Overlooking Ankara's constant disapproval, the Trump administration's recent decision to provide PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party's (PYD) armed wing, People's Protection Units (YPG), with heavy weapons has once again led to discussions on whether the Turkish government would reevaluate U.S. presence at its İncirlik Air Base. A senior U.S. official, who sought anonymity due to restrictions, was reported as saying on Tuesday that the Trump administration has approved supplying heavier weapons to the YPG.
"The approval is effective immediately but the timeline for weapons delivery is to be refined," the official said.
In addition, the anti-Daesh Coalition spokesman Col. John Dorrian at a briefing in Baghdad last week said that the U.S. may start distributing some arms and military equipment to the YPG, "very soon" but will do so incrementally.
Even though Washington recently exerted efforts to lower tension with Ankara, in the face of the decision, the Turkish government has remained infuriated.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to protecting Turkey at a meeting yesterday, while Pentagon spokesperson Dana White also said following the statement that Washington cares about Turkey's security concerns.
"We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey," she said.
Meanwhile, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's face-to-face meeting with Trump on May 16 may prove to be decisive on various issues, including the decision to arm the YPG. However, whether Ankara will play the İncirlik card remains to be seen.
Can Acun, a political analyst at the SETA foundation said, İncirlik Air Base is a significant leverage in Ankara's hand.
"İncirlik is the main air base for the U.S.-led coalition. A sanction in this regard would place the U.S. into a tough spot," Acun said, adding that losing İncirlik would cost Washington militarily and economically.
Following Trump's decision, former U.S. Ambassador to Ankara, James Jeffrey had said, "Turkey could cut off U.S. access to İncirlik Air Base."
"To them, [Turkey] this is a betrayal. If Turkey does cut off air operations in retaliation it could make our lives very difficult," he said.
Mesut Hakkı Caşin, an International Relations expert at Özyeğin University, said, the U.S. decision is against international laws and the principles of NATO.
Stressing that Washington's moves might incite anti-Americanism in Turkey, Caşin said, "It is an open defiance against Turkey."
Closing the İncirlik Air Base had also come to Turkey's agenda in January 2017, when Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın said that Ankara had the right to close down the Air Base.
"Turkey has the right to shut down İncirlik. We always have this right. However, as I said, first the conditions should be evaluated. We have the right of ownership as part of Turkey's sovereignty."
In reply, Pentagon spokesman John Dorrian acknowledged that the İncirlik air base was priceless to the U.S.
Despite the possibility that Ankara may consider shutting down İncirlik, Acun said, such a move would isolate Turkey from the U.S., which would benefit Russia.
Caşin thought that Erdoğan's meeting with Trump would shed a light on the matter."Trump does not still have full control over matters in the U.S. However, Erdoğan will clearly put forward Turkey's attitude towards the issue," he said, adding that İncirlik and sanctions against the U.S. will definitely be among the issues brought up during the upcoming meeting.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Fikri Işık had a phone conversation with the British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon yesterday. Işık expressed Ankara's concerns, saying that conducting the Raqqa Operation with the YPG would not be the right thing to do. Işık also reportedly told Fallon about the consequences such a move would bring.Located outside the city of Adana, some 150 kilometers from the Syrian border, İncirlik air base is jointly used by the U.S. and the Turkish Air Forces. Since November 2011, the U.S. Air Force has been flying out unarmed drones from İncirlik. The U.S.-led coalition against Daesh has also launched airstrikes from the air base since July 2015.
The air base, inaugurated in 1954, was shut down to the U.S. after Washington imposed sanctions on Turkey in the 1970s. The Turkish government handed the control of the air base to the Turkish military at the time. After the sanctions were lifted in September 1978, activities at the air base returned to normal.
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