U.S. signals relocation of Turkey's İncirlik base

The United States is looking at opportunities for either rotational or permanent U.S. presence across the whole European continent, said Department of State Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Assistant Secretary, R. Clarke Cooper, on a conference call on Monday with reporters in response to question whether the United States had identified any alternative to Turkey’s southern Incirlik base.

Cooper was in Athens on Thursday to meet with Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Dendias. Cooper also visited Cyprus and Bulgaria during the same trip.

The relationship between the United States and Turkey has soured over a number of issues, including northern Syria, where Turkey took large swathes of territory from where U.S. allied Syrian Kurdish formerly controlled.

The fate of the Incirlik base, decades-long permanent NATO site in southern Turkey, has been one of the contentious topics between Ankara and Washington, especially since the failed coup attempt in 2016, when the base witnessed protests. The site also well known for its storage for a number of nuclear weapons. 

Senior Turkish officials repeatedly accused the United States and NATO of playing a role in the failed putsch to overthrow the Turkish government.

Despite the serious issues facing the countries, the relationship between the U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been warm.

The United States, in general and on a macro level, is looking at opportunities where it could have a presence on a rotational presence or permanent basis, Cooper said.

One of the stops made by the U.S. assistant secretary during the visit was to the Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, which is held as one of the key locations of U.S.-Greece defence cooperation, where the expanded Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) was made between the countries. 

Cooper said that it is not unusual for a U.S. official to conduct a site assessment.

"We want to see where we invested some of our security assistance to improve facilities for sovereign use for allies and partners,’’ he said.

"We are looking at macro an entire continent through the frame of great power competition. The US is taking a closer look where we need to be or where we need to adjust our posture in particular places,’’ he said.

"There is certainly a broad and deep look across the entire European geographic command as far as where we need to be and where we need to be in the future," Cooper added.

Responding to another question from Ahval concerning the Russian S-400 missile system and whether there were any sanctions over the horizon considering Tuesday’s election, said "when we talk about the CAATSA statute, there is no predetermined timeline or clock on the review, consideration, or issuance of sanctions.  So it’s something that we’ve sought to avoid because of Turkey’s alliance with us and with NATO, but I would just say that to presume that they are no longer viable is also not accurate [bc of US elections]."

The acquisition of the S400s is definitely "unacceptable," Cooper said, reminding that Washington already took decisive action to exclude Turkey out of the F35s alliance last year and Washington has been very clear about the topic. 

"We are still communicating with Turkish counterparts to seek S400s to not operationalized," he added, "This does become a challenge when we talk about interoperability between Turkey and the United States, but also interoperability within the NATO alliance."

“We want to keep [Turkey] in the West. They have a role in the alliance. We also don’t abide by any provocations by Ankara to allies and partners," Cooper said responding another question with regards to the escalation of tension in the eastern Mediterranean.

We have encouraged Turkey, Greece and Cyprus to deescalate tensions by way of NATO channels in the eastern Mediterranean so as to avoid any accident, he said.

Assistant Secretary Cooper's full response on Incirlik base question, and whether US has identified any potential alternatives to base in Turkey:

Cooper: Yeah, I would overall generalize:  When we talk about looking at opportunities, I would open up the aperture, to use a military term, as far as looking at where we could have a U.S. presence either in a rotational fashion – we already do in Novo Selo Training Area.  That’s a good example where there’s already a persistent rotational presence.  But we are certainly looking at where we could do that elsewhere across the continent. 

So it’s not unusual to be seeing officials like myself actually taking some time to do some side assessments.  We, of course, want to see where we’ve invested some of our security assistance to improve facilities for sovereign use by allies and partners.  But when we’re looking at, again, the macro of the entire continent, as you know, through the frame of great power competition, the United States has taken a closer look at where we need to be or maybe where we need to adjust our posture in particular places.

I would offer that when we talk about presence, it doesn’t always have to necessarily translate to PCSing, or Permanent Change of Station, or residency, but there is certainly a broad, deep look across the entire what one would call the European geographic combatant command as far as where we need to be and where we may need to be in the future.