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US, Turkey discuss fight against ISIS

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Lefteris Pitarakis/AP/File

(Read caption) Turkish soldiers run to their new positions next to the border fence in Akcakale, southeastern Turkey, on June 15, 2015. Ankara has recently deployed more troops along its border with Syria.

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In the past few days, Turkey has been stepping up its efforts to combat the Islamic State (IS) group.

Turkish police carried out raids in Istanbul and three other cities early Friday, detaining 21 people suspected of being members of Islamic State, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

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Anadolu adds that three of the suspects were foreign nationals who were planning to cross into Syria and join the jihadists.

Three days ago, Turkey’s Army said it had detained 768 people who were trying to cross the border illegally from Syria, including three suspected Islamic State militants, Reuters reported.

The arrests come after United States and Turkish officials held talks in Ankara on July 7 and 8 on cooperation to fight the Islamic State.

Retired US Army Gen. John Allen, who was appointed last year by President Obama to build a coalition against Islamic State, was present at the talks.

Following the meetings, a Turkish official told the Hurriyet Daily News that both sides discussed further “cooperation and coordination.”

Over the past year, some Western nations criticized Turkey for not doing enough to stop foreign fighters from crossing its border and joining the Islamic State group, and Washington has been pressing Turkey to do more.

But it is a complicated situation for Turkey. While concerned with the Islamic State, Turkey, with a population of 14 million Kurds, is also fearful of an autonomous Kurdish region in bordering Syria and Iraq.  

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Despite the concerns, Turkey has decided to take some steps. It has recently deployed more troops along its border with Syria. Ankara has also put forward a plan to establish a “secure zone” on Syrian territory, but has made it clear that it will not act alone.

On Thursday, without going into detail on the two days of talks between the two countries, US State Department spokesperson John Kirby did acknowledge that Ankara is cooperating.

“What our focus on inside Syria is against ISIL- the Islamic state. That’s the focus of the coalition effort,” Mr. Kirby said during the daily press briefing. “And I’d like to remind everybody that Turkey is a part of that coalition, not just a NATO ally but a part of that coalition, and they’re contributing to the effort.”

Hurriyet Daily News reports that during the meeting Washington has asked for an access to Turkish airspace, as well as Turkish military bases, including Incirlik air base in southern Turkey. Ankara has demanded US assistance in creating a secure zone in return.

“An agreement [on the use of Incirlik] could be possible if we can agree on other terms as well,” an official told the Hurriyet Daily News.