The US military has reportedly slashed its combat operations at Turkey’s Incirlik air base, and is contemplating permanent cutbacks there amid rising tensions between the two NATO allies over Washington’s steadfast support for the Kurdish militants operating at Turkish doorstep in Syria.
Citing unnamed US officials, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the drawdown stem from the tensions between Ankara and Washington.
In January, Washington transferred a squadron of American A-10 ground attack jets from Incirlik to Afghanistan, leaving only refueling aircraft at the Turkish air base, which once served as the key launching pad for US aerial bombing operations against so-called Daesh targets in Syria and Iraq.
US Defense Department authorities said back then that they were escalating operation in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the number of military family members living on the Turkish base has also seen a gradual decline, the report said.
The US officials said they viewed internal deliberations about continued use of the base as essential for mitigating any impact from the potential loss of their ability to conduct operations out of there.
The US shift reflects “an overall decline in the tempo of US military operations” against Daesh, the report cited officials, pointing out that the decline reduces the need to base American warplanes at Incirlik.
US military authorities have complained that operating from Incirlik had become challenging since Turkey has long used it “as a leverage against the US,” according to the report.
Two US officials cited in the report, underlined that Turkey has been making it more difficult to conduct air operations from the base, such as requesting that US forces suspend operations to allow high-ranking Turkish officials to use the runway. American authorities say this sometimes halts US air operations for more than a day.
American officials, however, maintain that Washington remains committed to Ankara, and that there are not currently any plans for a further drawdown of forces and aircraft at Incirlik.
While a Turkish official acknowledged the slump in US military’s use of the base, he insisted that the cutback did not stem from new restrictions by Ankara, but “a shift in American priorities from Syria to Afghanistan,” the report added.
Ankara-Washington relations hit a new low in January, when the US military said it would work with Kurdish militants controlling northern Syria to set up a 30,000-strong force at the Turkish border.
Turkey views those militants as terrorists associated with the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has been fighting for independence for decades.
The US had earlier promised Ankara that it would take back the weapons it had supplied to the Kurdish militants after they managed to drive Daesh out of Syria’s northern regions and seize control of those areas.
Angered by Washington’s announcement, Turkey launched a new operation against the US-backed Kurdish militants in Syria’s northern district of Afrin.
The Wall Street Journal article comes amid rumors that the US seeks to transfer its military base in Turkey to Kurdish areas in Iraq or Syria.
Reacting to the rumors, an Iraqi government source voiced Baghdad’s firm opposition to such a transfer.