The Pentagon “has no plans to end our presence at Incirlik airbase” in Turkey, according to a statement given to Turkish government-run news service Anadolu Agency on September 16.
As well as its US Air Force presence, Incirlik serves as a base for US nuclear weapons.
Spokesman US Army Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell spoke out on behalf of the Pentagon after US Senator Ron Johnson told The Washington Examiner on September 11 that US officials were considering shifting forces to Souda Bay on Crete, where the US Navy maintains a presence at a deep-water Nato port.
“We don't know what's gonna happen to Incirlik,” Johnson, a Republican of Wisconsin, said. “We hope for the best, but we have to plan for the worst.”
“I don’t think we want to make that strategic shift, but I think, from a defensive posture, I think we have to look at the reality of the situation that the path that [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan is on is not good,” he added.
Erdogan’s policies were “disturbing,” Johnson said, adding that they were among reasons the US was “beefing up” its presence on Crete, “because our presence, quite honestly, in Turkey is certainly threatened.”
US relations with Turkey are complicated in that although members of Congress on both sides of the divide regularly hit out at Erdogan’s military activities abroad, particularly in Syria, US President Donald Trump has described the authoritarian Turkish leader as someone he gets on with well. Pushes by senators and House representatives to have Nato member Turkey sanctioned over its purchase of Russian S-400 advanced missile defence systems have not met with encouragement from the White House. Trump also abandoned a US ally, the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG)—which Ankara classes as a terror organisation but which was instrumental in helping the US to its victories over Islamic State in Syria, taking heavy casualties—to enable Erdogan to make an incursion into northeastern Syria last year.
Although sanctions against Turkey have not been forthcoming, Washington has at least kicked Ankara out of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme, meaning F-35 fighter jets ordered by the Erdogan administration will not be delivered, leaving the Turkish Air Force struggling to find an adequate replacement.
Erdogan threatened late last year to close Incirlik and the base at Kurecik, where the US also has military forces, if Washington imposed sanctions.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued some rare Trump administration criticism of Ankara this week, noting that only Turkey and Iran oppose the US-brokered deal for Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to agree to set up diplomatic relations with Israel.
Pompeo has also called for a diplomatic and peaceful resolution to the dispute between Turkey on one side and Greece and Cyprus on the other over rights to explore for gas and oil in various parts of the eastern Mediterranean.
Another growing concern is the assertive role Turkey is taking in backing Azerbaijan in its territorial dispute with Armenia.
Meanwhile, there are reports of a power shift ahead in the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) that Turkey backs in the Libyan Civil War. Analysts are examining what it could mean for Turkey’s influence and prospects in Libya.