Relations between Ankara and Washington have grown so fraught during recent months that the Pentagon should prepare alternatives to a key Turkish air base for regional operations, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey said Tuesday. U.S. forces have operated out of Incirlik Air Base since the 1950s, but growing distrust between the NATO allies — from U.S. backing of Kurdish militias in Iraq to its refusal to extradite U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen — has put that military relationship at risk, according to former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has attempted to use the base — which has become a prime hub for air operations against Islamic State, al Qaeda and the Taliban in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — as leverage to get U.S. cooperation against Mr. Gulen, whom Mr. Erdogan and his allies claim was behind a failed 2016 military coup against his government.
“In the aftermath of the coup, there were several attempts to impress upon the United States that Incirlik could be cut off at any time” to American forces, said Mr. Edelman, now a senior adviser at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
While access to Incirlik is not seen as imminently in danger, Ankara’s recent efforts to ratchet up pressure on the U.S. embassy in Ankara should prompt the Trump administration to keep its options open on continuing the American military presence there.
“We need to be prepared now for the possibility that we might lose access to Incirlik or that we may choose to leave at some point,” Mr. Edelman said during an FDD-sponsored symposium on the state of U.S.-Turkish relations on Tuesday. - By Carlo Muñoz - The Washington Times
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