using airbases in the country to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State. However, the U-turn by Ankara will now pave the way for NATO to conduct “comprehensive battle,” as the Pentagon put it, against the Islamist terrorist organization.

The move has the cautious backing of Syria, with the country’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem saying that they were happy for the strikes to be launched from Turkey, as long as they were coordinated with Damascus.

“For us in Syria there is no moderate opposition and immoderate opposition. Whoever carries weapons against the state is a terrorist,” he was quoted as saying during a visit to ally Iran.

“The United States contacted us before they sent in this group and said they are fighting against Daesh (Islamic State) and not the Syrian army at all,” he added, according to Reuters.

While the US hopes that the air campaign will help to make the Turkish border harder to cross and stem the flow of militants wanting to join up with the terrorist organization, the new drone missions sees an escalation in the US’ unmanned aircraft programme.

However, a report in 2014 by former US senior officials said the practice of using drones to strike targets is not as effective as Washington would hope.

The study, issued in June 2014, called on the Obama administration to come up with a cost-benefit analysis of drone strikes, while it also urged more transparency on the targeted killings.

Britain’s Reprieve human-rights group calculated that it takes about 28 innocent lives to take out a single terrorist leader, often with multiple drone strikes.

The statistics are striking. In the last 10 years, attempts to kill 41 terrorist leaders resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, the vast majority of them being civilians and families.

However, it would seem that the Americans have no qualms about their government using drones abroad. A poll in May, which surveyed 1,077 people, found roughly six in 10 Americans are in favor of using drone strikes to target and kill individuals who belong to terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda.

The majority of support for the strikes was recorded among both Democrats (close to 60 percent) and Republicans (72 percent), while 45 percent of independents voiced their support. However, respondents were not asked whether civilian casualties affected their approval.

The drone program began under President George W. Bush, but experienced rapid growth under the Obama administration. In Pakistan alone, 396 strikes have been conducted since 2002. In Yemen, where counterterror operations have also grown over the years, 126 have been conducted in the same time period.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 423-962 civilians have been killed in Pakistan as a result of drone strikes between 2004 and 2015. Last year, the outlet found that domestic buildings were the most common target. In Yemen, some 65-96 civilians have been killed. RT


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