US Military Trapped as Turkish Authorities Encircle Incirlik Air Base
The coup in Turkey has come and gone, but not really.
As part of President Erdoğan’s cleanup after the failed 15 July 2016 Turkish military coup, Turkish authorities encircled Incirlik Air Base, cut the commercial power supply into the air base and even temporary closed the airspace around Incirlik to military aircraft. This trapped the United States military personnel and civilians on Incirlik Air Base when Turkey took the action on 16 July 2016.
It should be noted that commercial power was also shut off by Turkish authorities at all the military bases in the country.
The US embassy in Ankra has confirmed these actions were taken by President Erdoğan, and Col. John Walker, 39th Air Base Wing commander at Incirlik, has stated, “We are working hard to ensure we have what we need to sustain and continue our mission here. Tough situations and learning to adapt in a moment’s notice is nothing new for us titans. The Airmen with the 39th Air Base Wing are cut from a superior cloth. I’m so impressed with their professionalism, compassion and dedication to the mission. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
The Incirlik Air Base began using backup generators to remain operational, with deliveries of necessities like food, water and fuel still being received by Incirlik Air Base.
On 19 July 2016, Steven Cook, an expert on Turkish politics with the Council on Foreign Relations, offered his suggestion that the power was cut in an effort “to demonstrate Turks have some leverage over the US.”
The latest reports from Incirlik Air Base indicate the commercial electric power supply has now been restored, effective 22 July 2016.
It was a long week for everyone.
In the midst of the coup, when Turkish authorities encircled Incirlik Air Base, there was increased concern and renewed discussions concerning the nuclear weapons the United States keeps housed in Turkey at Incirlik Air Base. It is believed that a total of fifty nuclear weapons are maintained at Incirlik Air Base.
The security is extensive and layered, with the Cold War-era B-61 “gravity” bombs placed in vaults which exist inside protective aircraft shelters and a security perimeter. They cannot be used without special codes, providing an additional level of security.
A New York Times article summed up the matter best.
“These weapons serve no purpose. Neither Turkish aircraft nor U.S. aircraft in Turkey can deliver the bombs. The United States Air Force regards them as an expensive distraction from the mission of countering the Islamic State. The Turkish government regards them as a political liability that shouldn’t be mentioned.”
As the United States has a number of nuclear weapons ‘vaults’ placed all around the world as well as in the United States, it is the continuing instability of this part of the world which makes those kept in Turkey a continuing concern.
Because of the failed coup, Turkey needs to again establish a senior officer corps. Per report from the Pentagon, this group was always a reliable partner which the United States military could easily interact with. There has been no official comments regarding whether a plan is in the works for the United States to be prepared to move the nuclear weapons located in Turkey to another location should there be a need.