Incirlik Air Base, Turkey's bargaining chip against U.S., Russia

China Military Online
Zhang Tao

BEIJING, Sep. 2 (ChinaMil) -- Russia's Sputnik website recently reported that Turkey might provide its Incirlik Air Base to Russia so the Russian Air and Space Force can be deployed in the anti-terrorist operations in Syria. Turkey's Prime Minister Bina Le Yıldırım responded on August 20 that "Turkey may allow Russia to use the air base if necessary."

As Turkey and the U.S. had a falling-out and Turkey mended its relations with Russia, its plan to let Russia use the Incirlik Air Base triggered many imaginations and the air base quickly came under the spotlight.

The Incirlik Air Base is located in South Turkey's Adana Province about 110km from the Turkey-Syria border. Built in the early 1950s and put into use in 1955, the air base has a 3000m-long runway with vast and open terrain and good headroom conditions.

There is also a railway feeder line from Adana to the Mersin port on the Mediterranean coast and sufficient warehousing space around the air base to facilitate the transportation and storage of bulk logistics materials.

Incirlik Air Base is an important base of the U.S. Air Force for its strategic location and favorable conditions, and it has played an important role in America's military operations in the Middle East in recent years.

During the Gulf War, the multinational forces used it to bomb north Iraq, and the U.S. stationed thousands of troops and kept a variety of military aircraft and other equipment there after the war. When the Afghan war broke out, the U.S. military used Incirlik Air Base to transport military materials, and it used the air base again as a key fulcrum in the Iraqi war, after which the base served as the first transfer station for the withdrawal of American troops. In July 2015, the base was used again by the U.S. military to fight the terrorist organization IS.

However, after the unsuccessful coup on July 15, 2016, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Gulen, the Turkish religious leader exiled to the United States, of being the "string puller" behind the coup, giving the U.S. a slap in the face.

Then Turkey shut down the Incirlik Air Base on the grounds of investigating the coup, forcing a halt in America's air strike against the IS. One day later, Turkey re-opened the base to avoid further deterioration of bilateral relations, but the harm was done.

As to Russia-Turkey relations, if Russia could enter the Incirlik Air Base as it hoped, it would obtain more than just an air base via which it could arrive in Syria quickly.

As Victor Ozerov, chairman of Russia's Council of the Federation Committee on Defense and Security, said, "whether Turkey agrees for Russian troops to enter the air base reflects its sincerity in working with Russia to jointly fight against IS. "

The NATO, especially the United States, are still using the Incirlik Air Base and have a lot of weapons and equipment there. If Turkey let NATO's rival Russia step in there, it would be like submitting a "letter of loyalty" to Russia before it had a clean break with NATO.

Located at the junction of Europe and Asia, Turkey is good at the art of balancing. Since it has structural conflicts with Russia regarding the Syria issue, what Turkey is doing is more to impose pressure on the U.S. and Europe with the Incirlik Air Base while merely doing lip services to Russia. That's probably why after Bina Le Yıldırım said "Turkey may allow Russia to enter the air base". "But at the moment, Russia doesn't seem to have the need to use the base," he added.

Related News