Ankara puts pressure on NATO and the US for the Incirlik base

PARIS, (BM) – During Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House, the United States strengthened its military cooperation with Greece. Launched in 2018, negotiations between Washington and Athens culminated, a year later, in the signing of an agreement allowing US forces to increase their presence in the Eastern Mediterranean through privileged access to specific Greek military holdings.

“If you look at the geography as well as the current operations in Libya and Syria while considering other potential operations in the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece offers significant opportunities,” General Joseph Dunford explained, shortly before stepping down as chief Joint Staff.

In October 2020, during a visit to Greece by Mike Pompeo, then head of American diplomacy, the Greek daily Estia had mentioned a possible transfer of the Turkish base of Incirlik to that of Souda [Crete] of the depot B-61 tactical nuclear bombs made available to NATO by the United States. This has not since been confirmed.

However, such an assumption was not without merit. Built in 1951 by the United States, the Incirlik base played an important role during the Cold War as its location-enabled American forces – and the United States Air Force in particular – to monitor Soviet activities on the southern front of NATO. Currently, it is a hub for US military operations in the Middle East and, to a lesser extent, in the Eastern Mediterranean.

However, Ankara regularly questions the presence of US forces on this base, especially when relations with Washington fail. In August 2018, an association of lawyers close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan filed a complaint demanding the arrest of American officers assigned to Incirlik. The reason? Their alleged involvement in the attempted coup d’état of July 2016, attributed to the Gulenist movement.

More recently, the head of Turkish diplomacy, Mevlüt Cavusoglu, had spoken of “reassessing” the status of the bases of Incirlik and Kurecik [which houses a NATO early warning radar] in the event of American sanctions for the purchase by Ankara of Russian S-400 air defense systems.

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Hence the Pentagon’s search for an alternative to the Incirlik base. And finding it risks becoming urgent, as relations between Washington and Ankara become more and more complicated.

While, after excluding Turkey from the F-35 program, one of the last decisions of the Trump administration will have been to sanction the Turkish arms industry, the United States officially recognized, on April 24 and at the initiative of President Biden, the existence of the Armenian genocide, committed in April 1915 by the Ottoman Empire.

His Turkish counterpart took two days to react. And, on April 26, Mr. Erdogan did indeed end up estimating that this decision would have a “destructive impact” on “relations” between Washington and Ankara. And, as might be expected, the pressure is once again on the US military presence in Incirlik.

Following protests by nationalist movements to demand the departure of US forces, the official Anadolu Agency reported comments made by sources in the Turkish Defense Ministry.

So, it says, Turkey put a “discussion of the Incirlik base on the agenda after President Biden called the events of 1915 genocide.” And it has been said that the “American flags should be withdrawn.”

“The use of certain facilities at the Incirlik base is by the defense and economic cooperation agreement signed between Turkey and the United States on March 29, 1980. And this agreement stipulates that” the government of the Republic of Turkey authorizes the government of the United States to participate in joint defense measures in the installations of the Turkish armed forces in Incirlik,” underlined the interlocutors of Anadolu.

Also, the latter asserted that “Incirlik is one of the bases of the Turkish forces and that all the installations there belong to Turkey. Including the B-61 tactical nuclear bomb depots and the infrastructure used by US forces?

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