Future of U.S. air base in Turkey remains obscure – VoA

The future of the U.S. Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey remains uncertain as Washington-Ankara relations remain on a downward spiral over Turkey's deepening ties with Russia and the removal of Turkey from a U.S. jet fighter programme, U.S. government-funded outlet Voice of America said on Tuesday.

Despite soaring tensions between the NATO allies, Washington cannot risk losing the air base, which is widely reported to retain around 50 U.S. nuclear free-fall bombs, the article said.

The air base, which stands about 100 miles from Turkey’s border with Syria, where it has launched a military offensive, is often referred to as one of the major strategically located U.S. military bases.

The base has played a pivotal role in U.S. strategic operations, including a significant withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, Voice of America said.

However, Ankara's imposing restrictions on the base's use in operations into Syria is becoming a point of tension. 

U.S. forces used a base in Iraq instead of the much closer Incirlik, during an operation to kill Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria last month, the article said.

U.S. armed forces appear to be already taking steps to diversify their dependence on the air base, it said, citing $150 million spent by the United States in the last two years improving Jordan's Muwaffaq Salti Air Base, in addition to consideration of establishing new bases in Greece and Cyprus.

Pointing to a bipartisan bill under consideration in the U.S. Senate requiring U.S. President Donald Trump to consider alternative bases for "personnel and assets" deployed at Incirlik, the article quoted former Turkish ambassador Mithat Rende, as saying such a move would be "a sign of a huge lack of confidence (by Washington in Ankara).’’

No base in the region can replace İncirlik given its size and location, Voice of America said, adding that Washington could be eyeing a combination of bases across the region to provide a patchwork alternative to the base.