As the longstanding debate over the İncirlik Air Base rises once more in the aftermath of the recent visa crisis between Turkey and the U.S., the Pentagon has assured that the base will continue to play an important role in supporting NATO and the U.S. has no intentions of relocating its weapons from the air base as suggested in some U.S. media outlets.
"The Turkish air force base at İncirlik continues to fulfill an important role in supporting NATO and coalition efforts," a U.S. European Command (EUCOM) spokesperson told Daily Sabah, responding to a question regarding whether the crisis between Ankara and Washington would affect operations at the air base.
The long-strained relations hit a new low when the U.S. and Turkey mutually suspended visa services in a tit-for-tat action.
"Turkey is a strong coalition partner and a close NATO ally. There has been no impact on our operations or personnel," the spokesperson said, commenting on the implications of the visa crisis and added that EUCOM intends to continue its cooperation with Turkey in counterterror operations against Daesh.
As the breakdown in relations between the two countries has deepened with the visa crisis, a New York Times article on Oct. 13 suggested that the U.S. should withdraw its weapons from Turkey's İncirlik Air Base before Turkish-American relations collapsed, adding that the withdrawal should be done after the American-led coalition captures Raqqa, Syria from Daesh.
The article also claimed that experts have been worried about the security of weapons in İncirlik amid the ongoing war in Syria and Turkey's 24-hour lockdown of the base during the coup attempt last year.
Highlighting that the U.S. presence will continue at the base the EUCOM spokesperson said, "The U.S. presence there, with the permission of the government of Turkey, has been a symbol of our commitment to work with and help defend our ally and strategic partner for decades."
Referring to the U.S.-led operations the spokesperson for EUCOM stated that counter-Daesh operations out of İncirlik and other Turkish facilities were being closely coordinated with and have the full support of their Turkish partners.
"We're fully engaged in this fight and intend to continue to cooperate closely with Turkey," the spokesperson said.
The İncirlik Air Base, located in the southern province of Adana, was opened in 1954 and contributed to significant NATO operations including the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The base has been used by the U.S.-led coalition forces in anti-Daesh operations since 2015.
Commenting on the New York Times' article, Mesut Hakkı Caşın, an academic from İstinye University who had served in the Turkish Air Force at various bases, said it was unlikely that the U.S. would relocate from İncirlik on these suggestions and if the Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement, which was signed between the two countries in 1980 and encompasses the legal status of the bases, is considered.
Underlining that the U.S. has other bases in critical areas such as the Gulf region, Caşın said, "The base inİncirlik differs from others in the region as it houses nuclear warheads."
"If the U.S. were to withdraw from the İncirlik base, it would lose its political existence in the Black Sea region, the Balkans, Central Asia and the Middle East, where its influence might be questioned as well," Caşın said stressing the geopolitical significance of the base.
Pointing out that there has been a mutual lack of confidence between Ankara and Washington, Caşın underscored that the U.S. military support for the PKK-affiliated the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria and its political stance regarding the extradition of those linked to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) have been the breaking points of mutual ties.
He also pointed to the claim that Turkey has been moving away from NATO, calling it a one-sided approach. He suggested that the U.S. needs to reassess its policy on Turkey in order to prevent a future crisis.