Turkey has begun to question the use of the İncirlik air base by the anti-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) coalition forces, as the U.S. has failed to support Ankara’s offensive in the al-Bab region against the jihadist group, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Jan. 4.
While Pentagon officials yesterday were bragging up their overflights of warplanes over the ISIS city of al-Bab, being attacked by Turkey, as “a show of force” meant to support the Turkish invasion, Turkish officials clearly don’t see it that way, and are even considering expelling the US warplanes from Inciirlik Air Base outright over the lack of actual help.
“Our people ask, ‘why are they [coalition forces] using the İncirlik Airbase [if the coalition does not provide aerial support to the Euphrates Shield operation]. We allowed not only the U.S. but also other countries’ jets to use İncirlik to jointly fight [ISIL],” Çavuşoğlu told state-run Anadolu Agency.
“What purpose are you serving if you do not provide aerial support against DEASH in the most sensitive operation for us?” he added.
‘Confidence crisis with the US’
“The U.S. is a very important ally for us. We have cooperation in every field. But there is the reality of a confidence crisis in the relationship at the moment,” Çavuşoğlu said.
He added that this crisis of trust had emerged for a number of reasons, particularly noting that the U.S. has not kept its promise regarding the retreat of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Manbij to the east of the Euphrates River and had provided arms support to the Syrian Kurdish group.
“Giving arms to the YPG, the U.S. chose a terrorist organization over its ally,” he said, adding that those arms had later found their way into the hands of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey.
Çavuşoğlu said a joint delegation with the U.S. was sent to Manbij to address the issue but the visit did not satisfy Ankara.
“We know that PYD/YPG forces are in Manbij, as our president stated yesterday [to U.S. President Barack Obama]. Obama said he agrees with us on the subject that these forces should return to the east of the Euphrates,” he said, adding that Washington has been in agreement with Turkey from the beginning but “had not kept its promises.”
Extradition of Gülen
Çavuşoğlu also alleged that the U.S. is dragging its heels on the extradition of Fetullah Gülen, thought to have masterminded Turkey’s failed July 15, 2016 military coup attempt. He said Gülen was still able to give orders to his followers in the “Fethullah Terror Organization (FETÖ)” through encrypted messages.
Recalling that FETÖ was added to the list of terrorist organizations to be fought against at the recent meetings of the Islamic Cooperation Organization and the Gulf Cooperation Council, Çavuşoğlu vowed that the Ankara would continue to pursue the issue domestically and abroad.
“The terrorist leader freely threatens Turkey, gives instructions, and sends messages from there. Unfortunately, we have not seen any support from the [Obama] administration about this. They tell us to give positive messages about anti-Americanism in Turkey, but I do not know what to say,” he said.
Addressing the incoming Donald Trump administration in the U.S., Çavuşoğlu voiced optimism that it would be more proactive on the FETÖ issue and said Turkey believed relations would be maintained “clearly and openly” with the new administration.
“We are always in contact with the U.S., regardless of who comes to power [as U.S. president]. We are allies, and we cooperate and have joint targets in many fields. We are NATO allies but both sides must do what is necessary for the alliance. We think and believe the new administration also has this understanding,” he stated.
Defense minister raises İncirlik question
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Fikri Işık also said on Jan. 4 that the lack of the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition’s air support in Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation in Syria’s al-Bab “raises questions” about the mission of the İncirlik Air Base in the southern province of Adana.
“We hope that all coalition forces, primarily the U.S., give air and other support that Turkey needs in the Euphrates Shield operation and the necessary step will be taken soon,” Işık told journalists in Ankara.
“But it is thought-provoking that despite the fact we have been NATO allies for years, and that a coalition has been established to fight against ISIL, the coalition does not support the Euphrates Shield operation launched by the Free Syrian Army and supported by the Turkish Armed Forces. Al-Bab is a very critical location in the anti-ISIL fight,” he said.
Pentagon spokesman Col. John Dorrian said a Turkish expulsion of US forces from the base would be “disastrous” for the war, insisting that “the entire world has been made safer” by US warplanes being able to fly out of Incirlik Air Base.
The anti-ISIL coalition has used the strategic İncirlik base in its operations against ISIL in Syria since July 2015.
Currently manned and unmanned U.S. warplanes carry out strikes on ISIL from Turkey using the İncirlik base.