Turkey surrounded a U.S.-NATO base Saturday, calling the inflammatory move a “safety inspection.”
Elements of the Turkish military closed entrances and exits at the U.S.-NATO airbase at Incrilik. Turkish Minister for European Affairs provided the “safety inspection” comment to local Turkish media Sunday, and is the only senior Turkish official to comment on the incident. Turkish paper Hurriyet reported police were deploying “riot police” around the base in order to take “precautions.”
The move came days ahead of a high level visit Monday by U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford to the airbase at Incrilik. Incirlik is a critical U.S. airbase for air operations against Islamic State, and houses several U.S. nuclear weapons. The provocative action is likely a response to comments by U.S. Army General Joseph Votel that Turkey was imprisoning many of the most effective military commanders in the fight against ISIS, in its response to the failed July 15 coup.
Secular elements of the Turkish military attempted a coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, alleging the Turkish president was amassing too much power and becoming too Islamist. Director of National Intelligence Eric Clapper concurred with Votel, telling an audience “many of our interlocutors have been purged or arrested. There’s no question that this is going to set back and make more difficult” the U.S.’s Middle East strategy.”
The cut off of Incrilik airbase is the second times in recent weeks that Turkey has been willing to hold the airbase hostage in return for favorable policies or rhetoric from the U.S. In the immediate week after the coup, Turkey cut off the power to Incrilik airbase for nearly a week, prompting concern among U.S. policymakers.
Turkey shares a border with Syria and is a linchpin in the U.S. strategy to defeat ISIS. Use of Turkey’s Incrilik airbase to launch airstrikes is key in this strategy, as is Erdogan’s assistance in shutting off the Turkish-Syrian border.
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