More needed from Turkey in Islamic State fight: U.S. defense chief

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Turkey needs to do more in the fight against Islamic State militants and has indicated it is willing to go beyond its recent decision to allow U.S. planes to conduct air strikes from Turkish bases, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Thursday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter walks on the tarmac before boarding his plane at Queen Alia Airport in Amman, Jordan, July 24, 2015, enroute to Erbil, Iraq. REUTERS/Carolyn Kaster/Pool

Carter said Turkey had agreed in principle to participate in the coalition bombing campaign against the militants, but the United States also needed Ankara to step up its efforts to control its long border with Iraq and Syria.

“It’s a border over which logistics for ISIL and the fighters cross,” Carter said, using an acronym for the militant group. “So we’re looking for them to do more in that regard as well and are in active discussions with them about that.”

Turkey was expected to participate in air strikes against Islamic State in Syria after it reached a deal with the United States on greater participation in the campaign against the group. But Turkish bombing efforts have primarily focused on the Kurdish PKK, which it considers a terrorist group.

Carter told a Pentagon news conference he didn’t think the Turks were “dragging their feet” on joining the bombing campaign.

“Their leadership has indicated that this needs to be done,” he said. “It’s long overdue because it’s a year into the campaign, but they’re indicating some considerable effort now, including allowing us to use their air fields. That’s important, but it’s not enough.”

“They need to join the (air strike rotation) and they need to work more on controlling their border,” Carter said.

The U.S. defense chief defended the military’s strategy for defeating the militants, who overran parts of Syria and Iraq last year before declaring their own caliphate. The strategy calls for training and equipping local forces to fight the militants, while providing air support for the ground troops.

The U.S. air campaign has helped blunt the advance of the Islamic State militants. Kurdish troops in Iraq and northern Syria have made progress in reversing Islamic State gains, but Iraqi government troops and U.S.-trained Syrian forces have had difficulties.

“I’m confident that we will succeed in defeating ISIL and that we have the right strategy,” Carter said. “But it’s complicated not just only in Iraq ... but in Syria as well.”

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by James Dalgleish