Military

Air Force Denies Report More Security Forces Sent to Incirlik

Despite tensions between the U.S. and Turkey over Turkey’s recent offensive in Syria, the U.S. has not increased its security presence at Incirlik Air Base, which it shares with Turkish forces, Air Force officials told Military.com.

A report posted on social media this week indicated that the Air Force was deploying an additional security forces squadron from Aviano Air Base in Italy. But “no additional security forces personnel from Aviano, or any other location, have been deployed to Incirlik,” Capt. Christopher Bowyer-Meeder, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa, said Friday in an email. “There have been no additional security forces personnel sent to Incirlik as a result of recent developments in the region.”

Related: US Nuclear Weapons at Incirlik Safe, Trump Says

Bowyer-Meeder added that daily operations at Incirlik continued unchanged.

“The mission of the 39th Air Base Wing is to provide persistent surety and continuous air operations for the U.S., our allies and our partners and helps protect U.S. and NATO interests in the Southern region by providing a responsive and operational air base ready to project integrated, forward-based airpower,” he said.

Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base is shared with the U.S. Air Force’s 39th Air Base Wing under a long-standing agreement. The military presence at the base, roughly 850 miles away from Russia, serves both as a deterrent and a hub for Air Force aircraft; the base has played a key role in air operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

But base operations have been a subject of attention in recent weeks, especially in the wake of Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria in an effort to flush out the Syrian Democratic Forces — primarily made up of Kurdish forces — from the border region.

President Trump told reporters earlier this week that he was “confident” that U.S. nuclear weapons stored at Incirlik would remain secure, breaking with the long-established Defense and State Departments policy not to comment on the presence of nuclear weapons there.

“We’re confident, and we have a great — a great air base there, a very powerful air base,” Trump said Wednesday. His comments followed a New York Times report that the U.S. was planning on the possible removal of the nukes — believed to be Cold War-era B61 variable yield bombs — from Incirlik.

It’s not the first time Incirlik has been a point of contention between the two nations.

In July, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu spoke out against the United States’ decision to remove the NATO ally from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program over its S-400 surface-to-air missile purchase from Russia, hinting at curtailing operations or even expelling U.S. forces at Incirlik and Kürecik radar station.

Meanwhile, officials in March told The Wall Street Journal the U.S. was considering scaling back combat operations over strained relations with Turkey, related to political obstacles in Syria.

In 2016, the base went dark for roughly a week during a failed coup attempt in the country.

Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday announced Turkey would allow the Kurdish forces to withdraw in what the U.S. called a ceasefire; Turkey, meanwhile called the move a pause in its offensive, dubbed Operation Peace Spring.

“We are suspending the operation, not halting it,” Çavuşoğlu told journalists following the joint meeting with Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Under the agreement, the fighting will be paused for five days.

“We expect Turkey to ensure the safety and well-being of all people in the area controlled by Turkish Forces,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday following a phone call with Turkey’s Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar.

“The United States is continuing our deliberate withdrawal from Northeastern Syria as previously announced,” Esper continued, adding that no U.S. ground forces would participate in enforcement of the safe zone, but they would remain in contact with both Turkey and the SDF.

“This ceasefire is a much needed step in protecting those vulnerable populations. I also reminded [Akar] of Turkey’s responsibility for maintaining security of the ISIS detainees located in the affected areas,” he said.

— Richard Sisk contributed to this report.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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