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U.S. F-16 fighters fly first missions from Turkey (w/video)

WASHINGTON — The United States on Wednesday launched its first airstrikes by Turkey-based F-16 fighter jets against Islamic State targets in Syria, marking a limited escalation of a yearlong air campaign that critics have called excessively cautious.

In a brief statement the Pentagon said the F-16 strikes were launched from Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, but did not detail the number or types of targets struck.

A U.S. defense official said later that two of the six F-16s based at Incirlik flew the mission over Syria to hit one or more targets that had been selected in advance. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the mission.

Earlier this month the United States began flying armed drones from Incirlik, but the F-16 flights add a new dimension to the air campaign, in part because of the added risk to pilots who might encounter Syrian or other air defenses.

Pentagon officials have said the main advantage of using Incirlik is its proximity to Islamic State targets in northern Syria. Most U.S. aerial combat missions over Iraq and Syria are being flown from more distant air bases in Qatar and around the Persian Gulf.

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